Week 10: Can Cruz Azul rediscover its form?

GUADALAJARA, MEXICO - AUGUST 29: Ismael Govea #29 of Atlas jumps for the ball with Igor Lichnovsky #05 of Cruz Azul during a Group F match between Atlas and Cruz Azul as part of Torneo Apertura Copa MX 2018 at Estadio Jalisco on August 29, 2018 in Guadalajara, Mexico. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images)
GUADALAJARA, MEXICO - AUGUST 29: Ismael Govea #29 of Atlas jumps for the ball with Igor Lichnovsky #05 of Cruz Azul during a Group F match between Atlas and Cruz Azul as part of Torneo Apertura Copa MX 2018 at Estadio Jalisco on August 29, 2018 in Guadalajara, Mexico. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /

Santos travels to the port city to battle the Tiburones, while the Cementeros visit Atlas with a chance to salvage their season.

Santos stumbled last week against red-hot León, but recovered nicely with a Concacaf Champions League win over New York Red Bulls. With the return match against the Red Bulls on Tuesday (at home), coach Salvador Reyes is likely to rest some of his starters tonight in favor of the CCL match.

On Friday, Santos faces a Veracruz team that is the only Liga MX club without a win this season.

Later tonight, Cruz Azul will take the field at Estadio Jalisco eager to start a winning streak. The Cementeros overcame a 1-0 deficit to defeat Necaxa last week, saving Coach Caixinha’s job in the process and ending their 4-game winless streak that had flung them into 14th place.

Cruz Azul takes on Atlas as the Zorros aim to put an end to their 4-game losing streak.

Santos at Veracruz

The Guerreros started the Clausura 2019 slowly and are only now starting to find their comfort zone. Santos traded away midfield general Osvaldo Martínez and star striker Jonathan Rodríguez and struggled to adjust to their absences.

Midfielder Diego Valdés is more of an attacker and not the playmaker that Osvaldito is. Valdés is also less attentive to his defensive responsibilities and that has taken a toll on fellow midfielder José Juan Vázquez who has had to cover more ground.

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Up front, Javier Correa is a better shooter than Rodríguez but striker Julio Furch had developed a great relationship with Rodríguez and is still unfamiliar with Correa’s preferred movements. That has resulted in some errant passes as Correa has not made then same runs toward goal that Furch was able to anticipate with Rodríguez.

Against Veracruz, coach Reyes is likely to sit some starters or sub out players early regardless of the score. Depending on the roughness of play, he is likely to keep Furch and Correa in together – or work on another combination – because Santos is having trouble scoring. Furch scored 12 goals last season and has only 2 thus far in the Clausura. Correa is the team’s leading scorer with 3 goals.

On the other hand, Veracruz is looking for offense from anywhere. The Tiburones have only 2 goals through 9 games, the primary reason for their 0-3-6 record.

Veracruz has played tougher defense at home than on the road and managed a 1-1 draw against Cruz Azul the last time they played in Estadio Luis Pirate Fuente.

Veracruz coach Robert Siboldi will be taking on his former team for the first time since he resigned early last season. Siboldi led Santos to the Clausura 2018 Liga MX title, but stepped aside after allegedly getting into a fistfight with a player. It will be interesting to see how Reyes and Siboldi interact before the match as Reyes was an assistant for Siboldi before replacing him.

Veracruz is already focusing on next season, so coach Siboldi might give some youngsters the opportunity to see action with the senior team. The Tiburones are virtually guaranteed relegation after the season, but ownership has already announced it intends to pay the buy-in fee (120 million pesos) to retain their spot in Liga MX.

I’d expect Santos to play conservatively and settle for a low-scoring victory.

Cruz Azul at Atlas

Regardless of their win last week, the Cementeros are still in crisis mode. The club is only a shell of the powerhouse team that basically led the league from start to finish last season before crashing to earth in the Final.

Coach Caixinha has been under the gun and management continues to leak potential successors for the Portuguese coach. The latest name is Sebastián Beccacece, a 38-year-old Argentine manager who is coaching in Argentina’s First Division.

The Cruz Azul offense has been a disaster. Until last week, the Cementeros had not scored more than 1 goal in any game. Caixinha has been rotating strikers Milton Caraglio and Martín Cauteruccio with little success, until the former scored the equalizer against the Rayos last week.

In addition to the misfiring forwards, the midfield has not been as sharp but the inclusion of newcomer Yoshimar Yotún has proven rewarding. Yotún – and Ecuador international – has been effective in a defensive midfield role and now Caixinha has to get his playmakers to produce. Orbelín Pineda, Roberto Alvarado and Jonathan Rodríguez have been dismal thus far and that has prompted the back line to look for the long pass instead of trying to work the ball through midfield.

Atlas started the season 3-1-1 and was in fifth place before losing their last four games by a combined 9-2 scoreline. You could say they are returning to their level after overachieving because the Zorros finished in 17th place last season.

Coach Guillermo Hoyos knows he must turn things around if he hopes to stay on with Atlas next season. But admittedly he has a thin roster, even with the editions of midfielders Jesús Isijara and Osvaldo Martínez, and striker Facundo Barceló.

Skipper Juan Pablo Vigón has been the star of the team, even earning an invitation to Team Mexico’s training camp last month. However, his team’s defensive struggles often force him to play in a deeper role, limiting his offensive participation.

Atlas knows Cruz Azul’s defense is not the same airtight unit it was last season, so the Zorros might try a more vertical attack with Barceló, Jairo Torres and Clifford Aboagye putting pressure on Cruz Azul’s back four.

I expect this game to be free-flowing and we could see goals, but Cruz Azul will refuse to lose.