Chivas preview: Guadalajara side must bounce back from nightmare Apertura

Matias Almeyda Alan Pulido Chivas
Hector Guerrero
Not only did Chivas fail to defend their title, they didn't even come close to making the playoffs. Now Matias Almeyda must engineer a Liguilla return

After following up their Clausura championship with a frustrating four-win Apertura, Chivas needed a quiet offseason. They needed to get back to work without outside distractions, closing up the ranks and getting back on the same page. 

Come on, though. This is Chivas.

Instead of a peaceful winter, the team has seen plenty of drama largely because of the Oswaldo Alanis saga. The center back, who is choosing not to sign a contract extension with the Guadalajara side, is training with Chivas in the second half of preseason after missing the first half. Manager Matias Almeyda said Wednesday, however, that Alanis won't be playing while the maneuvering between parties continues.

Chivas had enough to do this offseason without the added difficulty of blocking out a distraction. Can the attack be more productive? Can the defense do without Alanis? Was raiding Santos Laguna's youth system enough to improve during the winter? These are just a few of the questions Chivas will have to answer in the Clausura. 

Winter moves

Ronaldo Cisneros Mexico

Chivas made a move early in December for Santos Laguna's Gael Sandoval, with Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez heading the other way. On draft day, they once again went with a Guerreros youngster by bringing in Mexico youth national team standout Ronaldo Cisneros.

The club, which signs only Mexican players, made few other additions. Perhaps the most important signing was extending Rodolfo Cota's loan deal from Pachuca. The goalkeeper was thought to be on the way out and even bid farewell to the club's supporters before Chivas ponied up to bring him back on loan.

Aside from Vazquez, forward Carlos Fierro is the only notable departure with the 23-year-old off to Cruz Azul.

What to watch for

Michael Perez Chivas

At the back, Chivas may be biting off their noses to spite their faces in continuing to beef with Alanis. The team struggled at center back last season, especially when Alanis or Jair Pereira were out with injuries. With Pereira, that's far too often. That puts Carlos Salcido, who at 37 is a great veteran presence but too old to be relied upon week-in, week-out, into tough situations too frequently.

There are concerns just ahead of the back line as well. Orbelin Pineda's dip in form is also something to keep an eye on. The midfielder looked like the future not only of Chivas but of the Mexican national team when he helped Chivas to their titles in the Clausura but failed to control matches or even pass well as Chivas slumped last term.

The attacking pieces are now healthy, but the hope the team has for the players it added won't matter if Chivas can't do a better job controlling matches and keeping opposing attackers from creating chances.

Clausura outlook

Alan Pulido Chivas

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Staying healthy would go a long way to helping Chivas get back into the Liguilla and contend for the title once again. Not having Alan Pulido for the first half of last season definitely hampered the team's attack. Almeyda also has made it clear that he's relying on Javier Eduardo "La Chofis" Lopez, wanting the 23-year-old to mature into one of the team's top players. He showed flashes during the Apertura, creating chances when given the opportunity. 

How quickly young players, including players younger than Lopez, mature will make the difference for Chivas. Cisneros, 20, and Jose Juan Macias, an 18-year-old player from the Fuerzas Basicas, could have breakout years to help boost an attack that finished in the bottom half of the league in scoring. Equally, a player like Alejandro Mayorga, the 20-year-old defender who Juan Carlos Osorio brought into Mexico camp before Mayorga had made his Chivas debut, could force his way into the roster.

There's no way Chivas are as bad at home as they inexplicably were last season. Improving at Estadio Chivas should be enough for the team to be in playoff contention once again.