Super Clasico between Club America-Chivas always comes with higher stakes, subplots galore
MEXICO - Two hundred and twenty-six matches are sandwiched between Club America's 2-1 win over Guadalajara in the 1943 Copa Mexico and the two sides' 1-1 draw last March as part of the Clausura 2018.
In that span, the match has risen from an afterthought to a powerhouse, rising from Mexico's top rivalry to one of the richest and most exciting pairings the entire sport has to offer. Unbelievably, the two teams have decided only one league championship (1983-84) in direct confrontation. Despite this, the stakes always seem high whenever they square off.
Sunday's Super Clasico is no different.
Reeling from their unexpected elimination from the Copa MX on Tuesday, Club America will look to avoid a further slip as they host their next opponent. Only a few weeks ago, it seemed Chivas was the proverbial goat being lead to the slaughterhouse -- four wins in their last six league games have ended that narrative, though they too were knocked out of the domestic cup this wek. A win this weekend would greatly increase confidence toward the tail end of the tournament, and boost the side's chances at a playoff run.
Here are the players and stories to follow this weekend as the rivals clash at the Estadio Azteca:
Players to watch
To deliberately misquote and paraphrase Mark Twain: reports of Oribe Peralta's soccer death have been greatly exaggerated. The veteran Club America striker continues to be a force at the tip of his team's attack this season, with five goals in 10 games. His production has taken pressure away from his presumptive heir, 24-year-old Roger Martinez.
The Super Clasico has long been a fantastic jumping off point for players on both sides to endear themselves to their fan base and a good performance from Martinez this weekend could go a long way in doing just that, after just two goals in his first seven games in Mexico. Diego Lainez, the much-discussed teenage prodigy is on the mend after a training injury. Though his status might be up in the air until game time, his presence (or absence) will alter the game plan for both squads.
On the Chivas side, Angel Zaldivar's Apertura 2018 season has been a nice surprise thus far, the Chivas forward even earning a call-up to the national team after a strong start. With four goals to his name, Zaldivar is the perfect partner for Alan Pulido, sharing the load up front and providing coach Jose Cardozo with tangible results from build-up play on a consistent basis for a team that has had difficulty scoring in recent seasons.
Isaac Brizuela has been in charge of providing players like Zaldivar and Pulido with scoring chances all season long and leads the club with three assists. Brizuela has played every minute of the campaign thus far, appearing mostly on the wing, but shading toward the middle when necessary to confuse defenses and open up spaces for his strikers.
Herrera on the hot seat?
If it seems ridiculous that Club America coach Miguel Herrera's position is somewhat shaky, you are not alone in thinking so. After all, the team sits second in the league and looks likely to make noise once the Liguilla comes around. If anything, it seemed like Herrera's exit from the club would only be if something greater -- like the Mexican national team -- came around.
However, Herrera's antics have worn the fans thin -- especially after the Copa MX loss on Tuesday to FC Juarez. If losing to a second-division team weren't bad enough, the coach also put the blame on 19-year-old Carlos Vargas, who missed a penalty as the match was being decided in a penalty shootout.
A loss to Chivas would compound the criticism and place Herrera in a bigger hole with the fans. It is also worth noting that El Piojo has only coached Club America to one title in 13 different tries across all competitions. Though his one win was memorable, patience is running out in Mexico City.
Can Chivas escape Almeyda's shadow?
The painful pre-tournament exit of former Chivas manager Matias Almeyda left many fans of angry with the club's top executives. It didn't help when new boss Jose Cardozo got off to such a rocky start, either.
But, the team has since stabilized and Chivas is on the cusp of returning to the playoffs, a feat even Almeyda couldn't achieve over the last few tournaments. Should Cardozo make like his playing days and crush Club America on Sunday, it will go a long way toward cementing his status as the team's long-term solution at coach.
If he loses, Chivas will have a tougher (albeit not impossible) road to the playoffs. With the chance to win the Copa MX gone, there's no doubt the pressure is on Cardozo to at least make a strong run at the end of the regular season and compete for the league title, a feat these three points would considerably aid.
All-time series (including friendlies)
America leads, 82-74 (with 72 draws)