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Room for Improvement Gives Cruz Azul Room to Breathe

La Máquina are still a work in progress, but that could ultimately be to their benefit.

Chivas v Cruz Azul - Torneo Guard1anes 2020 Liga MX Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images

It’s always better to correct things while you’re winning. That is the rough translation for the phrase “siempre es mejor corregir ganando”, which is often cited by Liga MX coaches after their teams have triumphed despite producing an imperfect performance. That idea applies to Cruz Azul after their much-needed 2-0 victory at Chivas, which lifted them into second spot and broke a three-match winless run. Taking three points from the Estadio Akron was imperative, but manager Robert Dante Siboldi will recognize the need for more attacking thrust in order for Cruz Azul to lift their first league title since 1997.

On Sunday night, Siboldi surprised with his selection of Milton Caraglio up front. An offensive shake-up was called for given the collective goalless drought spanning 300 minutes, but the burly Argentine’s involvement had been little more than testimonial all season. The former Atlas forward’s last start had come in round 2 against Puebla, and he had played little more than an hour of top-flight football since then.

A rustiness caused by that lack of action was evident at times, but Caraglio’s inclusion was always more about how his presence could liberate his fellow attackers, particularly star striker Jonathan Rodríguez. Like the rest of the offense, the deadly Uruguayan had gone off the boil in recent weeks, and Siboldi responded by returning to a setup that had served both player and coach so well at Santos. Back in those days, “Cabecita” was often deployed to the left of target man Julio Furch, whose bruising physicality and canny link play made him the perfect foil for the ex-Peñarol speedster.

Caraglio did a decent Furch imitation on Sunday night, with his heavyweight duel against opposing center-backs Gilberto Sepúlveda and Hiram Mier freeing up Rodríguez to move infield onto his lethal right foot or run at Jesús Sánchez. That ploy worked like a charm late in the first half when the Charrúa drew and converted the decisive penalty after an ill-advised lunge from the home right-back.

Even though Siboldi’s tactical tinkering brought the best out of his leading man, fielding Rodríguez on the flank is a risky proposition. Unlike that successful Santos side, Cruz Azul are heavily reliant on their talisman for inspiration, with the South American responsible for a whopping 55% of their total offensive output. Logic would suggest that such a crucial source of goals should always be as close to the net as possible.

Regardless of where “Cabecita” is used, La Máquina must figure out a way to test rival goalkeepers with more regularity. They have taken 40 more shots than any other team but have the second-worst attempts to attempts on target ratio (30.2%). Greater efficiency will surely be required in the postseason.

As the liguilla looms on the horizon, Cruz Azul are no longer considered clear favorites to claim a long-awaited ninth league crown. However, that underdog status should help their cause. The intense pressure that has often consumed the Mexico City giants in the campaign’s decisive stages will not be as strong this time around, with the onus instead on León to continue their sparkling regular season form or Tigres to display their playoff mettle. With the spotlight trained on others, Siboldi and company can focus on finding the forward fixes that will make the difference between sweet success and bitter failure.