Mexican Primera Previews, Apertura 2011, Team By Team: CF Monterrey

In addition to looking for another Primera title, Monterrey will be defending their CONCACAF Champions League trophy.

Monterrey fans have had plenty of reason to celebrate over the past year. After claiming the 2010 Apertura title in thrilling fashion over Santos Laguna, Monterrey went one better and lifted the CONCACAF Champions League trophy with a hard-fought win over Real Salt Lake. The success of the 2010-2011 season was historic - the the team's continental title was its first, and Monterrey affirmed its status as one of the giants of Mexican football, at least on the field, with its second title in two years. The team is not fiddling too much with its formula for success, with only two like for like swaps in the transfer market.

As a reward for the team's efforts, Monterrey will contest three competitions in the coming half of the year. In addition to Mexican Primera commitments, Monterrey is once again contesting the CONCACAF Champions League, in addition to their scheduled appearance in the Club World Cup, to be held in December in Japan. The squad has a similar level of quality compared to last year's successful outfit, meaning manager Victor Manuel Vucetich will have plenty of tools at his disposal, though also the weight of expectations on the shoulders of him and his squad.

Maintaining health and fitness will be more essential than ever because of this. In the 2011 Clausura, Monterrey was ultimately stretched too thin to show their best in the Liguilla, falling in the quarterfinals on a tiebreaker after a 3-3 aggregate draw with eventual champions Pumas. Humberto Suazo in particular did not make the same impact he did in Monterrey's Apertura-winning campaign, largely thanks to a shoulder injury that kept him out for significant portions of the Clausura, though he did come up with some crucial goals, most notably the winner in the CONCACAF Champions League final.

Monterrey should have a fairly straightforward path to qualification in the Champions League, as it faces off against Guatemalan outfit Comunicaciones, and the winners of playoffs between Seattle Sounders FC and San Francisco of Panama, as well as Herediano of Costa Rica versus Alpha United of Guyana.  Should the team endeavor to show well in all three competitions, though, it will have to start quickly so as to provide more flexibility in the later stages of the season, when international commitments will start to take their toll. Positive results in the team's 

Right now, though, Monterrey has done little to add depth to their squad. Five players who were on loan in the previous term, most notably Uruguay international Egidio Arévalo, either completed permanent deals with or were loaned out to new teams. Furthermore, club legend Jesús Arellano hung up his boots after the 2010-2011 season, costing the club a veteran leader on the field.

Los Rayados also lost some veteran presence in their backline when Duilio Davino left for Tecos, but picked up highly-rated young replacement in Darvin Chávez, previously at Atlas. Chávez, 21, made his Mexico breakthrough this year and played the full 90 minutes in two of Mexico's three Copa América games. Similarly, Osvaldo Martínez left for Atlante, but Monterrey picked up a quality replacement in former Argentina winger César Delgado, from Lyon. Delgado knows the Mexican league well, having enjoyed a very successful spell with Cruz Azul between 2003 and 2008 in which he scored 61 goals in 151 league appearances. Delgado will provide an injection of pace into the Monterrey attack, and should link up well with Humberto Suazo and Aldo De Nigris, forming a potent, experienced attacking line. Delgado will also link up on the right flank once more with Ricardo Osorio, the two having been teammates for three years at Cruz Azul.

Similar to Suazo's case, though, Delgado has been susceptible to injury in the recent past, and a knock to one or both of those players could seriously  limit Monterrey's offensive potential. In the midfield and further back, though, the team should be solid, with Osorio and Luis Ernesto Pérez stepping into leadership roles after the departures of some key veterans. José Maria Basanta and Hiram Mier round out what looks to be a very solid defensive corps, while the continued presence of Jesús Zavala, Sergio Santa, Walter Ayoví and others provide a midfield capable of matching up with the best in Mexico. Jonathan Orozco, at age 25, can confirm his place as one of the best goalkeepers in Mexico by continuing putting in another solid season between the posts.

Not much has changed in the Monterrey squad over the summer, and it is unlikely the style of play will change much, either. In some cases, this lack of change would be cause for concern, but so long as key veterans stay healthy and contribute at a similar level to last year, Monterrey should expect to comfortably qualify for the Liguilla and the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Potential Breakout Star

Darvin Chávez -- The 21-year-old defender's excellent form in the 2010-2011 season with Atlas earned him a much-deserved transfer to Monterrey and a place on Mexico's U23 side. While he will fight for playing time with another highly-rated young defender, Hiram Mier, the two could eventually link up to become one of the best central defensive partnerships in Mexico, given enough time and the proper development. In the meantime, Monterrey's commitments on three different fronts will test the team's depth, meaning Chávez will certainly get a chance to prove himself.

Key Acquisition

César Delgado -- Monterrey lost an important piece in Osvaldo Martínez, but gained a more than adequate replacement in Lyon right winger and forward César Delgado. An Olympic champion with Argentina in 2004, Delgado is well-suited to the Mexican league, as his success with Cruz Azul shows. His pace on the right side will be a handful for any full back in the country to defend, and he should fit reasonably well into Monterrey's system. If he can find his Cruz Azul form, and Suazo and De Nigris continue to produce the goods, teams will have every reason to fear Monterrey.

Prediction

Fighting for the title -- Anything short of a Liguilla spot would be considered a failure in the eyes of fans and pundits alike. Monterrey has made some smart replacements for its outgoing players, and while the team's depth will be tested, another run to the final is not out of the question given some luck with injuries and fitness, especially considering the talent that exists on the roster.

This is the seventeenth in our series of Mexican Primera team previews. Check out the earlier previews of Club Tijuana XolosQueretaro FCJaguares de ChiapasEstudiantes TecosClub AtlasPuebla FCAtlante FC,San LuisUANL TigresChivas GuadalajaraPachucaSantos LagunaClub AmericaPumas UNAMMonarcas Morelia, and Toluca.

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