Looking at the numbers, it appears that Cruz Azul and Chivas are on exact equal footing heading into Saturday's match-up. Both teams have five wins, two losses, and two draws this season. Along with Jaguares de Chiapas, the two clubs are also tied atop the league standings with 17 points (although Cruz Azul and Jaguares have the slightly better goal differential). While things couldn't appear more even on the surface, look a bit closer and the differences become apparent.
Cruz Azul has continued to make strides in recent weeks, beating two of the best teams in Mexico (Pumas UNAM and Monterrey) during the last three rounds of play. At the same time, Chivas has taken a big step backwards. After beginning the season with four wins and one draw, Chivas has lost two of their last four matches, capped off by an embarrassing 1-4 defeat to Puebla on their former home field at Estadio Jalisco last weekend.
Don't let their position in the standings fool you -- Chivas still has lots of work left to do this season. It is imperative that improvements are seen on Saturday against Cruz Azul. If nothing else, Chivas fans will at least see some lineup changes from last week's loss. A combination of suspensions and poor play could produce a few significant personnel moves from manager Jose Luis Real. On the backline, both Kristian Alvarez and Jonny Magallon will miss Saturday's match after their respective red cards against Puebla. Look for Mario de Luna and Miguel Ponce to return to starting roles on defense. The unit as a whole will certainly have to perform much better than last week, when the Chivas defenders were repeatedly burned by the speedy Puebla attack.
Even with the suspensions in the back, of greater concern to most Chivas fans is the team's play in the attacking third. Erick "Cubo" Torres and Omar Arellano have both been incredibly disappointing in recent weeks. Young striker Carlos Fierro, a hero of Mexico's U-17 national team this summer, actually played with the first team in training much of this week. Could the youngster get his first ever Primera division start on the road against Cruz Azul? Probably not, but do expect to see him get significant minutes off the bench.
On the Cruz Azul side, striker Emanuel Villa remains in doubt. The Argentinan desperately wants to play on Saturday, but a lingering injury means the final decision will be up to the training staff. At this point he remains a game-time decision. If Villa is not fit to play, Edixon Perea will need to step up again for la Maquina. The Colombian striker filled in admirably for Villa last week on the road against Monterrey, scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 victory. If Perea can turn in another strong performance and take advantage of the personnel changes on the Chivas backline, Cruz Azul will be in good shape.
Who do you think will have the upper hand on Saturday? Can Chivas turn things around after their recent slide, or are Cruz Azul coming together at just the right time?
Watch the top of table clash between Cruz Azul and Chivas on Saturday at 6:00 pm eastern (5:00 local time in Mexico City) on Azteca and ESPN Deportes.