The Gallos Blancos have the unenviable task of trying to become the first team to defeat Cruz Azul at Estadio Azteca this season.
The Cementeros have a comfortable advantage heading into the second leg of their Liga MX quarterfinal series Saturday evening. They showed they deserved their No. 1 seeding with a 2-0 win at Querétaro.
Cruz Azul went 8-1-0 at home in Liga MX play – with a +15 goal differential – and Querétaro must not only win, but must beat the Cementeros by at least a 2-goal margin. The Gallos Blancos must figure out a way to penetrate the league’s stingiest defense and score at least 3 goals.
The first tiebreak rule is away goals, but the second rule is that if away goals are even, then the team with the better regular-season record advances. That means if Querétaro wins 2-0, Cruz Azul still goes to the semifinals. Thus, Querétaro must win 3-0, 3-1, 4-2, etc. or else their season ends.
Gallos Blancos coach Rafa Puente, Jr., will have to find a way to generate offense, no easy task for a team that ranked 13th in goals. Camilo Sanvezzo scored 8 of his team’s 19 goals on the season, but the Cementeros bottled him up quite effectively on Wednesday night, only giving up a single 1-on-1 opportunity and Cruz Azul keeper Jesús Corona knocked that shot down. Sanvezzo – and the entire Querétaro team – must finish, or go home.
Another “star” of Saturday’s match will be the new turf at Estadio Azteca. Co-tenant América was forced to play its final regular-season home game in Toluca so the groundskeepers could replace the entire playing surface. The conditions of the pitch will surely be a talking point before and after the game (especially since América will play Toluca on that same turf Sunday evening).
Cruz Azul: 11-3-3, 26 GF, 13 GA
8-1-0 at home, 18 GF, 3 GA
Querétaro: 7-5-5, 19 GF, 20 GA
2-4-3 on the road, 10 GF, 15 GA
First leg result
Querétaro 0, Cruz Azul 2
The Cementeros were eager to avenge the 2-0 loss they suffered at Estadio Corregidora during the Liga MX campaign and displayed solid tactical discipline from the outset. Defender Pablo Aguilar got Cruz Azul on the board in minute 16 and then the Cementeros turned up the screws on their league-leading defense. The Gallos Blancos began to get frustrated and only produced one good scoring chance in the first half – the breakaway for Sanvezzo snuffed out by Corona. Cruz Azul midfielder Roberto Alvarado was a whirling dervish, passing and creating chances, and pressuring on defense. His push forward on the hour mark resulted in a goal by Edgar Méndez, basically putting the game to bed. Coach Puente threw on 3 additional forwards, but the Gallos Blancos only managed 2 shots on goal all game.
Cruz Azul: 4-2-3-1
Madueña – Domínguez – Aguilar – Aldrete
Baca – Marcone
Méndez – Alvarado – Hernández
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Coach Pedro Caixinha often uses these same 11 in a 4-4-2 but I think he’ll tweak the tactics and reduce the spacing between lines, calling on Méndez, Alvarado and Elías Hernández to take on defensive duties. I expect Cruz Azul to press, but not too high up the field. With Querétaro required to push forward, Caixinha might rely on counterattacks and Cruz Azul has shown skill at this. It’s likely that forward Milton Caraglio will get a call off the bench as he continues to work his way back into shape following a late-season injury. And defender Igor Lichnofsky will no doubt be subbed in at some point to close out the match.
Corral – Romo – Mier – Pérez
Villalva – Gómez – Guemez – Cortizo
Ruiz – Sanvezzo
Coach Puente is likely to use the same starting 11 as in the first leg, but he’ll want to have a partner for Sanvezzo up front. Youngster Marcel Ruiz began the season in a forward role, but has since settled into a false 9. Puente could also opt to start Everaldo Stum in place of Villalva and keep Ruiz behind the forwards. It will be interesting to see if Chile international Edson Puch dresses for this match. He was left in the stands for the first leg and has failed to impress during his stint in Querétaro, but he can be dangerous when he wants to be.
Cruz Azul: Midfielder Iván Marcone has been a revelation in this his first season in Liga MX. His play in front of the central defenders has been instrumental in establishing the Cementeros as the league’s best defense. He will try and torment any Gallos Blancos player who approaches his defensive third, aiming to prevent any comfortable services into the box.
Querétaro: Winger Jordy Cortizo is an enigmatic player and the Gallos Blancos need him to play an inspired match on Saturday. He can be elusive and creative on the flank one game, then careless and idle the next. The Cementeros clamped down on his forays down the flank and prevented him from generating offense. He must produce if Querétaro expects to win.
Cruz Azul will try to settle down into a comfortable “prevent defense” and hit on the counter. It’s hard to imagine the Cementeros giving up 3 goals though Pachuca put 3 past Corona in a Matchday 11 contest when José Madueña was ejected for a clattering tackle in minute 22. A red card might be the only way Querétaro can get past Cruz Azul.