In what could’ve easily been a Final matchup, Cruz Azul and Tigres are set to kick thing off tonight at 10 ET (9 CT) in what promises to be a very attractive meeting that will define the first finalist of the preseason tournament.
Cruz Azul arrive after having swept the entire group stage by crushing Pumas in the derby by a final of 4-1, followed by a 1-0 narrow victory vs. Toluca, and finally a thrashing of their other derby vs. América by 4-1. Total credit must be given to Siboldi for having his team ready to compete vs. three teams who still appeared to be finding their rhythm on the pitch. “La Máquina” simply looked much more in sync compared to their group rivals. And while América isn’t far behind, they were unable to maintain that level of consistency shown by Cruz Azul, as they were unable to get past error-prone Pumas defenders and were completely outplayed by Siboldi’s squad. This is of course no indicator to the kind of team we can see from Miguel Herrera in the semis, but it does prove that Cruz Azul is at a more advanced stage when referring to mental and physical readiness for the upcoming season at this given time.
Tigres, on the other hand, began their journey by dominating a weak Mazatlán in their first ever appearance in franchise history. Unfortunately for the yellow and blue, they were unable to capitalize their opportunities, and the score ended in a 0-0 deadlock. Following that, Tigres saw what was their group stage toughest test vs. hosts Chivas, clearly proving the better team by taking a 2-0 lead and never looking back. Luis Fernando Tena was unable to create a response from his team. Finally, in what was supposed to be a stepping stone matchup vs. Rafa Puente Jr.’s error-prone Atlas, it was Tigres who made the mistake, specifically “Chaka” Rodríguez, as he ill-advisedly attempted to dribble through Atlas players in his lower third, which ultimately backfired on him. And even with Tigres coming from behind and taking a lead, an unlucky bounce in the final seconds of the match provided Atlas with a game-tying goal. It’s for that reason that Tigres didn’t win their group.
So, what should we expect to see in this matchup? Cruz Azul’s offense has been clicking on all cylinders. They have been completing plays, constantly creating danger, and have different players with the ability to score goals when called upon. Josué Reyes scored 2 goals in the first game, “Cabecita” Rodríguez has tallied 2 as well, Elías Hernández has 1, Juan Escóbar scored the only goal vs. Toluca, as well as Alexis Gutiérrez and Orbelín Pineda having 1 apiece. I expect Tigres to put pressure on this powerful offense and force them to give the ball up quickly, as well as slowing down their players on the flanks, such as aforementioned Elías Hernández. “Tuca” is known for putting together good defensive systems against high scoring offenses, and I expect no different in this one. Tigres should come out defensive-minded and wait it out the first 10-15 minutes while the game settles in, and ensuingly begin to mount their attack.
I also expect Leo Fernández to be a factor on the score sheet in this one. André-Pierre Gignac scored 3 out of Tigres’ 4 goals in the group stage, so I expect extra attention from the Cruz Azul defense to focus in on the Frenchman, which should in turn create extra space for Leo Fernández. The youngster has proven his goal-scoring ability, as he scored 8 goals in only ten games last season with Toluca, and we should expect no different with Tigres, as he has garnered 2 assists in as many games played in this tournament.
Ultimately, I expect Cruz Azul to be slowed down and to play from behind, as Tigres is too powerful and talented a team on both ends, especially now with the addition and recent contributions from the Uruguayan Fernández. Not to mention their experience in high intensity and pressure games. Tigres should win in regulation by a difference of one goal in a tough semifinal battle.