Friday, January 17, 2020. Alfonso Lastras stadium in San Luis Potosí. That was the last time Cruz Azul lost a match of any sort. Since that day, Cruz Azul had played 18 games up until yesterday without losing a single one - 11 league matches (9 wins, 2 draws), 2 CONCACAF CL matches (2 wins), and 5 Copa por México pre-season matches (4 wins, 1 draw). In total, their final statline read 15 wins and 3 draws in 18 matches. A rare feat to see in Mexican Football, that’s for sure. As of yesterday, that streak came officially ended, as a struggling Gallos Blancos squad held Siboldi and company scoreless for the first time since the unbeaten run began, and thanks to Kevin Ramírez’s nice finish, Querétaro got their first win of the season. Who would’ve known?
If one looked at Cruz Azul’s first four games on this season’s schedule and had to guess which one they would lose, the last one to be picked would be the Gallos matchup, especially considering the incredible amount of changes the franchise overwent during the summer, including ownership and all. Not to mention, the clear lack of offense and limited quality in every position on the pitch. But yesterday’s result defied all odds.
Despite Cruz Azul vastly dominating the first 45 minutes in ball possession and shot attempts, they were unable to get past keeper Gil Alcalá’s body. While many attempts went wide or high of the goal, the ones that were on target were either blocked by a defender or sailed right into Alcalá’s hands. Their best chance in the entire game came in the 44th minute, when Santi Giménez had an open look just outside the six-yard box, but his crossed shot was deflected by Gallos’ keeper. During the second half, ‘La Máquina’ never came close to creating the danger they did in the first half. Their attacks ended up drowning upon reaching Querétaro’s penalty-box and Gil Alcalá was well in control of every shot headed his way. That is, up until the 92nd minute, when a Cruz Azul header sailed over the keeper only to be saved on the goal-line by Uruguayan striker Sebastián Sosa.
So, what happened? For starters, ex-Querétaro midfielder Luis Romo was not on his finest day, that’s for sure. He missed a lot of open passes that he usually makes, with this offense growing accustomed to his involvement and largely depending on it at times. Orbelín Pineda couldn’t get his shots on goal. Santi Giménez had three or fout shots go straight to Gil Alcalá’s body. But this wasn’t luck. This was the product of Fernando Madrigal, Gonzalo Montes, Kevin Ramírez, and even strikers Sepúlveda and Silveira clogging up the center of the pitch. Gallos left-back Erik Vera also played a huge role by guarding his left side to perfection. But player of the game honors undoubtedly go to Gallos center-back Julián Velázquez, one of the five remaining players on the roster from last season. He pressed both Santi Giménez and “Cabecita” the entire game and never allowed either of them to get comfortable.
The entire Querétaro squad looked very comfortable defending, especially after taking the lead in the first half. They locked down and nullified all of Cruz Azul’s attacks, forcing them to constantly use the entire width of the pitch, highly involving Elías Hernández and Orbelín Pineda to no prevail. By the second half, the passes in the middle of the pitch that Cruz Azul were completing in the first half, were being intercepted and missed, as Gallos defenders and midfielders started figuring out La Máquina’s system. Alex Diego’s squad looked like a team who are all on the same page and who dominate their coach’s system and style of play entirely. Siboldi simply wasn’t able to solve the maze that was Querétaro’s defense.
In relation to Gallos’ tactics, the 4-4-2 formation employed by head coach Alex Diego ended up looking like a 5-5 formation at times when defending, with both strikers being pulled down to midfield, and one or two midfielders entering the defensive line. Fortunately for Diego, his team’s only goal was enough to seal the victory. And just like that, a team made up of about 50% Second Division players just five months ago, Gallos pulled away with what could be the season’s most unexpected victory thus far. This still doesn’t take the championship tag off Cruz Azul in my opinion, as everyone is allowed to have a bad day. We’ll see how they rebound on Saturday vs. FC Juárez. Gallos, on the other hand, play hosts to América on Sunday night.