Monterrey Vs. Pumas UNAM, 2011 Clausura Liguilla: Preview, Rayados Injuries Give Pumas Advantage

SANDY, UT - APRIL 27: Humberto Suazo #26 of Monterrey Mexico celebrates their win over Real Salt Lake during the second half of the CONCACAF Championship game April 27, 2011 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Monterrey beat Real Salt Lake 1-0 to win the CONCACAF championship. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

Based on Pumas UNAM's form in the 2011 Clausura and Monterrey's fixture congestion with the CONCACAF Champions League, their odds were always going to be long in this Liguilla tie. Despite being the defending champions and having arguably the best player on this side of the Atlantic Ocean in Humberto Suazo, Pumas have been spectacular so far in this tournament, and their team should be well rested. This was all true independent of the Rayados' absences.

Monterrey's absences are massive, though, and Pumas should have a serious advantage as a result. Jesus Zavala will miss out on the first leg due to suspension, while Luis Perez and Aldo de Nigris will be out due to injury. The former two absences are particularly concerning, as they put a lot of stress on the potential starting central midfielders for Monterrey.

Walter Ayovi is an everything man who can fill in wherever his team needs him, but he is certainly at his best as a wide player, and he probably looks better than he is in the center when paired with either Perez or Zavala. On Thursday, he could be paired with Hector Llanas, who would be playing out of position, or Neri Cardozo, who would leave him to do all of the defensive duties. Either way, it's not a great situation for the man whose wonder goal got Monterrey into Liguilla in the first place.

The good news for Ayovi and his potential midfield partner is that Leandro Augusto is still out in the center of midfield for Pumas. The bad news is that Israel Castro is not. Castro has been in fantastic form, and with both Perez and Zavala out of the lineup, he has a chance to absolutely run this game.

This is independent of their defense, which is arguably the most talented in the Primera, or their attack, which is the deepest in Mexico, though it lacks a true focal point or superstar. When both teams are healthy, Pumas probably have a slight advantage at the moment. With three of Monterrey's best players out, they appear to be in serious trouble.

So, do Monterrey have a chance to win? Of course they do. Anyone who doubts the ability of a team that has Chupete Suazo to win any game is crazy. Israel Castro could completely dominate this game for 90 minutes and Monterrey could still win. Anyone who would lay money against Suazo is mad.

If I had to make a fake money bet? Pumas will get a draw or win tonight in Monterrey, leaving Victor Manuel Vucetich to pray that De Nigris and Perez can return from injury to rescue his team.

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