When 'Chicharito' Javier Hernandez departed Chivas Guadalajara prior to the 2010 Apertura, it was obvious that Chivas were going to struggle to replace his goal scoring output. The degree to which they failed to replace him was a bit surprising, though, as the team was an absolute disaster in that tournament, despite their improbable run to the final of Copa Libertadores. The 2011 Clausura was a different story, as 'Cubo' Erick Torres revitalized the team and guided them to a Liguilla place.
Torres will be a key player for Chivas again, but he will miss a decent chunk of the start of the season while he plays in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Chivas's biggest question going into the season, then, is whether or not they can replace Torres on a temporary basis and avoid putting themselves into a massive hole before he returns. It seems ridiculous that a team is so dependent on an 18-year-old, but that's how dire things were for the Chivas strike force before he emerged.
Though he obviously won't be a key part of the team, but it will be interesting to see if Giovani Casillas and Carlos Fierro, the heroes of the Mexico Under-17 team that won the Under-17 World Cup, will get any playing time this season. Between Torres's absence to start the year and Fierro's form, it wouldn't be surprising to see the talented 17-year-old striker make the bench and get a couple of run-outs in the early part of the season.
At the back and in goal, Chivas have fewer question marks than any other team in the Mexican Primera. Not only is their back line extremely talented, they're also extremely deep. All of Jonny Magallon, Mario de Luna, Hector Reynoso, Omar Esparza, Miguel Ponce and young Kristian Alvarez are all starting quality and can be used interchangeably if one or more of them is injured. This depth in defense gives Chivas a serious advantage over their rivals, and it doesn't hurt that the always reliable Luis Michel is behind them in goal.
Protecting those defenders in midfield will be Patricio Araujo, who is quickly emerging as one of the best defensive midfielders in the league and a candidate to contend to replace Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro when they can no longer play at national team level. He's joined in midfield by a variety of versatile players who can play in multiple positions and who will move around depending on injuries and Jose Luis Real's tactics. Xavier Baez can play in the middle or out wide, while Edgar Mejia and Jorge Enriquez can play in holding or box-to-box midfield roles.
While these players are very important and Cubo Torres will take all of the spotlight, Chivas's attack-minded midfielders - usually playing as wingers - will really be what makes the team go. Veteran Alberto Medina and youngster Marco Fabian are likely to be the first choice wingers whenever they are healthy and the team's success often depends on their individual success.
Fabian has been pegged as one for the future of the national team due to his creativity and his knack for scoring jaw-dropping goals, and he should be key for Chivas going forward. He was in and out of the team last year due to a perceived lack of work rate and discipline, but he finally established himself as first choice at the end of the year. As talented as Cubo Torres is, Fabian is arguably the best attacking player that Chivas have at present, and getting the ball to his feet will be key.
Up top, Torres will draw all of the attention, along with comparisons to Chicharito. In reality, he's not as quick as the little pea, but he's a much more complete player. He's very good at holding the ball and bringing players like Fabian, Medina, and Baez into the play, something Chicharito is not terribly adept at doing. Though, Chicharito perhaps made a better partner for Omar Arellano, who has the work rate and hold-up ability of Torres with much less going for him when it comes to pace and finishing.
Chivas's depth up top is questionable, which is why Fierro could get a spot on the bench in the opening weeks of the season. I'm never one for throwing 17-year-old kids into the fire, but he could very well have a chance to impress early on. If he does, he could end up on the bench for the majority of the year. At this point, the other teams in the league will consider the possibility that Chivas might not sell Torres or Fierro for a while and use them as a strike pairing for two or three years. And then those teams will collectively cry.
Marco Fabian - Erick Torres can't do anything and the defense won't be scoring too many goals. If Chivas want to contend with the big boys, they need Fabian to start playing like a star.
Potential Breakout Player
Jorge Enriquez - The young central midfielder should have a chance to establish himself in the first team this season. He got a call-up to the Copa America team and he could be one for the future of the national team.
Liguilla - Chivas might be just outside of the league's elite, but they should comfortably finish in the top eight.
This is the tenth in our series of Mexican Primera team previews. Check out the earlier previews of Club Tijuana Xolos, Queretaro FC, Jaguares de Chiapas, Estudiantes Tecos, Club Atlas, Puebla FC, Atlante FC, San Luis, and UANL Tigres.