Chivas face Pumas test as Almeyda's men look to maintain form
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Chivas are in for their sternest test of the season to date when they face a resurgent Pumas in Estadio Olimpico Universitario in round 12 of the 2015 Liga MX Apertura.
Pumas have returned their home stadium to the fortress of old and Chivas' trip to the capital for Sunday's clash promises to provide answers as to just how much new manager Matias Almeyda has improved a previously flagging Guadalajara in his short time in charge.
Pumas are yet to concede a goal in 450 minutes at home this season and have won all five games, racking up 14 goals in the process. The devastating form sees the university club fighting for the Liga MX top spot and being labeled as a realistic title contender. However, Chivas are on a winning streak of their own.
The club are still in the relegation battle but has won all four of its games since Argentine Almeyda took over last month -- all by a score of 2-1 -- and there is a feel-good factor sweeping-through the club.
"The giant awakening," wrote club owner Jorge Vergara on his Twitter account, above a photo of the team after Tuesday's victory over Monterrey in Estadio Omnilife.
The businessman's assertions may be premature given the volatility of the club in recent years, but Chivas fans around Guadalajara are walking around with a swagger that hasn't been seen in a while and there is renewed positivity. That has come almost as much from the way the team has played as much as the victories.
"The change in coach (Almeyda replaced Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre) brought a change in formation," explained Chivas forward Marco Fabian. "Matias likes to play more on the front foot with more attacking players and you've seen the change."
"We've got two goals per games, there's been better finishing and Omar Bravo has received more opportunities," he added.
Fabian is right. Chivas have gone after opponents under Almeyda. It hasn't been as radical a change from de la Torre as some have suggested, and the manager himself has stressed he hasn't had time to implement some of the changes he would like, but the proof that the players are more comfortable on the field can be seen in the results and the fight they have shown.
On Sunday, however, there may be a need for Chivas to be more cautious, both because of the attacking threat of Liga MX top scorers Pumas and the high altitude and noon kickoff, which make the Estadio Olimpico Universitario one of the more physically demanding venues in the league.
"It is an important issue, we have to pick our moments well and know when to attack and when to rest, because the opponent has great players that are in form," said Almeyda on Friday.
Almeyda's task will be made more difficult due to Chivas being without two key players: Raul Lopez and Carlos Salcedo are with Mexico's Under-23 team for Olympic qualifying in the United States and both are significant losses.
Right-back Lopez has been directly involved in each of Chivas' past three goals, with two assists and one long-range drive, and is almost irreplaceable on current form. Salcedo will likely be replaced by Jair Pereira.
A win for Chivas in the standout game of the Liga MX this weekend would push them into the playoff spots and lay down a marker that they have begun, as Vergara believes, to wake up from their slumber.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.