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50-50: Monterrey, Pachuca set for final

Liga MX Playoffs
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Five players to watch in the semis

Liga MX
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 By Tom Marshall

Clasico Nacional has Club America and Chivas managers under pressure

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Chivas and Club America will clash on Sunday in the Clasico nacional, pitting Mexico's two biggest clubs in a game that brings the country to a standstill.

Here's what you need to know:

What's at stake?

Obviously points are on offer, but more importantly pride is what these teams will play for. Mexico's two best-supported teams offer distinct philosophies of the game. Club America is the glamor club from Mexico City that pays big bucks to attract top foreign players, while Chivas only plays with Mexican players and represent the provincial state of Jalisco, home of tequila and mariachi.

Chivas focus on producing young players and will likely have five players brought up from the club's youth system in Sunday's starting XI, while America will take to the field with five or six foreign-born stars and possibly zero products from its youth system.

Bets have already been made, carne asadas (barbecues) have been planned for Sunday night, and streets all over Mexico will be noticeably quiet come kickoff. Obviously, tickets were sold out days ahead of the match and are going for extortionate prices for those still looking.

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Club America are favorites

It's no secret: Club America is the favorite for Sunday's game. Las Aguilas are fourth in the Liga MX table and Chivas are down in 13th. But it isn't just that. Chivas have won only once in nine Liga MX matches this season and would be in relegation danger if it wasn't for the poor showing of Dorados de Sinaloa. America, on the other hand, has reached three Liga MX finals in the past three years and has moved one ahead of Chivas' 11 titles in that time.

On the field on Sunday, that vast difference may not be so obvious. Chivas haven't played as poorly as results have suggested and will be absolutely desperate not to lose. They'll also have home advantage.

Six players spoke at Chivas' media day on Friday, and all of them emphasized that form goes out of the window for these Clasico games. Chivas certainly don't see themselves as the victim, even if a story alleging that Carlos "Gullit" Pena turned up for training drunk on Monday was hardly the ideal start to Clasico week.

On paper, America should win due to its superior firepower up front and the form of Darwin Quintero and Oribe Peralta, but don't rule Chivas out of this.

Sambueza vs Sounders 160302
Rubens Sambueza was decisive in America's CCL win vs. Seattle Sounders and will likely factor in Sunday's outcome.

The Sambueza conundrum

America's form player is Rubens Sambueza and stopping the captain (or not) could be crucial to the result. In the last Clasico, Chivas right-back Raul Lopez was able to mark Sambueza out of the game in an assured performance.

Lopez says the plan is simple. The 22-year-old believes pushing high up the right flank will force winger Sambueza to defend more than he would like and will tire the America player out, according to statements on Friday.

Lopez certainly has the stamina and the physicality to get the better of Sambueza, but the Argentine is extremely intelligent at finding pockets of space and may simply let Lopez charge forward in order to occupy the hole he leaves behind.

The strategy is a calculated risk for Chivas.

Chivas attack is best means of defense

News conferences with players can often be stale affairs. But when Jair Pereira took to the stage on Friday inside Estadio Chivas, it was clear that a sharp football mind was at work and that Guadalajara's strategy for the clasico will be to press America into making errors.

Pereira talked about winning the ball back against America as quickly as possible, about hurting the opposition down the flanks and not letting Las Aguilas settle at all. The hope is that America loses focus and that mistakes creep in. Considering America has a disciplinary problem with red cards and losing big games of late, it seems like a solid tactic.

The upshot should be a game that is exciting for fans, with both teams going on the front foot and taking the match to the other.

America head coach Ignacio Ambriz is looking to deliver the club its 13th Mexican league title.
Ignacio Ambriz needs a win in this match to ease the pressure he's feeling from some of his America critics.

Ambriz needs a win

Coach Ignacio "Nacho" Ambriz has had a distinctly mixed spell in charge of America and there have been various occasions when his job has appeared to be on the line. Last Saturday's 4-1 victory over Morelia -- with Cuauhtemoc Blanco playing 38 minutes -- felt like a turning point. Whether it is or not will be evident quickly on Sunday.

Ambriz has failed in big matches so far as America coach. The team lost the last clasico nacional 2-1, failed miserably against Pumas in the semifinal of the Apertura 2015 and has lost by three goals to Tigres and Pachuca this season. The Club World Cup last December was also a disaster.

There is a question mark still hanging over Ambriz at America and you could legitimately make the argument that he actually needs this victory more than struggling Matias Almeyda, who probably knows inside that he needs another off-season and spree of transfer spending to correct his wayward Chivas ship.

Tom Marshall has been based in Guadalajara since 2008 and has written about Mexican football ever since. Find him on Twitter @MexicoWorldCup.

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