Cruz Azul were able to snatch an all-important away goal away to Monterrey in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League tie, but they still trail 2-1 as they come home to the Estadio Azul, and they have a serious uphill battle ahead of them if they want to advance to the final against Real Salt Lake, who defeated C.D. Saprissa 3-2 on aggregate. With the league form of these two teams, a Monterrey draw or better seems like an obvious conclusion to draw, but there are never any obvious conclusions in matches between two Mexican sides.
Both teams will be returning their biggest attacking stars to this game, with Cruz Azul getting Chaco Gimenez back from suspension while Monterrey's Humberto Suazo returns after an injury. Chaco's return will probably mark a change in formation for Cruz Azul from the first leg, when they played a 4-4-2. Gimenez will enter for Javier Orozco and play behind Emmanuel Villa as a hybrid roaming attacking midfielder/support striker in a system where the central midfielders hold their positions to make up for Chaco's drifting.
Suazo has been consistently one of the best players on the North American continent for some time, and Monterrey are a different side when he is healthy. He should probably start in a strike partnership with Aldo de Nigris, whose star has risen over the last calendar year. They should form a formidable partnership and cause problems for a shaky Cruz Azul back line.
The x-factor in this matchup is the aforementioned Chaco Gimenez, who can score out of absolutely nowhere. If Cruz Azul aren't looking great, he can pull out wins by himself, but the Blue Machine seem to depend on that far too often. They might have to depend on that tonight, as it wouldn't be surprising to see Monterrey play for, and get a clean sheet, independent of Chaco's moments of unbelievable brilliance.
With the players that they have on their roster, Monterrey are capable of grinding out a scoreless draw if they have to. They usually play very attractive football, but they can play a defense-first style when necessary. In that respect, Walter Ayovi is their Park Ji-Sung out wide, while Jesus Zavala is their (large) Darren Fletcher. It seems like Monterrey will play a 4-4-2 with Zavala and Luis Perez on the bench while Neri Cardozo and Ayovi play wide, but don't be surprised to see one of the strikers come off to create a 4-5-1 setup if Monterrey snag an early away goal.
Our own Eben Lehman wrote a preview for SBNation.com, and he predicted that Cruz Azul would do enough to advance past Monterrey. Between Cruz Azul's recent form, Monterrey's tactical options and ability to keep clean sheets, and the individual brilliance of Humberto Suazo, I'm not so sure about that. I like a scoring draw in this match, with Monterrey advancing to face Real Salt Lake.