In the second to last round of matches before Liguilla begins, Cruz Azul will make the trip from Mexico City to Puebla to take on Lobos. Will Cruz Azul win away from home to secure their playoff spot? Can Lobos continue to defy reason and keep their season alive with a victory? Can bettors find any value in the market?
Are Lobos BUAP more motivated to win?
There are just two remaining weeks to play in the Liga MX Clausura. Three teams have qualified – Leon, Tigres and Monterrey – and 10 teams remain in contention. Cruz Azul in third place is only three points clear of eighth place Puebla. Lobos currently sit in 11th place with 20 points but are just one win back of the final playoff spot. On paper, it may appear that Lobos could be the more motivated side with Cruz Azul projected to be a large home favourite next week to 16th place Morelia.
However, much hangs in the balance for the side from Mexico City. Leon, Tigres and Monterrey are out of reach, which means Cruz Azul is playing for the all-important fourth place. In the current Liga MX format, the top four seeds earn home field advantage in the second leg of the two match knockout series.
Lobos’ negative goal difference
This is not the first time the skill level of Lobos has been brought into question in these weekly previews. Only two teams in history of the Liga MX Apertura and Clausura format qualified for the playoffs with a negative goal differential with the largest being Monarcas in the 2017/2018 Clausura at -2.
Lobos, still alive for the playoffs with two matches to play, currently have a goal differential of -10. Their 26 goals allowed are third highest in the league and just four goals shy of relegated – and winless - Veracruz. Remarkably, at 1.72 expected goals against per match, Lobos are not only equal to Veracruz, but actually playing to expectation.
This is not a team that has inflated numbers due to 3-0 losses to America and Tigres as well as a 4-0 loss vs Monterrey. Should Lobos sneak in the playoffs, they would be the worst defence in history of the league in its current format to qualify.
Cruz Azul’s historic defence
Cruz Azul could not be more opposite. La Maquina has held opponents to just 0.86 goals per match but more importantly have limited the quality of opposing attempts to an extreme low. At 0.83 expected goals against per match, the superb defence is actually underperforming by half a goal.
To put in perspective how great those numbers are, Leon at a league best 11 goals conceded has an expected goals against value of 1.04 goals per match. Three teams have scored multiple goals on Cruz Azul this season.
Leon, Monterrey (1st and 2nd in goals scored an xG per match) and Santos (4th in expected goals per match). In the six matches against non-playoff teams, Cruz Azul has conceded just three goals.
Lobos BUAP vs. Cruz Azul: Where is the value?
As mentioned above, this match comes down to the difference in defensive talent. On shot based expectancy, Lobos have generated more than one expected goal in their previous six matches with an average of just 0.75 xG generated per match.
Cruz Azul manager Pedro Caixinha has to change little from a tactical perspective and can lean on centrebacks Lichnovsky and Aguilar to slow down Lobos finisher, Leo Ramos.
The trio of attacking options for the visitors led by in form Milton Caraglio are likely to have equal success to Tigres which scored three against Lobos with a similar attack layout.
Lobos wing defenders Cruz and Crisanto are weakpoints and will have trouble defending the speed and long ball ability of Cruz Azul forward Orbelin Pineda.
Playing above the Lobos defenders, Cruz Azul has the matchup to win outright, but bettors would be wise to grab early value with a draw no bet wager on the visitors.