Liga MX semi: Pachuca, Cruz Azul shoot blanks

Cruz Azul at Pachuca

Pachuca winger Romario Ibarra reacts after a missed opportunity during his team’s semifinals first-leg match against Cruz Azul. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

Pachuca hosted Cruz Azul in the first leg of their Liga MX semifinal match-up and, despite plenty of action, the game ended scoreless.

The visiting Cementeros played a cautious first 45 minutes. “La Máquina Celeste” seemed intent on maintaining the integrity of its 4-1-4-1 tactical alignment. They sat back and absorbed the pressure, limiting space in and around the box.

There was a noticeable reluctance to break out when possession was won, but if the task was to frustrate the Tuzos, they did it at the outset of the second half and created several good chances, probing the Pachuca defense … but it didn’t last.

And Cruz Azul didn’t really test Oscar Ustari’s whose two toughest chances came in the game’s final 15 minutes. The first was a ricochet off a teammate that Ustari appeared to tip over the crossbar, but the Argentine keeper came up big  on an Orbelín Pineda shot in the game’s closing seconds.

Did Reynoso, Cruz Azul get what they hoped for?

If Cruz Azul coach Juan Reynoso aimed to escape Estadio Hidalgo with a draw, mission accomplished. But he can’t have been happy with the sloppiness. Throughout the game, the Cementeros lacked crispness, and there were a plethora of poor first touches that allowed the Pachuca defense to close in and shut down opportunities before they developed.

Nobody played especially well for “La Máquina” but it is worth pointing out a few poor displays. Pineda came on at the hour mark and his first three touches were turnovers. Yoshimar Yotún was awful on set-piece deliveries and neither wingers nor fullbacks were effective with crosses. All too often, centering passes failed to get past the first defender. Finally, when an unmarked Rafa Baca was given a chance to fire away from inside the box, he instead tried a meek square pass that was easily intercepted.

The failure to get an away goal is a bit of a disappointment, but Reynoso surely always planned to win at Estadio Azteca so he is not likely to be too bothered by that. And by the way, Pachuca has not beaten Cruz Azul at Estadio Azteca since July 19, 2014.

So how might counterpart Paulo Pezzolano feel about heading into Estadio Azteca without an advantage? One could speculate that after hammering the Chivas and América at Estadio Hidalgo by a combined 7-3 scoreline, the Pachuca coach might be a bit dismayed.

In order to advance to their first Liga MX Final since May 2016, the Tuzos must score against the best defense in Liga MX.

In Wednesday’s game, Pachuca had 57% possession and an 83% pass completion rate, but managed only two shots on goal. The Cementeros defense maintained discipline and did not give the Pachuca target men room to operate.

Pezzolano even opted to send Mauro Quiroga into the fray in minute 61. The big Argentine has not seen much action of late, but the Tuzos coach thought he could penetrate the Cruz Azul defense in the air. “El Comandante” did come close a couple times, but his touch betrayed him.

Pachuca has several options up front – Romario Ibarra got the surprise start in the first leg – and we’ll likely see them all (Felipe Pardo, Ismael Sosa and Antonio Figueroa up front). We might even see an earlier appearance from attacking midfielder Víctor Guzmán who is approaching full fitness after a long-term injury. “El Pocho” saw 25 minutes of action Wednesday.