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Liga MX 2021 Guard1anes Final match preview: Santos Laguna vs. Cruz Azul

The two-leg series between Santos and Cruz Azul kicks off at Estadio Corona.

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Santos Laguna v Puebla - Playoffs Torneo Guard1anes 2021 Liga MX Photo by Jos Alvarez/Jam Media/Getty Images

Game: Club Santos Laguna S.A. de C.V. vs. Club Deportivo Social y Cultural Cruz Azul Asociación S.A. de C.V.

Date: Thursday, May 27th

Time: 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 9:00 p.m. Central, 7:00 p.m. Pacific, 2:00 a.m. UTC

Venue: Estadio Corona TSM (Torreón, Coah.)

Referees: REF: Fernando Guerrero Ramírez, AR1: Michel Alejandro Morales Morales, AR2: Jose Ibrahim Martinez Chavarria, 4TH: Diego Montaño Robles, VAR: Jorge Isaac Rojas Castillo, AVAR: Gerardo Martínez Bravo

Television: United States - FOX Sports 2, FOX Deportes Network; Mexico - FOX Sports 2; Belize - FOX Sports 2; Costa Rica - FOX Sports 2; Dominican Republic - FOX Sports 2; El Salvador - FOX Sports 2; Guatemala - FOX Sports 2; Honduras - FOX Sports 2; Nicaragua - FOX Sports 2; Panama - FOX Sports 2; Venezuela - FOX Sports 2

Streaming: fuboTV (Subscription), Sling TV (Subscription), FOX Sports GO, Vidgo (Subscription)

All-time record: Cruz Azul holds the advantage all-time across all competitions, winning 33 to Santos’ 24 with 16 draws between them. All but three matches were in Liga MX play: a two leg quarterfinal series in the 2010-11 Concacaf Champions League that Cruz Azul won 5-1 on aggregate, and a quarterfinal match in the 2017 Clausura Copa MX that Cruz Azul won 3-1. The teams have met in the playoffs twice before; once in the 2013 Clausura semifinal where Cruz Azul advanced 5-2 on aggregate, and once in the 2008 Clausura Finals when Santos won 3-2 on aggregate for their third championship. The last time the clubs met was on January 10 when Santos beat Cruz Azul 1-0 thanks to a Diego Valdés golazo in the 60th minute.

Santos Laguna v Queretaro - Playoff Torneo Guard1anes 2021 Liga MX
Carlos Acevedo is one of three players still with Santos Laguna since their last championship in the 2018 Clausura.
Photo by Jos Alvarez/Jam Media/Getty Images

Santos Laguna is back in familiar territory, playing in their eleventh Liga MX Final since 1994. They’ll open up in Territorio Santos Modelo against Cruz Azul, a team they beat for their third championship in the 2008 Clausura. Santos has been excellent at home over the past few years, turning TSM into a fortress. Santos has lost to Cruz Azul at home just four times in the 24 times the teams have met in Torreón in Liga MX play since 2000. The last time they won was just their second win ever at TSM, way back on October 23, 2015.

Santos has been playing smart, fundamentally sound soccer. Their young core of players has played like veterans all season, through injuries and some wrenching losses. Through it all, they’ve stuck to the script that Head Coach Guillermo Almada has laid out before them: high intensity pressing up top and opportunistic counterattacking. Santos makes life miserable for opposing forwards, giving them neither time nor space on the ball, and most shots that are taken are well-read by goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo, who was a 22 year old backup the last time Santos were crowned champions.

Atletico San Luis v Cruz Azul - Torneo Guard1anes 2020 Liga MX
Jonathan Rodríguez has been a critical part of Cruz Azul’s resurgence since leaving Santos Laguna in 2019.
Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images

One of the key figures on that Santos team that last won the championship was Jonathan “Cabecita” Rodríguez, who left after the following season to join Cruz Azul. Cabecita has won a lot of accolades with Cruz Azul, scoring 42 goals with the club and winning the Golden Boot in the 2020 Guard1anes tournament. But Cruz Azul hasn’t won a championship since 1997, when Cabecita was just a four year old boy in Uruguay.

Cruz Azul has won eight championships but lost ten finals, more than any other team. Their shortcomings are legendary, with cruzazuleada being introduced into the Mexican sports lexicon in the past few years. Still, this past season was a historic one for Cruz Azul, setting a record for most points in a 17 game season and tying León and Necaxa with a 12-game win streak.

Cruz Azul’s offensive pairing of Cabecita Rodríguez and Santiago Giménez is among the best in the league. They’re not invincible however, as Pachuca was able to keep the Cruz Azul offense to just one goal during their series. They can be exposed defensively too, as Toluca showed in scoring three goals against during their quarterfinal matchup.

Both of these teams deserve to be where they are. Both will have to play their best soccer in order to beat the other. Santos has an advantage hosting the first leg, and they’ll need to take advantage of that.