Chivas-America jockey for position to gain upper hand in tense rivalry
Passion fuels the rivalry between Chivas and Club America. The angst and the disgust runs through the veins of the fans and the players for reasons stretching back decades. The two biggest clubs in Mexico genuinely do not like each other very much.
"it is a sports rivalry in every way," Chivas midfielder Patricio Araujo told reporters this week. "The animosity is clear. America is a team that I always want to beat. It is a match we cannot lose under any. Fortunately, I have won important matches against them. Hopefully, something similar will happen this weekend."
The inflamed rhetoric carries an extra and somewhat untraditional dollop of caution before this edition of El Clasico Nacional commences on Sunday night, though. These two teams desperately need a result to fuel their Liguilla ambitions, but their actions on the field cannot incite the sort of behavior experienced during the Guadalajara derby last weekend.
Chivas owner Jorge Vergara promised safety and security at Estadio Omnilife after lengthy clashes between Atlas and Chivas fans during the 1-1 draw between the sides on Sunday. Eight people were arrested and seven were treated for injuries after conflicts in the upper reaches of Estadio Jalisco.
Vergara said Chivas planned to clamp down on the resale of tickets ahead of this encounter with their bitter Mexico City rivals and reinforce the police presence in the ground to ensure a peaceful experience for supporters.
Both teams must adopt a more adversarial stance on the field in order to further their own ambitions. The congested Liga MX table six points separated third-placed Pachuca and 14th-placed Tigres entering the weekend affords little latitude for error. The mere thought of losing precious points to a hated adversary increases the stakes considerably.
"These are games we cannot lose," America manager Antonio Mohamed told reporters earlier this week. "It is a Clasico and we must try to win. We’ll find these teams are evenly matched, but the demands are placed upon the club, our history, our fans and ourselves."
Mohamed knows all too well about the strictures of his current position given his struggles during the Clausura. The fundamental tactical shift inspired by Mohamed’s appointment inspired the expected struggles during the transition. The supremacy of a year ago yielded quickly to a talented and occasionally disjointed team lagging well behind pacesetters Cruz Azul and Toluca.
Chivas faced the opposite problem of trying to rebuild a flawed side in time to make a genuine postseason push. Jose Luis Real’s emphasis on solidity and structure erased many of the pervasive concerns. The overall improvement prompted a move into the Liguilla chase, but the absence of Marco Fabian, a resurgent upon his loan move to Cruz Azul after a poor Apertura with his parent club leaves the Red-and-White a bit short of incisiveness and ingenuity in the final third (9 goals scored in 12 matches).
Both teams will look to this fixture to drive them forward toward a Liguilla place. The tightly packed nature of the table creates opportunity for a club capable of stringing together a series of results over the final four rounds of the Clausura. A positive display in the derby can serve as the foundation for that uptick in form, according to America wingback Miguel Layun.
"We play a lot," Layun said. "The main thing is our pride. Beating Chivas is very important. We know this is a match that can mean a lot of important things to our team. It could be the boost that helps us to return to our winning ways. Our first goal is the playoffs. I think our team has all of the elements to get that win."
For the first time in several tournaments, both teams can credibly enter this affair with similar beliefs. The giants enter this game on equivalent ground. Their ability to adjust to the demands of this match could prove the difference between defeat and victory against their bitter rivals.
"No matter what the numbers say, it is another thing on the field," Araujo said. "America will come with a lot of determination to get the result, but I think we have prepared very well and we have the ability to defeat them. We must maintain the rhythm over 90 minutes that we showed against Atlas in the first half. I think we had a remarkable performance. We have to be very focused and we have to play well to take the Clasico."
It is now how it always should be, then: two bitter adversaries jockeying for supremacy and striving to find some way to gain the upper hand in this tense rivalry.