Club America-Chivas showdown lacking typical fanfare
It's been a strange build-up to Wednesday's Clasico Nacional between Club America and Chivas in Estadio Azteca, shorn of the usual hype that accompanies the meeting of the Liga MX's two biggest clubs.
Chivas were greeted by fans at Mexico City airport on arrival in the capital on Tuesday, but only a handful followed the team to its hotel, whereas in recent editions of the Clasico Nacional there has been a carnival atmosphere on the eve of the match.
Perhaps the fact this clasico was originally scheduled for Sept. 23, before the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on Sept. 19 caused widespread destruction in Mexico City and surrounding states, may have taken away some of intensity. It certainly put football toward the back of people's minds as the recovery effort got underway.
But the situation each club is in has also played its part in slightly taking the edge off the game for neutrals, even if both groups of supporters will naturally be desperate for the win.
On paper, this should be an especially important clasico. Chivas are visiting Mexico's biggest stadium as champions for the first time in over 10 years. The Guadalajara team should be strutting into America's home with confidence after the 2017 Clausura championship, looking to rub in the fact that last May Chivas leveled Las Aguilas on 12 Mexican first division titles.
But instead, this clasico is about Matias Almeyda's Chivas salvaging some pride from what has been a dire title defense. The champions have won only once in 12 Liga MX matches this season. To put that in perspective, no defending champion has done so poorly since the 1970-71 season. Going back further and including the title-winning season, Chivas have won just four from their past 25 league matches. That's relegation form in most leagues.
Argentine coach Almeyda hasn't spoken since Saturday's 2-1 loss to Morelia in Estadio Chivas, after which six players joined him in the postgame news conference as a show of unity in difficult times.
"These moments are emotional," said Almeyda after the game, accompanied by the players. "[The players] know how much affection I have for them and I'm thankful they've made it public, but they show it on the pitch. ... We don't like to lose but we have to prepare better."
Club America, on the other hand, is on the up under Miguel Herrera. The former Mexico coach has his team in second place of the 2017 Apertura table and coming into the Clasico Nacional having defeated Mexico City rival Cruz Azul 3-1 on Saturday in the Clasico Joven.
Chivas defender Oswaldo Alanis remains confident of a result, despite America being at home and the form team.
"They are numbers, they are cold and the reality is that [America] has won more points," said Alanis in a Monday news conference. "But we'll have to wait to see the game, see how they come out, how we do and how both perform."
Almeyda hasn't spoken to the press since the immediate aftermath of Saturday's loss, but Herrera has been busy doing the media rounds and would like to end Chivas' minute chances of making the playoffs in the Azteca.
"We want to win because it would be three more points and enormous satisfaction for our fans," said Herrera on Tuesday. "If with that we eliminate Chivas, of course we will try. The fewer strong opponents there are in the playoffs, the better for us."
Las Aguilas coach Herrera didn't hesitate in categorizing his team as the favorite, but warned against taking anything for granted against a Chivas team that was slightly unlucky to lose against Morelia.
To make things even more difficult for Chivas, the away side will be without key players Rodolfo Pizarro (suspension) and Jair Pereira (injury) for the match, although Club America won't be fielding Guido Pizarro or William da Silva, who are both on the comeback trail from injuries.
The Club America forward line of Oribe Peralta, Silvio Romero, Darwin Quintero and Renato Ibarra was sharp against Cruz Azul and should be too much for a Chivas defense stripped of Pereira's important influence.
A win for Club America would mean a playoff spot is virtually a guarantee, while Chivas' needs are different. The players and Almeyda can show all the unity in the world off the pitch, but they need put together a positive 90 minutes to hand fans a modicum of joy to lift the post-championship depression.
Tale of the tape
- This will be the 228th edition of the Clasico Nacional in all competitions (America leads the series 81-74-72).
- America is 50 percent favorite to win, according to FiveThirtyEight.com's SPI, with Guadalajara 22 percent favorite.
- Guadalajara has won three of last four regular-season Clasico Nacional games in Liga MX.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.