By all accounts, a quick look at Christian Benitez's stats wouldn't reveal an obvious problem. Sure, he's bequeathed his spot as the team's (and the tournament's) top scorer to Raul Jimenez, but that can also be attributed to the rise in stock of the 21-year-old prospect since the 2012 Summer Olympics.
No, this requires a bit more analysis. Just a tad, in fact. Watching Benitez blow easy chances and stumble around the pitch the last few weeks has been on display for a while. Against Santos Laguna, his old team, Benitez had three clear-cut chances which could have easily turned America's Friday night loss into a draw or better.
In fact, Benitez's rampant drop in form has been covered up nicely by the fact that Jimenez has come on strong, and that América's offense has excellent input from midfielders, wingers and even defenders. In the last two league matches, Rubens Sambueza's absence has been noticeable. The Argentine winger has been missed in the lineup due to suspension, and not one player has been able to adequately replace his deft passing and attacking prowess.
It is then, perhaps, no surprise to know that Benitez has not scored in three games since slamming one home in the team's 3-0 win over Queretaro on February 2nd. More worrying is the fact that Benitez has lost his touch against the top tier opposition he was known for victimizing in the past.
Of Benitez's last 10 goals at the league level, just three were scored against teams who made the playoffs last season or are in position to make them after the Clausura 2013 regular season ends. This season, his goals have come against Queretaro, Jaguares and Atlante, teams who have just four wins between them in 24 combined matches.
Against Cruz Azul, he will face a team that has allowed 12 goals in eight games, but hasn't lost to America in their last five face-to-face matches. While Sambueza will be back for the all-important clash to aid Benitez, focus will be on the aforementioned Jimenez to score goals. If Benitez whiffs on big chances like he's done in the past weeks, it will be interesting to see whether his teammate for club and country, Narciso Mina, comes on to replace him.
The game will be a tough test for both teams. America has just one point in their last two matches, while Cruz Azul has notched just one win in their last five outings. Another loss for La Maquina will spell mounting pressure on coach Guillermo Vazquez, and top signings Nicolas Bertolo and Teo Gutierrez, who have yet to strut their stuff in the Liga MX.
Thus, while other seasons have had both teams meeting under a variety of circumstances in the past, the Clausura 2013 match will definitely be a clash designed to avoid a crisis of confidence on either side.
PARTING SHOT: We miss you already, Diego
This is a little slice of what life will be without departing defender Diego Reyes come the 2013-14 season. Reyes has been out for two games with an injury, and in those matches America has given up three goals (and haven't won). With Reyes, America gave up just four goal... in six matches. The team's record in that span? Five wins and one loss.