Chivas went into the Clasico Nacional playing for pride Wednesday. Was their pride intact when they left? It's tough to say.
The Guadalajara side played a strong game. Matias Almeyda's side should've won, but it didn't. Now Chivas, the defending champion of both the league and the cup it should not be forgotten, sit in last place. They're the only team in the league not to have hit double digits in points at this stage of the season. They nearly had a rivalry result to show for it, but three minutes undid their chance to leave Estadio Azteca with their heads held high.
Let's start there and then move to other topics around Liga MX:
Chivas change leads to Clasico capitulation
Chivas was in control of the Clasico Nacional and had a 1-0 lead when veteran center back Carlos Salcido had to make way with a knock. His replacement, Hedgardo Marin, hardly had made it onto the field before play resumed. America had a free kick in its own half that it sent forward. Oribe Peralta brought the ball down and looked for a one-two with Darwin Quintero. Instead, the Colombian set up countryman Mateus Uribe who hit a shot toward Rodolfo Cota with his first touch. The Chivas goalkeeper was able to stop that shot but coughed up a big rebound. Peralta had continued his run and easily outran Marin and center-back partner Oswaldo Alanis to finish off the equalizer.
The television broadcasts hadn't even finished playing replays of the goal before the second was in the back of the net. After a series of short passes, Renato Ibarra wove past a defender and sent a shot past Cota's right hand and in. After dominating the contest, Chivas were beaten. Despite being second-best, America was happy to take the rivalry win.
"The important thing is winning. These games aren't played well or played pretty. You might want that, but we have to win," America manager Miguel Herrera said after the contest. "I applaud the commitment of the guys in the moments where they had to show their desire. We didn't play the best match, but we've understood that these matches must be won no matter what, and the fans should be happy."
Contrast this game with America's weekend win in the Clasico Joven and you'll see a very different game. America was the aggressor against Cruz Azul and was justly rewarded. Wednesday was more of a smash-and-grab. Get in, get the win and get out even if you don't deserve to have that stolen merchandise.
It's the cherry that fell on the ground of the melted ice cream sundae that is Chivas' miserable season. The loss doesn't come down simply to Marin entering the game, but clearly Chivas lacked organization at the back the moment Salcido came out. They've been missing Jair Pereira since the center back was shelved by osteitis pubis in September. Nothing has gone right for Chivas this campaign and they now won't even have the moral boost of bragging rights over their biggest rival.
Monterrey a bit too chill
In our preview of the week, we pointed out that Monterrey could afford to take a few matches off, rest some of its top players and still qualify for the Liguilla in the top spot. Well, Antonio Mohamed's team certainly took our advice to heart!
A mostly first-choice Monterrey team took its first loss of the tournament Wednesday, falling 2-0 to lowly Puebla in the Estadio Cuauhtemoc after an insipid performance. What we wrote earlier this week remains true. The defeat has only the affect of snapping Rayados' dreams of an undefeated tournament. The idea of a team taking a loss to understand how it feels and how it will bounce back never rings all that credible, but Mohamed's men still can top the league and enter the Liguilla phase in good form. They're sitting a point clear of Club America with a game in hand against the Aguilas. That doesn't mean Mohamed was pleased with the showing.
"They were better than us the whole match. The only positive is that they didn't score more goals on us. We never plugged into the game. They were better than us, and that's the reality. We were well-beaten," Mohamed said after the match. "It happens. That's soccer. You have to lift yourselves up and we're hoping to bounce back Sunday. It was the game where they had the most chances and we generated the fewest.
Beyond Monterrey sleepwalking through the game, credit also goes to Canada international Lucas Cavallini, who sparked La Franja to just their second victory of the season. It's been another poor tournament for Puebla, but this is the type of result the team can hang its hat on.
