Necaxa must find a way to slow down the Rayados

Monterrey players celebrate after Jesús Gallardo scored the first Rayados goal only 10 minutes into the match on Wednesday night. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Monterrey players celebrate after Jesús Gallardo scored the first Rayados goal only 10 minutes into the match on Wednesday night. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

The Rayos looked discombobulated against a rampant Monterrey side on Wednesday. They’ll hope for a better display at home tonight.

Necaxa was the league’s best road team during the regular season and won at Querétaro during the quarterfinals, but Monterrey ran roughshod over them in the first leg of their semifinal series.

The Rayos ran into a buzzsaw in Monterrey and coach Guillermo Vázquez must re-design his tactical approach if Necaxa is to make its first Finals appearance since 2002.

The Rayados had the visiting Rayos on their back foot all game, running at them from the outset and attacking on both offense and defense. The 2-1 result does not do justice to the dominating performance turned in by Monterrey. And that could prove beneficial for Necaxa.

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Coach Vázquez must demand a more disciplined alignment in the return leg, especially in midfield where Monterrey found plenty of space to operate. Necaxa chased the ball too often leaving gaping holes in their lines without anybody rotating to fill in the gaps.

This lack of spatial discipline virtually ruined the Rayos’ favored transition game. When Necaxa managed to gain possession (only 41% on the night), passes went wanting because players weren’t where they were supposed to be. The team completed only 66% of its passes all game.

Too often, Necaxa tried to go 1-on-1 and lost the ball, or made speculative passes to no one. Instead of opting to carry the ball out of the defensive zone on goal kicks, goalie Hugo González relied on booting the ball long and, more often than not, Monterrey regained possession and went right back on attack.

Necaxa vs Monterrey
Dutchman Vincent Janssen was a constant menace in the first leg and his physicality proved to be a handful for the Necaxa defense. He scored the winner in minute 73. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez / Getty Images) /

Left back Cristian Calderón – a star during the Querétaro series – also had a particularly bad game. Monterrey repeatedly exploited his flank and he was often out of position or just plain beaten by his opponent. If not for González (6 saves) and the misfiring Rodolfo Pizarro, Necaxa might have given up 5 goals.

Monterrey coach Antonio Mohamed has his team playing extremely well at just the right time. Winger Dorlan Pabón and striker Vincent Janssen are in a zone and seem like they have been playing together for years although the Dutchman only stepped in for the injured Rogelio Funes Mori last week.

The aforementioned Pizarro is healthy again, but he is not quite on beat. He still seems capable of his trademark mazy runs at the defense, but his passing and shooting are not up to his normal standards. Midfielder Jesús Gallardo caused the Necaxa defense fits and coach Mohamed has given him free rein to attack at will and he is playing with a high level of confidence.

Monterrey will likely come out exerting pressure and looking for the quick counter, especially via long balls. If Necaxa scores quickly, the Rayados probably won’t park the bus. I’d expect them to come out looking for goals, knowing that if they score twice then the Rayos would have to win by two goals.

Necaxa adjustments

Coach Vázquez might have to tweak his preferred substitution patterns if the Rayos are behind in the aggregate score at halftime. Typically, winger Kevin Mercado and forwards Eduardo Herrera and Maxi Salas are sent on during the final 20 minutes. Salas might get a call earlier than usual and Mercado would be a useful sub if Juan Delgado or Claudio Baeza continue to struggle. If the Rayos somehow take the lead, Luis Pérez is available to create a 5-man back line.

Monterrey adjustments

Coach Mohamed has options on the bench to tighten up the defense, if and when necessary. Jonathan Rodríguez in midfield and José María Basanta (or Johan Vázquez) will be ready to slow down Necaxa when called upon. Maxi Meza provides a more physical presence in midfield and often subs in for left back Lionel Vangioni with Gallardo dropping into the back line. But if defense is needed, Meza could come in for Pizarro instead.

Win or lose, Monterrey will be leaving for Qatar to take part in the Club World Cup. The Rayados play a quarterfinal match on Dec. 14 and if the win they’d meet Liverpool in the semifinals. If Monterrey does eliminate Necaxa, the Liga MX Final would be postponed until Christmas week. If the Rayos overcome the 2-1 deficit to reach the Final, it will be played next week.