The 2020/21 Liga MX campaign continues as Pachuca host Cruz Azul in the first leg of their semi-final tie on Thursday at 2:30am (UK time).
Cruz Azul finished top of the Clausura stage of the season and are looking for their first Liga MX glory since 1997, while Pachuca’s last title came in 2016.
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Where to watch Pachuca vs Cruz Azul on TV:
- UK: N/A
- US: TUDN
Scoreline prediction: Pachuca 1-2 Cruz Azul
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How the 2020/21 Liga MX works
Unlike most leagues around the world, the Liga MX season is split into two tournaments: the Apertura, which starts in the summer, and the Clausura, which starts in the winter. The same 18 teams take part in both tournaments, only playing each other once per league, while there are also two champions per year.
After every team plays each other once, the top eight usually go into the final stage (Liguilla) of that particular tournament (for both Apertura and Clausura). However, for 2020/21, 12 teams will go through.
The top four will automatically go into the quarter-finals of the Liguilla stage, while the teams finishing from fifth to 12th face each other in the ‘Reclassification’ stage – essentially a pre-qualifier for the quarter-finals, played over a single leg. Those matchups are sorted by league finish, with fifth playing 12th, sixth playing 11th, seventh playing 10th and eighth playing ninth.
The four teams to go through from there are then re-seeded based on their positions in the table and pit against the top four in a similar fashion to the Reclassification round, with the final ties then played over two legs, with a basic tree in the following format:
Quarter-final 1: Seed 1 v Seed 8
Quarter-final 2: Seed 3 v Seed 6
Quarter-final 3: Seed 2 v Seed 7
Quarter-final 4: Seed 4 v Seed 5
Semi-final 1: Winner of quarter-final 1 vs Winner of quarter-final 2
Semi-final 2: Winner of quarter-final 3 vs Winner of quarter-final 4
Final: Winner of semi-final 1 vs Winner of semi-final 2
This year, the 2020 Apertura, renamed the Torneo Guardianes, was won by Leon.
Relegation from the Liga MX is a lot more complicated, with the team to go down determined by computing the points-per-game ratio for each team across the past three seasons (six tournaments when splitting into Apertura and Clausura). The team with the lowest ratio at the end of the Clausura tournament (but before the Liguilla) is relegated. That means a team who finishes in the Liguilla qualification at the end of the Clausura tournament could be relegated, handing their play-off spot to the team below them. However, again things are different for 2020/21 and there is no relegation.
Pachuca vs Cruz Azul build-up, previous line-ups & injury news:
Pachuca, who were knocked out of the quarter-finals of the Apertura, secured their spot in the final stages of the Clausura (renamed Torneo Guardianes 2021) after an eighth-placed finish in the league format. That saw them drawn against ninth-placed Guadalajara in the Reclassification round, winning 4-2. They then caused the upset of the quarter-finals, beating Club America, who finished second in the league, on away goals after a thrilling 5-5 draw.
In order to reach the final, Pachuca will have to pull off another big result as they face Cruz Azul who finished top of the league. Eight-time league winners Cruz Azul reached the semi-finals of the Apertura after a fourth-placed finish, but they improved in the Clausura, winning 13 and losing two of their 17 league matches. They were then handed a favourable draw against Toluca, who finished 11th, but they needed a second-leg comeback and a 93rd-minute winner to scrape through 4-3 on aggregate.
- Pachuca (vs Club America): Ustari; Catalan, Cabral, Murillo, Alvarez; Pardo, Sanchez, Hernandez, Aguirre; Ibarra, De la Rosa.
- Cruz Azul (vs Toluca): Corona; Escobar, Dominguez, Aguilar, Aldrete; Pineda, Romo, Fernandez, Alvarado; Angulo, Rodriguez.
Neither side has any fresh injury concerns ahead of this game.
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Player to watch: Jonathan Rodriguez (Cruz Azul)
The man to put Cruz Azul in with a good chance of reaching the final, and ending their long wait for league glory, will be Jonathan Rodriguez. The 27-year-old Uruguayan striker is in his third year with Cruz Azul since joining from Santos Laguna in 2019 and has been their main marksman this season.
In 37 games across the 2020/21 campaign, counting the Apertura and Clausura group stages and Liguillas, Rodriguez has scored 23 goals, more than any other player in the competition. Although he had his better scoring record in the Apertura, Rodriguez has 10 goal in the Clausura to add to three assists, including one goal and two assists in the quarter-final second leg against Toluca. Without him, you could argue Cruz Azul wouldn’t be in this game, as they had to overcome a 2-1 deficit from the opening leg. He is also in good form, having scored eight goals in his past 10 games for Cruz Azul.
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