Puebla FC had begun the Liga MX 2032/33 season well and by scoring lots of goals. But a dip in form and defensive fragilities had the club’s fans concerned about Robinho Lazaró’s perceived lack of tactical agility.
However, the board was happy with their manager and handed him a new two-year contract worth £5,000-per-week. They also randomly announced “a new transfer budget as a result of the takeover,” which saw Lazaró’s transfer budget boosted by £6 million to £21 million.
He began investing that money by breaking the club’s transfer record to sign a familiar face in former NYRB centre-back Andy Bradley for £3.5 million from Portland Timbers. He also strengthened the defence with 18-year-old model citizen Alan López for £2.5 million from Argentinian side Crucero del Norte. Attacking midfielder Aurélio arrived on loan to add a little depth, before Lazaró again returned to former club Alianza Lima to sign hot prospect midfielder / striker Orlando Olaya for £100,000.
Liga MX Clausura stage
Despite their overperformance in the Apertura stage, the media still had Puebla down as firm relegation candidates at the end of the campaign. However, their title odds had been slashed from 2,000/1 to 800/1.
The Clausura stage saw the Apertura fixtures reversed, so Puebla began at home to Mazatlán. And they began well as Diego Arroé scored twice and created one for star man Alexander Ferrari in the first half. New boy López then headed home on his debut to wrap up a 4-1 win.
Ferrari very much carried his form into the second half of the season. He scored an injury-time winner at Toluca, a 20-yard header to defeat Club León 1-0 and scored in a 3-0 win at Club Necaxa led by two assists from his strike partner Ramón Rodríguez.
However, the reverse of fixtures meant Puebla again had another spell of games against all of the big teams. That began with a solid 2-1 win over Xolos Tijuana thanks to two cheeky chip finishes by Rodríguez, which was only the second game in 14 that Ferrari didn’t score in! The strong start to Clausura continued as a brace from attacking midfielder Ricardo Páez secured a 2-0 win at Querétaro.
Taking on México’s big boys again
But now things got really difficult. A first trip to reigning champions Cruz Azul saw Puebla fall behind but immediately respond through Rodríguez. A brilliant Páez free-kick gave them an unlikely lead and the new-look solid defence worked wonders to see off the hosts’ 31 shots and claim a famous 2-1 win. That shock win lined up a top vs. second clash as Puebla entertained Club América. That man Páez again stepped up, heading home a Rodíguez cross after four minutes and an unlikely source doubled the lead as midfielder Damián Moreno nodded home early in the second half. And the defence again held firm for another massive 2-0 success.
They didn’t relent though, as they went to fifth-place Atlas and won 2-0 through Ferrari and a stunner from Rodríguez. Ferrari then scored both in a dominant 2-0 win over Deportivo Guadalajara, which moved him past 25 goals for the season.
That tied the all-time league record of 10 successive wins, which they put on the line at Apertura champions Tigres. But goals from Ferrari and Páez edged a 2-1 win to set a new Liga MX record!
A big test to that run saw Monterrey come to town and take the lead early on. But Puebla fired back to win 4-2 led by a Ferrari hat-trick. They were looking absolutely untouchable! And that showed as they dominated Pumas with 23 shots to four and won 1-0 with a goal from striker Álan Ruiz.
Chasing the Clausura league win
The outrageous 13-game winning streak ended with a lucky 1-1 draw at Mineros de Zacatecas, who had 24 shots to Puebla’s six! And that was a game they definitely would have lost before the mid-season defensive improvements, which was proven by only conceding nine goals after 14 games.
However, Puebla’s poor form against Pachuca continued with a 2-0 loss, after they obviously scored with their first two shots, before a fully rotated side ended the regular season with a 3-0 loss at Juárez.
That was because they’d already confirmed top place in the league, finishing with 43 points and 14 wins from 17 games. Ferrari was easily the top scorer in the league with 30 goals in 32 games, which was 10 more than anyone else. He also had the highest average rating (7.91) and most player of the match awards (11). While Rodríguez had the most assists (16) and second-highest average rating (7.58) and player of the match awards (6).
Liga MX Clausura playoffs
The league success took Puebla directly into the two-legged playoff quarter-finals against 11th-place Xolos Tijuana, who they also faced in the opening round of the Apertura playoffs. Puebla started well as Ferrari tapped home after two minutes but Xolos responded 14 minutes later. Exactly the same happened after the break, as Rodíguez scored only for Xolos to equalise quickly, and Puebla were lucky to come away with a 2-2 after seeing off 19 shots and 2.93 xG! But home advantage counted as Ferrari, Moreno and a Rodríguez double inspired a 4-0 second leg win.
That teed up a semi-final with Mazatlán, who finished in ninth. Puebla were terrible in the first leg and lost 1-0 to a headed corner goal. A mass of injuries and call-ups to the Under 20 World Cup saw depleted numbers for the return leg on Lazaró’s 49th birthday. But another inspired two-goal performance by Ferrari sent them through to the Final, despite being very much the weaker team in both legs.
Liga MX Clausura Final
Puebla had a shot at a first liga MX title since 1990 as they faced off against Club América in the Clausura Final. The first leg took them to the Azteca and the hosts obviously scored their first shot. Puebla played well and equalised through Sebastián Pérez Bouquet then the half-fit Ferrari came off the bench to put them ahead late on. But they couldn’t hold on thanks to a dodgy late penalty.
Puebla started the home leg well as Rodríguez scored early on, but América levelled just before half-time. Then a mad start to the second half saw four quickfire goals made it 3-3 after 51 minutes! Bradley headed home a corner after 55 minutes but América equalised yet again five minutes later. Keeping up? That’s 4-4 after an hour!
Puebla pushed relentlessly and a brilliant move was rounded off by Rodríguez for his hat-trick on 69 minutes, before bagging yet another two minutes later! América fell apart and Páez another two minutes later then Ferrari grabbed his second in injury-time. And a match with a combined 3.95 xG finished with a ridiculous scoreline of 8-4! And that meant Puebla won 10-6 on aggregate.
Puebla FC were Champions of México for the first time in 43 years!!
This was a massively unexpected success as Lazaró led Puebla FC to become champions of México in their first season back in Liga MX. The key to the success was undoubtedly the goals of Ferrari and Rodríguez, but it was very much assisted by the defensive strengthening in the mid-season break.
Ferrari was very much the key man for Puebla, as he broke the club’s goalscoring records with a ridiculous 36 in 38 games. He also broke the league’s average rating record with 7.98 and won Mexican Player of the Season and Attacker of the Season awards. He was ably assisted by Rodríguez, who scored 19 and assisted 18, and Páez, who scored 12 and assisted 14. However, the impact of Bradley can’t be underestimated as he averaged 7.35 in a defence that went from conceding 26 in Apertura to just 15 in Clausura.
Lazaró unsurprisingly won Manager of the Season and Puebla players dominated the Team of the Season.
Bizarrely, the Puebla board announced plans to build a new stadium that will be completed in 2036. And it’s a pretty ambitious project with a capacity of 110,180! Madness!
Aventras Américas plans
Normally, Lazaró would instantly retire on the back of winning the national title. However, there were no interesting jobs available in May 2023 and he was tempted to stick with Puebla as this would be his last chance to target the North American Champions League.
Join us next time to discover whether Lazaró decides to stay and what the new season holds for him!