Caixinha's time at Cruz Azul more peaceful, but not running smoothly
MEXICO CITY -- At this stage last season, Cruz Azul was still unbeaten in the 2017 Apertura, with two wins and four draws. The club had scored eight goals and conceded five. However, the ambiance around the club wasn't peaceful. Paco Jemez's constant confrontations with the Mexican press during his news conferences continued even when Cruz Azul was in third place after six weeks of play.
This season, under Pedro Caixinha's watch, Cruz Azul has already lost twice and is currently in 14th place, but the ambiance around the club is calm, mainly because Caixinha signed a contract with Los Celestes until June 2020 and contrary to Jemez, the Portuguese knows the Mexican press and how to tame it as he tries to get his Cruz Azul running.
So far Cruz Azul has played three home games -- vs. Tijuana, Leon and Necaxa -- and it has been unable to score in any of them. The team is currently in Monterrey, about to play against Rayados, and is coming off back-to-back losses. The transition from Jemez to Caixinha isn't running smoothly.
"I believe that the team is indebted to itself," Caixinha said after Necaxa defeated Cruz Azul 2-0 last Saturday. "Of course, with all the people who support the club, we also feel indebted to them because they also defend this club and are faithful fans. I know very well what our current suffering represents for them."
Caixinha is aware that this season will set the tone for the entirety of his Cruz Azul tenure. He approved of all the club's winter acquisitions and must have been aware that there would be risks to consider. Walter Montoya, who came from Sevilla, and Carlos "Gullit" Pena, who was coached by Caixinha with Rangers, are two players that were brought to the club to enhance the attack. However, that hasn't been the case.
Pena's career has collapsed since 2014, yet Caixinha believes he can convince Pena to be the dynamic midfielder he used to be. Montoya is coming off a year in which he struggled miserably at Sevilla.
Carlos Fierro, who never claimed a solid starting role at Chivas, is perhaps the winter signing who has given more to La Maquina, but his finishing and passing deficiencies don't make him a major threat for Liga MX's defenses.
"We're still far [from their best football], but in understanding concepts, we're advancing because as you saw in the second half, the team had another attitude because we selected another tactical scheme, different positioning and another type of equilibrium. It's a process that's not easy, but I don't want to put excuses, especially when I'm saying that I'm the man responsible for this situation," Caixinha said when asked if his players are having a hard time understanding what he wants from them. "Take a look at all our starting lineups and check if we repeat one of them. Take a look how many players we didn't have today, but I don't want to put excuses. I will give my all with the players that I have. I have a great squad and have great expectations about the capacity that this squad has. That's why we have to keep working and continue fighting."
The fact that Caixinha hasn't been able to count with a full squad to start off the Clausura has been a major reason why the team still hasn't shown a strong cohesion on the field. One of the main absences in the first six weeks has been forward Edgar Mendez, who was suspended for six Liga MX games after spitting at Club America's Alejandro "Wero" Diaz's face during last season's Liguilla.
In the 2017 Apertura, Mendez finished the season with five goals and two assists. His offensive and defensive contributions were key in getting La Maquina back in the Liguilla last season. But his immature act in last season's Liguilla has hurt Cruz Azul's form at the start of the new year.
With that being said, Mendez looks forward to possibly making an immediate impact, as he's scheduled to compete during Cruz Azul's visit to Monterrey.
"I think it's important for the fans, for us, and for everyone in general [to start a positive streak]. To tell you the truth, I feel like we need to start winning, and we're going to play Monterrey as if it were a final because we have no other option," he said. "We need the points, no matter what, and it's clear that we need to wake up now because if not, other teams will build a good point advantage, and we won't be able to catch up."
Adrian Aldrete and Rafael Baca, who was suspended for the Necaxa match, are also set to return into the roster. No team has defeated Monterrey at Estadio BBVA Bancomer this season, so it won't be easy for Cruz Azul to get a positive result. Luckily for Caixinha's side, Aviles Hurtado will not be available for Monterrey due to suspension. It's a tricky week for Cruz Azul, especially if it goes winless in a week that includes games against Monterrey and Puebla at Estadio Azul.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.