Mercy usually falls well down the pecking order of priorities when Club América and Chivas Guadalajara meet. The two rivals often prefer to extract the most pain possible and punish their adversaries at every opportunity.
If América ever wanted to offer a patronizing reprieve to the archenemy, then this edition of El Clásico Nacional at Estadio Azteca (live, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET) night might prove the ideal time. América sits atop the Liga MX table by two points with three rounds to play. Las Aguilas cannot tumble out of the Liguilla at this stage. There is only seeding at stake now.
Chivas travels to Mexico City in a rather more desperate state. The Guadalajara-based side remains rooted to the lower reaches of the table. The focus isn’t even on the Liguilla at this point. Those hopes are long gone. This massive club — through its protracted incompetence and constant upheaval — now jockeys with the unfashionable likes of Puebla and city rivals Leones Negros to avoid the drop looming at the end of the Clausura next year.
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The prospect of watching Chivas somehow slip into Ascenso MX — assuming, of course, the league actually allows it to happen without Jorge Vergara splashing out to purchase his way back into the competition somehow — isn’t entirely palatable for América. Boca Juniors and Celtic relished the grief incurred by their bitter rivals as they tumbled down the leagues, but they suffered from the predicament, too.
Future concerns do not present much of a consideration at this stage, though. América cannot bear the thought of easing off in a match against Chivas. Not on its home soil. Not after winning the previous three meetings by a combined score of 8-0. Not with Chivas in such a tattered state. Not with the chance to inflict even more angst on a side already broiling in it.
"We always have an obligation to win, and the Clasico is at home," América manager Antonio Mohamed told reporters earlier this week. "We have been winning and it would be very good for us to win again. It would be a good gift for our fans — and we always owe that present. It is a good opportunity to do so."
Mohamed will encounter few arguments about his assessment. América reclaimed its perch as the top team in Mexico as the Apertura unfolded with Club León encountering difficulties after winning the past two tournaments and Cruz Azul struggling to produce its usual sharpness in front of goal. The combination of a miserly rearguard and a prolific attack vindicates Mohamed’s work since he took charge after Miguel Herrera took over the Mexican national team last December.
Herrera’s predecessor with El Tri now faces the unenviable task of conjuring consistent performances out of his poorly performing squad. Jose Manuel de la Torré assumed control for a second time earlier this month and immediately started to tinker with a side that doesn’t defend particularly well or score enough goals. His willingness to experiment with the personnel available and the team shape reflects the disjointed resources on hand and the pressing need to impose some organization amid the chaos.
Chivas defender Jair Pereira praised de la Torre’s work ahead of the Clasico and said his team is now in a position to correct its errors in the wake of the surprisingly resilient home draw with Club Tijuana on Sunday.
"We have corrected our errors, they will not happen again," Pereira told reporters earlier this week. "You must have the right structure to maintain a shutout. The team will leave everything on the field to take the three points."
Those words do not exactly ring true given Chivas’ performances this season (including two defeats and a draw under de la Torre) and the vast disparity between the two sides at the moment, but this derby always creates the possibility of the odd result and the unexpected performance. The emotion and the energy involved closes the gap from time to time. América enters the fixture as heavy favorites, but their path to the points remains uncertain.
"Los Clasicos are separate from the statistics," Mohamed said. "There is nothing else. It is only our pride at stake."
Pride remains a powerful motivator even with little on the line for one side. It is strong enough to carry Chivas through and stop América from stepping off the throttle. And it certainly outweighs any thoughts of respite as this heated battle unfolds.