CONCACAF Champions League Preview: Cruz Azul hoping to halt form slump
After starting Liga MX's Clausura season with a draw and then eight straight victories, Cruz Azul have suffered three defeats in six matches, including a 3-1 loss at home to Atlas on Saturday.
The Mexican league high-flyers remain first in the table despite that defeat and should be confident against fellow Liga MX club Tijuana, who sit 10th, ahead of Tuesday's semi-final first leg.
Tijuana also lost over the weekend, going down 2-1 at Queretaro, but the northerners have a formidable home record, having only lost once in 21 games in all competitions at the Estadio Caliente.
Cruz Azul are aiming to win their first continental title since 1997 and their maiden CONCACAF Champions League trophy.
The Mexico City-based club are the most successful side in the competition's history alongside local rivals America, although all five of their titles came in the CONCACAF Champions Cup era.
By contrast, Tijuana are competing in the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time this season.
Argentine striker Mariano Pavone could be critical to Cruz Azul's chances of halting their form slump and advancing past Tijuana in their two-legged semi-final.
Pavone has only scored eight goals in Liga MX this season, much less than his 20 last campaign, while he has failed to hit the back of the net in 10 of his past 11 matches.
But in a bonus for Cruz Azul, the 31-year-old forward did notch a hat-trick in his club's most recent CONCACAF Champions League fixture, as they won 5-2 on aggregate over Sporting Kansas City to earn a semi-final berth.
Tijuana's main threat up front will be Dario Benedetto - another Argentine - who has scored four goals in his team's past five matches, including in their 4-2 aggregate triumph over Los Angeles Galaxy in the quarter-finals.
In the other semi-final, Alajuelense of Costa Rica will host Toluca, who sit one point behind Cruz Azul in Mexico.
Toluca defeated San Jose Earthquakes on penalties in the quarter-finals, while Alajuelense edged past Arabe Unido of Panama.
The Costa Ricans warmed up for Tuesday's clash with a 2-0 win at Santos de Guapiles on Saturday, while Toluca trumped Tigres UANL 2-1.