Manuel Veth –
Cruz Azul have been one of the most exciting stories in the 2017-18 Liga MX season. Finishing sixth in the Apertura Cruz Azul were eliminated at the quarterfinal stage of the Liguilla by city rivals Club America after drawing home and away 0-0 (Liga MX uses league standings as a tie-breaker in the first round of the playoffs).
It was the first time Cruz Azul had qualified for the Liguilla since the 2014 Apertura, making it six-consecutive season without playoff football for one of Mexico’s most historic teams. But nothing is ever simple at Cruz Azul’s Spanish head coach Pedro Jeméz left the club following the season seemingly exhausted from the countless battles with journalists, league officials and the board.
Jeméz would eventually sign in his native Spain with La Liga side Las Palmas. Liga MX has a reputation for tactical revolution and as a result coaches from the league often include some of the most exciting characters world football has to offer. Furthermore, it was also here that Pep Guardiola finalised his football philosophy, therefore do not be surprised if Paco Jémez will bring some fresh wind to La Liga.
Cruz Azul are a Small and Fragile Plant
Back at Cruz Azul, he is indeed leaving behind a small and fragile plant that is showing some signs of recovery but still requires plenty of nourishment to become the healthy robust tree that the club once represented. Taking over from Pedro Jeméz is the Portuguese head coach Pedro Caixinha.
Previously a coach at Glasgow Rangers Caixinha failed to meet expectations of the Glasgow Rangers fan base. Fired after 229 days in charge Caixinha carries the questionable honour of being the shortest serving manager in Rangers history.
Given his disastrous spell at Rangers, it is surprising that Cruz Azul management have handed him the reigns at the Mexico City based club. But Caixinha comes with some decent Liga MX history to La capital. Between 2013 and 2015 Caixinha coached Cruz Azul’s league rival Santos Laguna and won the Copa MX Apertura in 2014, the Liga MX Clausura in 2015 and the Campeón de Campeones trophy in 2015 with the club. He also reached the final of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2013, but his side lost to Monterrey in the final.
Now he is back in Mexico to repeat his Santos Laguna success and build on the project started by Jémez. To help him Cruz Azul have added some much-needed attacking support.
Signed from Sevilla for €5.5 million Montoya was the most expensive Liga MX signing this winter. The 24-year-old Argentine forward joined Sevilla from Rosario last winter but never had the impact expected from him by the Sevilla management. The right-winger is a quick and explosive attacking player with a fantastic long-shot, strong passing abilities and good in one-on-one situations. Montoya, however, never has been a goal machine and that is perhaps the most significant risk of the transfer. Because if there is one thing Cruz Azul lacked during the Apertura, it was undoubtedly goals. Finishing sixth Cruz Azul’s 22 goals mean the lowest amount scored by any side that had qualified for the Liguilla. In the likes of Chilean Felipe Mora Cruz Azul have a striker, he scored eight goals in 17 games for Cruz Azul, who can find the net for them. He, however, needs more support and for that reason, it makes sense that Cruz Azul have brought in support on either wing.
Signed from Chievo Carlos Fierro was once considered the hottest prospect on the popular manager game Football Manager. Shining at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup Fierro was often everyone’s popular choice when it came to snapping up a young and cheap talent. Despite showing flashes of brilliance his career in reality never really took off. Never scoring more than five goals in a half-season Fierro stalled in his development and it became apparent that he needed a change of scenery to develop his full potential finally. At Cruz Azul, he is expected to put pressure on the already established Edgar Mendez, who was brought in from Deportivo Alavés last summer.
More depth up front for Cruz Azul
Having more depth up front should allow Caixinha to build on the 22 goals scored last season. Although 22 goals conceded also marked the second worst record of all Liguilla sides, only León have done worse with 23, Caixinha knows that the attack will be the primary concern going forward.
There has been an interesting phenomenon in Liga MX, which has been started with Monterrey. Some of the more prominent clubs now shun possession and instead like to hit teams on the counter-attack. It is a bit of a football revolution that is happening in Mexico and Cruz Azul to be successful will likely copy the model set out by Monterrey. To do so fast attacking players will be the key.
Keeping this in mind it made sense why Cruz Azul have strengthened the attacking three despite already making significant investments in the summer. The small plant, after all, needs nourishment in the form of goals to reach its full potential.
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and social media editor at Bundesliga.com. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.