Thursday’s Liga MX quarterfinals slate promises four hours of high-intensity playoff soccer, kicking off with a Tigres visit to Estadio Azteca to take on Cruz Azul. The nightcap features a “Clásico Tapatío” with defending Liga MX champs Atlas traveling across town to take on the Chivas.
Earlier in the season, there was a protracted debate about which team –Tigres or Cruz Azul – had the deepest roster in Liga MX. While niggling injuries have forced Tigres coach Miguel Herrera to put the question to the test, Cruz Azul’s Juan Reynoso has mishandled his line-ups so badly that the Cementeros’ roster now appears to have been overrated.
Herrera enters the playoffs depending even more on his talented bench as winger Florian Thauvin will miss the entire postseason. Yeferson Soteldo is the likely substitute though Nico López – co-winner of last season’s Golden Boot – is also available. A few days ago, there were concerns that midfielder Juan Pablo Vigón might not be fit for the first-leg match, but bronze-medal winner Sebastián Córdova was ready to step in.
Cruz Azul has also had its share of injury problems (team captain Jesús Corona has been replaced in net by Sebastián Jurado since going down with a stress fracture in his right leg in mid-March), but Reynoso’s constant fiddling has prevented his talented roster from settling into roles. The lack of certainty has produced apprehensive performances and confusion on the pitch.
Rivals have 16 Liga MX titles between them
Cruz Azul is only two seasons removed from hoisting its ninth Liga MX trophy while the Tigres have reloaded to complete a transition from the pragmatic style preferred by legendary coach Ricardo Ferretti who departed a year ago.
During Ferretti’s final 11 years in charge, the Tigres won five Liga MX crowns, three League Champions Cups and a Copa MX trophy. “El Piojo” Herrera is completing his second year at the helm and knows fans are demanding the club’s eighth league title this season.
The two teams do not have a long history of playoff clashes, only meeting twice (both times in the quarterfinals) in the past 20 years. The Cementeros knocked the Tigres out in the Apertura 2020 (3-2 aggregate scoreline) while the top-seeded Tigres held off a tough challenge from the No. 11 seed Cementeros in the Apertura 2003 playoffs.
In the Invierno 2001 semifinals, the No. 1 Tigres again slipped past “La Máquina” thanks to their higher seeding after a pair of 1-0 matches, each team winning on its home ground.
The preseason Liga MX title favorites met on Matchday 8 this season with visiting Cruz Azul stealing a draw thanks to a stoppage time goal by Ignacio Rivero.
Jalisco Derby is great for Liga MX
Any time a game dubbed as a “Classic” takes place in the playoffs, there’s bound to be more than bragging rights at stake.
So with Atlas and Guadalajara preparing for a “Clásico Tapatío” in the quarterfinals, Liga MX fans will be glued to their TV sets.
Although the Chivas have dominated the Guadalajara derby (one source has the overall record as 92 wins for Guadalajara, 70 for Atlas with 68 draws) and have eliminated the Zorros in three of their four playoff meetings, Atlas is the reigning Liga MX champ.
Last season, “Los RojiNegros” put a stop to a six-game Chivas “Clásico Tapatío” winning streak with a 1-0 win at Estadio Akron en route to its second Liga MX championship (Guadalajara fans will be quick to remind Zorros fans that the Chivas have 12 Liga MX trophies). That Oct. 2, 2021, derby featured an audacious Panenka penalty kick conversion followed by a mini-brawl and an ejection.
This season, host Atlas denied Guadalajara a derby win with a late goal to secure a 1-1 draw in a game that saw three ejections.
Atlas once again boasts the stingiest defense in Liga MX (tied with Pachuca in fewest goals allowed) while the Chivas enter the first leg on a five-game win streak.
All that nonsense, all the statistics, all the posturing goes out the window, however, as soon as Jorge Pérez Durán blows his whistle at Estadio Akron tonight.
Guadalajara winger Alexis Vega and midfelder Fernando Beltrán will be closely watched by the Atlas defense while the Chivas back line – and inexperienced goalie Miguel Jiménez – will have their hands full with the Zorros’ dynamic duo of Julio Furch and Julián Quiñones.
“El Rebaño Sagrado” will be without steadfast midfielder Jesús Angulo (fractured tibia) but wingback Isaac Brizuela (hip flexor) has been declared fit for the match. As for Atlas, stalwart defender Anderson Santamaría (upper thigh) has been back in training after being forced out of the club’s April 20 contest against Monterrey.