The build-up to this weekend's match between Santos Laguna and Chivas Guadalajara has been dominated by talk of everything but the game itself. Instead of discussing player match-ups and strategy, pre-game chatter has instead centered around coaching changes and security issues.
Following last weekend's firing of manager Diego Cocca, Santos dominated sports headlines in Mexico this week with speculation over who would be the next man to take over on the sidelines. Catching everyone by surprise, former United States national team coach Bob Bradley traveled to Torreon early in the week to discuss the position. The suspense ended on Thursday when club officials announced that Benjamin Galindo would be getting the job. Amidst this brief period of uncertainty, interim manager Eduardo Rergis led the team in preparations for Saturday night's match against Chivas.
Saturday night's match will also be the first home appearance for Santos since gunshots interrupted play three weeks ago against Morelia. Shots fired outside Estadio Corona during that match caused players and fans to run for cover, eventually leading to the permanent suspension of play. Things got even worse in the area this past Sunday when six people were killed in a shootout near the stadium. In response, Santos will reportedly have over 1,000 police officers on hand both inside and outside of Estadio Corona on Saturday evening.
Meanwhile, almost completely overlooked in all the build-up is the match itself. Saturday's game has the makings of a good one, with Chivas looking to earn a result on the road to maintain their lead at the top of the table. Chivas are also hoping to kick-start their offense a bit. Despite being the first team in the league to five wins, Chivas remains in the middle of the pack as far as goal scoring numbers go. The continued reintegration of Erick "Cubo" Torres into the lineup should help things improve in the attacking third. Torres went 90 minutes last weekend against Tijuana, which was his first full game played this season. After getting his game legs back under him, Torres may be due for a breakout performance. If nothing else, he should be able to open things up for Omar Arellano and Marco Fabian, who have each scored only two goals this season.
In order to stop the Chivas offense, Santos will have to overcome a few personnel issues on the backline. Key central defender Felipe Baloy remains in serious doubt for Saturday's match due to injury. To make matters worse, defender Aaron Galindo has been completely ruled out for Saturday, potentially leaving Santos severely undermanned in the back. If Baloy ends up not able to play against Chivas, the other defenders will have to step up. The backline certainly has to perform better than last week against Jaguares, where they conceded three goals in a losing effort.
While Chivas brings a mostly healthy side to Torreon, they will still be without the five players called into the U-22 national team: Jorge Enriquez, Julio Nava, Antonio Gallardo, Miguel Ponce, and Jesus Sanchez. The players returned to Mexico on Thursday, but none are expected to be in the lineup against Santos. Chivas did earn a 1-0 victory with a similar lineup last week against Tijuana, but Santos has the potential to make things more difficult for the visitors. For one thing, you never know what you're going to get from a team in the first match directly following a coaching change. If the Santos players can come together and play inspired football, they have a great chance to grab a win and begin the club’s turnaround process. And what better way to reward the loyal Santos fans than an upset at home over the top team in the league?
Santos Laguna vs. Chivas Guadalajara kicks off at 8pm eastern on Saturday, and can be seen in the United States on Telefutura.