Mexico City club Cruz Azul have not looked themselves so far in the Liga MX Apertura 2018 playoffs and urgently need to turn things around in Saturday’s semi-final second leg versus Monterrey.
After losing 1-0 to the Rayados in Wednesday’s first leg at BBVA Bancomer Stadium, a match dominated by the home side, top-seeded Cruz Azul are on the brink of elimination and are obligated to win the second leg (and do so by a two-goal margin if they allow even one Monterrey goal).
Pedro Caixinha’s men have gone undefeated with a record of eight wins and two draws at Estadio Azteca in nine regular season games and one playoff contest (a 1-1 draw in the quarter-finals against Queretaro) in the Apertura.
But on Saturday they will face a Monterrey club that are fresh off a 2-0 second-leg victory on the road against Clausura 2018 champion Santos Laguna in the quarter-finals and have not given up a goal so far in three playoff games.
“I think they’ll play just like they played against Santos, and I already have in mind what we’re going to do. We at least expect to get back to being ourselves and to do everything to be in the final,” Caixinha said earlier this week.
The Portuguese manager was hired in late 2017 and got off to a rocky start in his return to Mexican soccer, but Cruz Azul turned things around in the Apertura 2018 to post a record of 11-3-3 and allow a league-low 13 goals in the regular season.
But they are fortunate not to be in a deeper hole after Monterrey missed out on several scoring chances in Wednesday’s first leg.
Besides shutting down a talented Monterrey attack led by Argentine forward Rogelio Funes Mori and Colombian forwards Dorlan Pabon and Aviles Hurtado, Cruz Azul must strengthen their midfield play and be more clinical up front.
Two key players who were virtually invisible on Wednesday - midfielders Elias Hernandez and Roberto Alvarado - especially need to make their presences felt.
Monterrey have consistently been near the top of the Mexican-league standings the past two years but have come up short in the postseason, while Cruz Azul have not won a league title since 1997.
The winner of the Monterrey-Cruz Azul semi-final will square off against either Club America or Pumas UNAM (who are tied 1-1 after the first leg) for the Apertura championship.