Due to their actions in the Liguilla of the 2011 Clausura, Christian 'Chaco' Gimenez and Jose de Jesus Corona are sitting out Cruz Azul's opening six games in the 2011 Apertura. Any club would suffer without their No. 1 goalkeeper and their best playmaker, but Cruz Azul rely on Chaco more than almost any elite team in the Americas relies on one player. Against UANL Tigres in the Round 1 of the Apertura, that was incredibly obvious.
Obviously knowing the tough task that was ahead of him - trying to get a positive result against UANL Tigres on the road - Enrique Meza put out an extremely conservative team. In front of a packed Estadio Universitario, Cruz Azul executed their gameplan to perfection while being completely out-classed. The Blue Machine packed 10 men behind the ball and only ventured forward on the counter-attack, as expected. Tigres kept the ball and looked like they could score at any time, but their goal only came when Gerardo Torrado made an awful giveaway, putting a goal on a silver platter for Hector Mancilla. That was all they would get, despite dominating the match. Cruz Azul got a goal of their own on the counter, and the match ended 1-1.
Though Cruz Azul can count a draw away to Tigres as a positive result, they seriously missed Gimenez. The team had very little creativity, and the players who are best equipped to replace the attacking output that Gimenez provides - Javier Orozco and Cesar Villaluz - were left on the bench. This could be due to a preference based on form and talent, but it's more likely that they were left out as a tactical move by Meza, who wanted to get his best defensive team on the pitch.
Conventional wisdom says that Cruz Azul will need to minimize the damage suffered while Gimenez and Corona are out, then pick up the pace when they get back into the team, but their schedule reveals something completely different. Their situation is actually the exact opposite, because they're going to need to win most of their next five games.
In their final five fixtures without Gimenez and Corona, Cruz Azul play Atlas, at Pachuca, Atlante, at Jaguares, and Tijuana. This is far and away the easiest portion of their schedule, and anything less than, say, 10 points from these five games will be considered an abject failure, even without two of their most important players.
When Gimenez and Corona return, there will be no time for them to slowly get up to speed. They'll be thrown directly into the fire with a derby match, away to Pumas UNAM. Their next four games are against Morelia, at Monterrey, Chivas, and at Santos. That's an incredibly mean set of five games, and even with Gimenez and Corona in mid-season form, it wouldn't be surprising to see Cruz Azul drop a good deal of points during that run. Instead, they will not be in mid-season form, but just getting up to speed.
Gimenez is key to the Cruz Azul attack, but they can't afford to minimize damage while he's out. They need to win games now, because minimizing damage will actually be what they're going to be thinking about once he comes back to a difficult run of fixtures. It's understandable that Meza played for the draw away to Tigres in week one, but what about the next five games?
Don't expect a back five, a conservative midfield selection, and an isolated lone striker at the Estadio Azul against Atlas this weekend. One, if not both of Villaluz and Orozco are likely to take the field, and Cruz Azul are probably going to attack. Things aren't going to get easier when their best player returns, so the Blue Machine is going to have to find a way to get wins without him, starting with this weekend's match against Atlas.