Cruz Azul visit to ‘El Volcán’ highlights Midweek Matchday

Cruz Azul had plenty of reasons to lament the way the ball bounced in their stunning 2-1 home loss to last-place Santos Laguna in a Sunday Liga MX match. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images)
Cruz Azul had plenty of reasons to lament the way the ball bounced in their stunning 2-1 home loss to last-place Santos Laguna in a Sunday Liga MX match. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Tigres Cruz Azul
Nicolás Lopez (right) of Tigres watches as an André-Pierre Gignac shot bounds into the FC Juárez net during Matchday 7 action at the northern border. Gignac is tied for the Liga MX lead in goals with six. (Photo by JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images) /

No rest for the weary in Liga MX as Matchday 8 kicks off just 46 hours after the ball stopped rolling in Estadio Azteca in the final game of Matchday 7.

Five games fill out Tuesday’s M8 schedule with Toluca hosting Tijuana and Puebla welcoming FC Juárez to Estadio Cuauhtémoc at 7 p.m. local time. At 9 p.m., struggling Monterrey visits León, Querétaro travels to Azteca to take on the wingless Aguilas and FC Mazatlán hosts Necaxa in a battle to avoid “relegation” penalties.

March 2 finds Pachuca at Atlas, Atlético de San Luis hosting a Chivas team in must-win mode, and Pumas at a resurgent Santos side. The marquee game of the Midweek Matchday is Cruz Azul at the Tigres, a contest dubbed “Battle of the Two Best Liga MX Rosters.”

Two days after the final whistle on Wednesday night, Liga MX fans can turn their attention to Matchday 9 (we’ll take a closer look at those games closer to the weekend).

Which is the best team in Liga MX?

Puebla sits atop the Liga MX table with 17 points and remains the lone undefeated team in the league. But they’re not the best team in Liga MX, are they? I mean, all they do is win.

And Pachuca (in second with 16 points) boasts the highest-scoring offense in the league (16 goals) as well as a +8 goal-differential. But they’re not expected to win the Clausura 2022 title.

Nope, oddsmakers place the Tigres and Cruz Azul at the top of the class and these two teams will tangle at a sold-out “El Volcán” on Wednesday night.

The punditocracy agrees that the Tigres and Cementeros have the most talented rosters in Liga MX and through seven games they are in third and fourth place, respectively. The two clubs added dynamic players during the winter window, though both have shown growing pains as teammates familiarize themselves with the new faces.

The Tigres opened with a tie and a home loss (to league-leading Puebla) before reeling off five consecutive wins. The past four victories have come against teams in the bottom half of the table, however.

Still, Miguel Herrera’s side is evolving nicely. The return to health of winger Flavio Thauvin and the performance of all-new central defense pairing of Jesús Angulo and Igor Lichnovsky has lent stability, while the Tigres’ offense is purring efficiently.

For its part, Cruz Azul (4-1-2) will have to shake off the effects of Sunday’s embarrassing home loss to last-place Santos Laguna.

Both of the Cementeros’ losses came in stunning fashion, conceding goals in stoppage time to big underdogs at Estadio Azteca. This latest was particularly painful because Cruz Azul was running circles around the Guerreros only to be repeatedly foiled by Santos’ magnificent Carlos Acevedo.

It was as if the Cementeros exhausted themselves and ran out of gas, unable to stop the back-from-the-dead “Laguneros.” A deflection wrong-footed Jesús Corona in minute 90+4 and suddenly the narrative about a rampant Cruz Azul was negated.

Four of the seven goals “La Máquina” has conceded have come in stoppage time. These late-game lapses suggest poor substitution patterns and coach Juan Reynoso has been criticized for erring in his tactical adjustments. As for the Santos game, the complaint would be that Reynoso overlooked fatigue in the back (the Cruz Azul defenders ran downfield for corner kicks on 12 occasions) and emphasized going for the win instead of ensuring no more goals were scored.

The Cementeros can’t wallow over the lost points as they’re right in the middle of a killer stretch. Here’s their calendar from Feb. 24 through March 19: a cozy 3-1 win over Forge FC in Concachampions on Feb. 24, a soul-crushing loss to last-place Santos Laguna on Feb. 26, then a date with the third-place Tigres on March 2.

That’s followed by a March 5 clash with league-leading Puebla; a Concachampions quarterfinals match vs CF Montreal on March 9 precedes a March 12 Liga MX game against sixth-place UNAM before a trip to Montreal for the return match in the CCL on March 16; finally, a March 19 league confrontation with second-place Pachuca.

A gauntlet, indeed. That’s eight high-profile tests in 24 days! We’ll surely know more about Cruz Azul’s mettle and Juan Reynoso’s coaching abilities after that.

Next. Monterrey fires Javier Aguirre. dark

The same is true of the Tigres who visit second-place Pachuca on March 6 before their Matchday 9 encounter with León (the club that knocked them out of the Liga MX semifinals last season). After that comes the all-important “Clásico Regiomontano” which will see the Tigres host crosstown rivals Monterrey in the final game before the March FIFA break.