December's Liga MX final between Monterrey and Tigres once again sparked a conversation about which Liga MX teams are truly "grandes." There are four: Club America, Chivas, Cruz Azul and Pumas. Only one, America, made the semifinals.
When Chivas host Cruz Azul on Saturday night in the Clausura's first meeting between grandes, we'll see two clubs desperately seeking to get back to the consistent success that made them part of the group in the first place.
Chivas at least have a title in recent memory, winning the league in last year's Clausura and adding that season's Copa MX title for good measure. Between injuries and struggles at home, Matias Almeyda's men fell off a cliff in the recently concluded Apertura and failed to make the postseason.
Cruz Azul hasn't won the league in more than two decades. La Maquina snapped their long playoff drought by making the Liguilla in the Apertura but are again in a state of transition after parting ways with manager Paco Jemez and luring former Santos Laguna and Rangers boss Pedro Caixinha to Mexico City.
Fans of the club are quick to point out the history they boast, and that's fair. The "nouveau riche" in Monterrey aren't even approaching Chivas' 12 titles. Even Cruz Azul's eight may be safe from Tigres' six or Monterrey's four. But how much does that matter if the clubs can't even get a playoff win in the current tournament? The fact is that both are in need of a not just one good tournament but several to get back to the level that's acceptable to their supporters.
Saturday's contest comes early. It's only Week 2 and Cruz Azul is still adjusting to what Caixinha is looking for, not to mention waiting on Walter Montoya and Carlos "Gullit" Pena to debut (both new additions are eligible for selection Saturday). Yet in the sprint that is a short season in Mexico, getting the first win out of the way and moving on to adding more points is a top order of business. After a listless draw to open the season and a Copa MX defeat to Oaxaca with a starting XI embarrassingly close to full strength, Cruz Azul already is close to a nightmare start.
Typically going on the road to face Chivas would be the kind of game La Maquina didn't want to see on the schedule, but there's hope they can get Caixinha's first victory Saturday. Chivas were horrendous at home last tournament, winning once, drawing four times and losing the other four.
There already is hope in Guadalajara that this tournament will be different. Even an off-field saga that saw the team start a contract dispute with center back Oswaldo Alanis, who is a free agent after this tournament, now looks to be resolved. He may not be ready for this week's match but is in the squad, as are Carlos Salcido, who missed the draw with Toluca because of a personal issue, and Jair Pereira, who was out with an injury.
The additions at the back are helpful, but a Man of the Match showing from Javier "La Chofis" Lopez in Week 1 also has Chivas fans hoping that the malaise that took hold of the club at the start of last tournament and never let go has lifted.
"Of course it always motivates you when you score, I was able to do it in the first game, but I've always said the most important thing is that the team plays well and wins — that's what every one of my teammates and I work for," Lopez said in a pre-match news conference. "The priority is to do things as well as possible to get the three points, which we're looking for against Cruz Azul with the support of our fans."
Those fans can be forgiven for thinking their contributions have been undervalued, but if Chivas can again start winning in Jalisco, they would find themselves back in the postseason. If not, it may be a chance for Caixinha and Cruz Azul to step toward another Liguilla berth. It's only Round 2, but Saturday's match looms large if these teams want the grande label to mean not just an illustrious past but also a gleaming present.