Cruz Azul walked away with its second consecutive Copa por México trophy but that doesn’t mean the Cementeros are suddenly a Liga MX title favorite.
“La Máquina Azul” finished last season in seventh place after spending much of the early part of the Apertura 2022 in the bottom half of the table.
The hiring of Raúl Gutiérrez after Matchday 10 proved to be an inspiration and “El Potro” guided the Cementeros to a wildcard spot but Cruz Azul still has a few holes in its line-up heading into the Clausura 2023.
Still, “The Blue Machine” outplayed a rising Guadalajara squad on Friday night and rode two second-half goals – both coming on quick counterattacks – to finish off the Liga MX preseason with some hardware.
Chivas stumble, but appear headed in right direction
Cruz Azul took the lead in minute 66 thanks to a terrific play by Guadalajara reject Alexis Gutiérrez.
The Cementeros acquired the 22-year-old midfielder in 2019 from the Chivas and he was a benchwarmer on the team that won the Liga MX title in 2021 (just 2 appearances).
Gutiérrez was loaned back to the Chivas in January 2022 but did not make the club’s Liga MX roster, instead he was shipped out to their second-division team CD Tapatío.
The loan deal over, he’s back with the La Máquina and “El Potro” gave him plenty of playing time in the Copa por México.
Early in Friday’s second half, the Guanajuato native took a no-look outlet pass from Gonzalo Carneiro down the left side, cut inside to his right foot, neatly eluding Sergio Flores who overran the play expecting Gutiérrez to stay on his preferred left foot.
Alexis calmly dribbled a few meters along the top of the box, sized up his shot and slotted a nifty right-footer through a crowd and inside the far post to put the Cementeros up 1-0.
Twenty minutes later, Carneiro inserted the dagger, racing onto a loose ball and blasting through Chivas keeper Miguel Jiménez.
Despite the setback, Guadalajara should be hopeful heading into the new Liga MX season. The Chivas finished a disappointing ninth a season ago and were quickly eliminated by Puebla in the first round of the Liga MX playoffs.
The Chivas spent a week training in Spain in early December, playing two friendlies against LaLiga sides, then came home and went a perfect 4-0-0 in the Copa por México group stage.
New coach Veljko Paunovic has connected with his young roster and has them thinking positively. One example is diminutive midfielder Fernando Beltrán who is not just looking toward Liga MX glory but has announced his intention to make Mexico’s 2026 World Cup roster. Lest you think he is dreaming, “El Nene” was one of the final cuts made by Gerardo Martino heading into Qatar and he is only 24.
Paunovic – and new GM Fernando Hierro – have injected the Chivas with new energy despite only bringing in two new faces – striker Daniel Ríos and two-time Liga MX champ Víctor Guzmán.
Guzmán made his Guadalajara debut last night, but it was inauspicious. “El Pocho” made the errant back pass that led directly to Cruz Azul’s second goal.
Matchday 1 line-up in Liga MX
The Clausura 2023 kicks off on Friday, Jan. 6, with a doubleheader. The inaugural match sees Necaxa hosting Atlético de San Luis after which Mazatlán FC welcomes León to the Kraken.
Saturday’s Liga MX triple headers begins with Querétaro visiting América, followed by Atlas at Toluca while Monterrey hosts Guadalajara in the nightcap.
Sunday kicks off with FC Juárez at UNAM, then Tigres visit Santos Laguna and concludes with Cruz Azul at Tijuana.
On Monday, Jan. 9, reigning Liga MX champion Pachuca begins its title defense by hosting Puebla.