It happened again. After having lost their 18-game unbeaten streak to the hands of a winless Querétaro in Round 4, Cruz Azul got right back up and had already piled up a brand-new three-game winning streak. That is until yesterday, when they visited lowly Atlas, who had only won one game all season and were tied for last place in the league with only 5 points.
After witnessing how the first 20 seconds of the match went down, one couldn’t help but picture a stomping by Cruz Azul, after LB Jesús Angulo committed an unforced error and gave Santi Giménez the game’s first open shot attempt. Things appeared to be going according to plan right from the start, but despite Siboldi’s squad clearly dominating ball possession and the game’s clearest goal opportunities, they were unable to crack Atlas’ code to get the ball past GK Camilo Vargas.
Atlas’ CBs Martín Nervo and German Contí provided heroic performances, blocking shot after shot by Cruz Azul’s attackers. Not to mention, the spectacular performance by offensive-minded Luciano Acosta, proving he can be effective as a central attacking midfielder or a striker as well. He provided the spark Atlas needed to get their attack going, as he took the ball and fearlessly glided through the Cruz Azul defense, creating much danger and disarray for La Máquina. Even Renato Ibarra got in on the action in his 73 minutes of play, and had a dangerous attempt kept out by GK Corona.
But the main strategic victory for Diego Cocca was clogging the midfield and preventing “Cabecita,” Orbelín, Romo, and even Elías Hernández of the space necessary to create danger the way they do. They were able to hold them off thanks to good tactic discipline displayed by Reyes, Isijiara, Malcorra, Ibarra, and even Acosta. Even when Cruz Azul did get an opportunity to strike, an Atlas defender came to the rescue, coupled with Camilo Vargas rising to every occasion.
Siboldi’s squad were stifled, and looked very similar to the way they did almost four weeks ago in their only other loss of the season in Querétaro. They were unable to create the way they are used to and were not allowed to execute their game plan. Despite the score remaining nodded at 0 until the 71st minute when Malcorra converted the penalty, Atlas stayed true to their gameplan throughout, and Cocca continues to accomplish his main goal upon his arrival: keep the other team scoreless.
Since being named head coach of Los Zorros back on August 11, Atlas have played five matches. The first one was played two days later, which Atlas lost by a 2-1 final. Since then, Atlas played out a scoreless draw in Torreón vs. Santos, defeated Querétaro 1-0, lost to León on the road, and yesterday defeated Cruz Azul 1-0. Three out of their five matches since Cocca’s appointment as head coach have resulted in their opponents being held scoreless. Not to mention, the two victories they’ve obtained as well. So far, the mission is being accomplished by the Argentine head coach.
For Siboldi, it’s back to the drawing board. Juárez FC also represented a tough test for his squad which they luckily overcame, but it is becoming a trend that Cruz Azul struggles with these lower placed teams who are sitting back, closing out space, and looking to steal the ball and counter-attack. He better figure out how to get past these types of situations or we could be looking at another short playoff run for Cruz Azul, as they could end up getting a low seed rival thanks to the new playoff format.
Atlas have now climbed to 14th in the league table, with 8 points. They are amazingly only two points out of the playoff hunt, with Tijuana holding that 12th and final spot. On the other hand, the loss took away league-leader status for La Máquina and sent them to 3rd in the league table, only one point behind new league-leader León.