Misplaced defiance prompted Chivas owner Jorge Vergara to scramble toward level ground with Club América this week. Vergara possessed little choice in the matter given the awful state of affairs and his persona non grata status in Guadalajara right now, but his typically outlandish pronouncements lacked the conviction usually afforded by genuine belief, fact or merit.
The benefactor of Mexico’s fallen giants claimed the Liga MX leaders would not frighten his side under any circumstances, even if the match took place on Halloween. Perhaps the sentiment is true in some base form befitting this bitter rivalry, but it doesn’t appear appropriate ahead of the Súper Clásico at Estadio Azteca ( live, Saturday, 6 p.m. ET).
América, truth be told, scares just about everyone right now.
Las Aguilas possess the sort of fear-inducing might befitting the largest side of the country and the reigning champions of Liga MX. Canny and excitable manager Miguel Herrera has pulled the club out of its fractious wilderness over the past couple of years and set it along a devastating path. The truth is their long-awaited return to the summit in the Clausura served as the first salvo, not the final accomplishment, in his team-building process.
América’s ruthless march through the Apertura now serves as the perfect second act. América entered this 17-game slate with the CONCACAF Champions League as an added burden and the persistence of a game or two in hand. The peculiar route has made no difference. Nine wins from 11 games reveal a level of professionalism beyond reproach. A record of 24 goals scored and just eight conceded in that same stretch establishes the sort of dominance expected from the defending champions. Only top-four sides Club León (draw) and Santos Laguna (defeat) have taken points off América this season.
Chivas, as the table painfully reveals, is nowhere near a top-four side at the moment. An overhaul during the summer and the subsequent departure of Benjamin Galindo after Chivas’ dreadful start have done little to arrest this club’s slide. As Herrera sniffed during the week, Vergara must now worry more about Chivas’ place in the relegation table than any fanciful notions about a dramatic reduction in the 20-point gap between the sides or a late charge toward a Liguilla place.
A persistent uncertainty in the back is Chivas’ most pressing concern heading into this match. New boss Juan Carlos Ortega embraced the increasingly popular trend of fielding three central defenders when he took charge, but the extra resolve in that part of the field has not stemmed the issues. Chivas remains woefully short of quality and depth at the back, a problem only exacerbated by suspect work out wide and holding midfielder Jorge Enríquez’s likely absence from this match through injury. Ortega has been chopping and changing in a bid to conjure some form of solidity, yet the fact they have posted but one clean sheet during the Clausura — improbably against top scorers Toluca in September — reveals the frailty within Chivas’ ranks.
América treats sides without the necessary foundation rather harshly. Herrera’s 5-3-2 setup oppresses adversaries with bombing wingbacks (Miguel Layún earned a Mexico recall under new boss Victor Manuel Vucetich after his ample contributions to the cause), effective midfielders and sharp forwards. The pressure builds and builds until the opposition finally yields. The breakthrough can come from several different avenues — a clever run through the line by Raúl Jiménez, a cross from Layún or Paul Aguilar, a neat sequence in possession with Rubens Sambueza prominently involved or a set piece with Aquivaldo Mosquera or Francisco Rodríguez posing a danger at the sharp end — given the options at Herrera’s disposal. And it always does somehow.
Chivas will hope to blunt those efforts for the most part and nick a goal or two through its own devices. Marco Fabián looms as the primary threat in the wake of his stunning equalizer in the 1-1 draw against Atlas last weekend, but Aldo de Nigris and Rafael Márquez Lugo (surprisingly dropped last weekend for tactical reasons) pose their own problems as well. The sum of the parts isn’t producing as expected, but the quality of the individuals at least provides Chivas with hope of producing the miracle required to garner a result and salvaging something from this wayward campaign.
Such an ending might require a form of divine intervention at this stage, though. América has not lost on its home ground this season, nor has it shown any cracks to lay the groundwork for its first defeat. No amount of bluster from Vergara can alter that painful reality or galvanize a broken Chivas side in need of massive reconstruction. Maybe the disparate parts will bond together temporarily to claim a famous result. More likely than not, this group will slink back to Guadalajara with América’s dominance well established and Vergara’s utterances rendered as hollow as the supposed resolve behind them.