Clean sheets trump fun in Cruz Azul’s climb to Liga MX’s top spot

Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us for our weekly discussion of Liga MX. You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a bit bleary-eyed. I was up all night watching the five matches Cruz Azul has played thus far. And while La Máquina might be sitting atop the table, they’re not exactly playing exciting soccer, and I fear I may have over-caffeinated a bit in an attempt to see it all.

Goals? Ha. I hardly saw shots. There’ve been three goals scored by Cruz Azul, including this weekend’s golazo from Chaco Giménez, giving his side a 1-0 win over Monterrey. No, it hasn’t been fun, but Cruz Azul probably don’t care. They’re top in the league!

But…why?

What’s that? Yes, they must have a very good goalkeeper. Jesús Corona, Liga MX’s best goalkeeper, nearly kept Guillermo Ochoa on the bench at the World Cup. The all-Mexican backline in front of him might boast a combined age of 120, but together they’ve allowed exactly zero goals this season.

Captain Gerardo Torrado remains in the center of the park, playing deep and helping with defensive duties. Though he’s lost more than a step or two, the 35-year-old is still adept at regaining possession.

That’s one of the keys to Cruz Azul’s defense – winning the ball back high up the pitch. Teams haven’t just failed to score, they’ve failed to get in many shots. The system employed by Luis Fernando Tena requires everyone on the pitch to be thinking about their defensive responsibilities, which means teams can barely find themselves in decent shooting positions. Of the 11 efforts Monterrey made last weekend, only one was taken from inside the 18-yard box. Against Puebla and Santos Laguna, La Máquina only conceded seven shots from inside the box.

Yet there’s reason to be skeptical about Cruz Azul’s ability to remain so strong in the league. Nearly an identical backline suited up for the last tournament. Although it gave up 15 goals in the Apertura, fewer than any other team, very few goals were scored, and Cruz Azul finished the tournament with a plus one goal differential.

It was a horrific tournament that saw La Máquina miss the playoffs and make an early exit in the CONCACAF Champions League – a tournament it had won months before. The Club World Cup trip saw extra time needed to top the Western Sydney Wanderers for the right to get smashed by Real Madrid, 4-0.

That early exit could actually help Cruz Azul. The defensive core might be experienced, but it’s also pretty old. Likely calls to El Tri will only add to the yardage the players put on their legs, but aside from the national team, their sole focus will be the league — the CCL place means Cruz Azul is also exempted from Copa MX.

To jump-start a powerless attack, the club brought in Paraguayan striker Roque Santa Cruz, but he had to leave the second match of the season with a hamstring injury and hasn’t been seen since. Brazilian addition Alemão seems to be growing into his role, with a nice assist for Giménez last weekend, but must do more to score on his own to be considered a real factor.

Frankly, the attack isn’t the only thing that has been weak so far. Cruz Azul has benefited from a pretty soft schedule in the opening stages of the Clausura. Three of the five teams Los Cementeros have faced are in the bottom five in the league. They missed out on facing Rayados’ striker Dorlan Pabón. Resurgent Santos was still in crisis when the teams met, but the scoreless draw against Veracruz, also still undefeated, makes this side seem more legit.

That looks like all the slides I have. Thanks for coming in today, and remember to grab a donut. Looks like we have extra.

Any questions? Yes? How long can Cruz Azul stay on top? As long as the defense stays healthy and the league’s better attacking sides don’t kick into gear. So, probaly not long. All right. If anyone needs me, I’ll be napping at my desk.

NOW

The Naked Truth: Death by Fentanyl

Mon, Dec 18, 2017 - 5:00 pm

NEXT

Cocaine Kingpin: Pablo Escobar

TONIGHT

8:00 pm

In Living Color

8:30 pm

In Living Color

9:00 pm

In Living Color

9:30 pm

In Living Color

WHERE TO WATCH