Leon streak comes to surprise end
Leon coach Gustavo Diaz said after his team's 1-0 victory Saturday over Tigres that it had accomplished nothing despite being on a six-match winning streak since he took over as coach. Much of Leon's hard work did seem to be undone with a 2-0 loss Tuesday to previously last-place Pumas. You can point to the quick turnaround for the defeat, but both teams played Saturday and then again three days later. You can point to the absence of Elias Hernandez, but wingers Andres Andrade and Hernan Burbano had been troubling defenders during the winning streak. Diaz said it simply was a bad game.
"The first half hurt us. The second half was totally different. I'm not making excuses, though," Diaz said after the game. "It simply wasn't a good match. The most important thing for us now is [making] the Liguilla."
Leon looked a bit off in the first half, allowing a sloppy goal to allow Pumas to take the advantage and never really recovered.
Maybe Diaz was ready for exactly this scenario. After all, he just oversaw his own team seemingly become motivated simply by changing a coach. New Pumas manager David Patino has plenty of history with the club and has the team playing in a much more positive manner despite making only subtle changes to the on-field product.
Diaz's squad has a tough visit to Morelia but closes the season against three teams not currently in the Liguilla places. How Diaz and his team respond to the first taste of defeat will determine whether they end up in the playoff places when judgment day comes.
Bad team(s) will make Liguilla
Necaxa currently sits in the eighth and final Liguilla spot with most teams having four matches left to play. While the Rayos have shown a few good things this season, namely in the middle of defense, they're not a good team. It showed in Wednesday's 3-2 loss to Santos Laguna - and really they also deserved to lose the weekend's scoreless draw with Pumas.
Yet it's tough to argue that any team below Necaxa really deserves to fight for the league title. Tijuana, Atlas and Pachuca all could jump in, with Xolos perhaps the most likely candidates after avoiding defeat in both matchdays after the international break. What seems certain at this point is at least one or two teams that are not very good are going to go into the playoffs.
Of course, that's not entirely new in Liga MX, and sometimes the eighth spot instead gets nabbed by a surging team that has simply underperformed and is now figuring things out. The best recent example is Pedro Caixinha's Santos Laguna that won the 2015 Clausura. No team that fits that bill has emerged yet, and it will be a bigger surprise than normal if the top two or three seeds are toppled in the first round.
Wheels falling off Lobos BUAP
It's never a good sign when two of your best players desert your team before you've even hit the halfway mark. Despite losing Julian Quinones and Luis Quinones because of disputes, Lobos still had managed to keep their head above water. Even with forward Julian Quinones back in the fold, the struggles are now beginning. Tijuana's 2-1 victory Tuesday marked three consecutive defeats for the newly promoted team. Xolos had been struggling to find the back of the net but summer additions Gustavo Bou and Miler Bolanos both scored in the triumph.
The loss sends Lobos tumbling down to the bottom of the table that decides relegation. Lobos have plenty of time to pick things up, but need the defense to improve and Colombian forward Quinones to find the breakneck scoring pace he set before his estrangement if they're going to contend. At the moment, though, everything seems to point to things going in the opposite direction.
Things have been going all wrong for Lobos off the field as well. While they finally got a television deal, and the revenue that comes with it which they desperately needed, things still aren't clicking. Tuesday's game was delayed by the electricity going out at the stadium, plunging the pitch into darkness. It's hardly an endorsement for fans to turn out and support a team that has won once, lost four times and drawn once at home.
"I want to publicly apologize to the fans in the name of the whole group because it's a reality that we're the worst home team and we're in debt to them," Lobos manager Rafael Puente said after the loss. "I applaud and recognize that despite the loss, the fans kept supporting us until the end and without a doubt this means we have to double the effort in terms of the commitment we have. After seeing us open the scoring, in the second half we lacked ideas. We didn't work well, we were predictable and in the face of the talent shortage we showed, we weren't able to get the draw."
Goal of the Midweek
Andre-Pierre Gignac has scored more impressive goals in his career, but this goal that gave Tigres a 1-0 victory over Veracruz was quite nice. Enner Valencia does the work to get things set up and instead of trying to blast the ball to the far post, the Frenchman lifts his boot and scores by deflecting it in off his studs.