Cruz Azul and Necaxa – two teams in desperate need of a win – meet on the pitch in Estadio Azteca on Saturday.
Cruz Azul had high hopes entering the Clausura 2019 but their title dreams have been virtually dashed before the halfway point. Necaxa was one of only two undefeated teams in the league two weeks ago but the Rayos have lost three games since (two league matches and a Cup game).
The Cementeros are in complete disarray just 75 days after playing in the Apertura Final. Last season, Cruz Azul won the Copa MX and posted an 11-3-3 record to finish atop the table. To date, the Cementeros are 2-3-5 in all competitions this year (including 4 losses at home) and coach Pedro Caixinha could be looking for a new job as early as Sunday is Necaxa wins at Estadio Azteca.
Necaxa was not expected to be a playoff contender this season, but a great start fueled playoff aspirations that are beginning to fade. That “fade” is reflected in their on-field performance where the Rayos have struggled to finish games positively.
Against Tijuana last week, Necaxa allowed two goals in the game’s final 10 minutes to lose 2-1. Before that, visiting San Luis scored the winner in minute 79 in its 3-2 Copa MX victory over the Rayos. On Feb. 9, the Chivas scored two late goals (minutes 82 and 89) to take a 3-2 lead but Necaxa scored in stoppage time to salvage a tie.
These two slumping teams kick off the Saturday slate of Liga MX games at Estadio Azteca.
Veracruz 1, Cruz Azul 1
The Cementeros rescued a point against the lowly Tiburones thanks to a 73rd-minute own goal. More embarrassing than that, the proud Cruz Azul defense gave up a goal to Veracruz, the only goal the Tiburones have scored all season. Cruz Azul dominated possession and took 28 shots, getting 7 of them on target, but absolutely none of them were quality shots. Coach Caixinha left both Martín Cauteruccio and Milton Caraglio out of the starting line-up because neither striker has been a contributor thus far.
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Necaxa 1, Tijuana 2
The Rayos generated a lot of offense, taking 21 shots and getting 8 shots on goal, but the disciplined Tijuana defense forced difficult shots and then swept aside rebounds and errant crosses. Brian Fernández put Necaxa ahead just after the hour mark, but the defense collapsed down the stretch. Right back Brayan Beckeles saw a rebound deflect off his shin and into his own net for a tie, then defender Fernando Meza blatantly handled the ball off a corner kick, leading to the game-winning penalty kick for Tijuana’s Gustavo Bou.
Cruz Azul: 4-4-2
Domínguez – Lichnovsky – Aguilar – Aldrete
Hernández – Salas – Yotun – Pineda
Rodríguez – Alvarado
As poorly as Cruz Azul has played this season, coach Caixinha is apt to tinker with his line-up some more. Edgar Méndez returned from injury last week and saw time as a sub, but Caraglio and Cauteruccio have offered absolutely nothing through 8 weeks and the Cementeros should go with speed and creativity up front. I think Jonathan Rodríguez and Roberto Alvarado can present greater challenges to the Necaxa defense.
Beckeles – Peña – Alvarado – Calderón
Fernández – González – Gallegos – Campos
Herrera – Sepúlveda
I’m not sure Eduardo Herrera is actually going to be available as he was hurt two weeks ago. But the way Martín Barragan and Angel Sepúlveda have played in his absence, anything would be an improvement. Cruz Azul could basically double-cover Brian Fernández and Necaxa’s offense might disappear. Felipe Gallegos and Fernando González have been very effective in the middle of the pitch but have been unable to plug the holes behind them AND fix the failures of the tandem in front.
Cruz Azul: Jonathan Rodríguez was acquired over the winter to provide offensive spark for the Cementeros. His effectiveness was seriously limited while paired with a lumbering strike partner (Cauteruccio or Caraglio) through the first 7 weeks of the season and I would like to see what he can do with creative players like Elías Hernández, Orbelín Pineda and Alvarado working alongside him.
Necaxa: Brian Fernández is likely to get a lot of attention from Cruz Azul as he has been a virtual one-man offense for the Rayos. Over the past four games, the Argentine attacker has scored 6 of Necaxa’s 8 goals. He is not likely to find much space, however, unless he gets some help up front.
Cruz Azul truly faces a must-win situation or this season is likely lost. A tie might save coach Caixinha’s job, but a loss could force an in-season rebuild and the team’s psyche is already fragile as it is. Necaxa had a nice start but the Rayos are simply coming back to earth; their roster is too thin to contemplate a serious playoff run.