Chivas already facing crucial test
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Has the dark haze that has regularly enveloped Chivas in recent seasons already descended on the club this Apertura? It may seem premature to ask after only one game and one draw of the Apertura 2014, but with the psychological fragility of Chivas as a whole, it seems fair.
Already owner Jorge Vergara has rather unhelpfully chimed in and criticized Sunday's 1-1 home draw against Chiapas, saying he didn't enjoy the way his team started. That only increases the pressure and worry.
The question of relegation is not going anywhere soon, either, and Sunday's game in Mexico City against Pumas is a key test of what this Chivas outfit -- bolstered by seven new signings in the off-season -- ismade of. Last weekend, the players looked nervous and frightened of making mistakes.
A victory over Pumas would be a welcome psychological boost, but the altitude of Ciudad Universitaria and the heat of the midday kickoff means it is one of the most unforgiving away fixtures in the Liga MX calendar. Sunday's match will be physically demanding against a Pumas side that impressed in their 3-1 victory at Queretaro last weekend and will be keen to kick one of their "big four" rivals while they're down.
Chivas' central defensive partnership of Jair Pereira and Carlos Salcido must improve from last weekend and, along with holding midfielder Israel Castro, help keep Pumas playmaker Daniel Luduena quiet. Chivas coach Carlos Bustos, meanwhile, needs to decide what formation makes best use of the one real source of creation in the team: Angel Reyna.
The mercurial 29-year-old was Chivas' best player last weekend and was more involved after he was moved from the right into the center behind Aldo de Nigris. But playing Reyna in the center raises questions over the role of Fernando Arce, who surely didn't join the club in the offseason to play on the right wing -- besides, it would leave a pair of aging 34-year-olds (including Omar Bravo) manning the flanks.
Bustos must also come into his own on Sunday. It's been almost 10 years since Chivas have won at Ciudad Universitaria, and only four goals have been scored in the past seven games between the two teams. It is likely to be another tight affair, and with Chivas' slowing squad -- the average age of the outfield players last Sunday was 30.8 years -- Guadalajara may well be better starting the game as compact as possible, saving energy and hitting Pumas on the counter when the opportunity arises.
To get a positive result, Bustos and the players will have to tune out not just the relegation struggle, but also the sleuth of comings and goings back in Guadalajara.
Jose Luis "Guero" Real is set to be replaced as the person responsible for overseeing youth development by former Barcelona youth director Albert Benaiges, while sporting president Juan Manuel Herrero resigned on Monday. Further, there are reports that the club will let go of many more staffers shortly, in a major sweeping out of the backroom, especially in the youth departments.
Looking ahead, on Tuesday the Rebano Sagrado host Deportivo Tepic in the Copa MX before flying to New Jersey to face Champions League-winner Bayern Munich on Thursday for a game that seems very unnecessary considering Chivas' current predicament.
Glamor matches fill the coffers and are very nice to watch, but the short-term cure to Chivas' present ills is pretty straightforward: win football matches in the Liga MX.
That has proved to be easier said than done and will be especially difficult this Sunday.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.