Liga MX’s Apertura 2017 is finally upon us, and with that comes the return of the defending Champion, Chivas Rayadas del Guadalajara. (Wow that felt good to write)
El Rebaño is back fresh off of their doblete, with new goals and challenges for the second half of 2017. Chivas will look to go back to back in both Copa and Liga, but there will be many challenges along with a slight championship hangover for the team. While the team is bringing back the core of the championship team, they were not able to make any signings during the league’s draft. This coupled with fatigue and injuries could mean a slow start for the defending champions but like Matias Almeyda has mentioned leading up to the season “No hay excusas” “There are no excuses”. Matias is right, the team suffered through injuries for the majority of the Clausura 2017 season and was able to keep it together and land in the Liguilla, so the Apertura 2017 should be no different.
Aside from new goals and challenges for 2017, the team also has some new looks for Apertura 2017. Matias Almeyda celebrated winning the league by tattooing the championship trophy and 12 stars on his left arm and he also trimmed those flowing locks a bit to make him more Aerodynamic as he goes from each end of the managers box. The players will also have a new look for the season; Puma finally released the new home and way kits for the Apertura. Both kits feature huichol patterns throughout the jerseys, along with your very own 12th star you can iron on for all your DIYers and Pinterest lovers. While that might be bothersome, the kits are actually a lot nicer than first installment that Puma put out. (Look for an August release date in the states)
Since the team had no notable additions or departures aside from Nestor Calderon, the main focus additions this season will be the return of key players that were injured last season. Isaac Brizuela, missed the majority of the season and post season, Angel Zaldivar missed the latter part of the season and a lot of the postseason, and La Chofis played through injuries the in the latter part of the season. All three players will look to be returning to start the season with Isaac Brizuela and Angel Zaldivar likely starting the season opener and with Chofis likely being slowly integrated to not further expose his injury. The reappearance of all three players is important for the team’s productivity but Zaldivar’s return could not come at a better time. Alan Pulido suffered an injury during his call up to the national team that will have him out all of the season with a possible return in the post season. While you can’t replace an Alan Pulido’s work rate or scoring prowess, if there was anyone who could replace him, its Angel Zaldivar. Not only is Zaldivar a more than adequate replacement for Pulido, he actually plays the number “9” position more naturally than Pulido does, especially in the 4-3-3 formation that Almeyda employs, the strikers ability to play with his back to the goal enables the wingers to become larger threats when cutting in. Zaldivar might not score as many goals as Pulido but what he brings to the teams play will be fundamental this season.
The main reason why I don’t expect a major drop off this season is because; aside from the loss of Pulido the core of the team is still there. From the midfield back, the team is one of the most solid teams in the league, fielding arguably the best Mexican players in the league at each position. The Midfield of Orbelin Pineda, Rodolfo Pizarro and Gallito Vasquez remind me of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets in their heyday. Jair Pereira and Oswaldo Alanis, two national team call ups that are solid in the back, and Aris Hernandez and Chapo Sanchez, the two biggest national team snubs. Coupled with these players is the continuity of having played in the same system going into their fourth season, and unlike his national team counterpart, Matias Almeyda looks to maximize his player’s talents by placing them in positons that best do so in his formation. This has been evident in their preseason tour, where the team has played their game and while the results haven’t been the best, the team is without some key players until the gold cup is over.
The Chivas squad for the Apertura 2017 will also feature some new young fresh faces from the teams youth academy. Part of Almeyda’s reasoning behind not purchasing any players (besides the ridiculous price tags other Mexican teams put on their players) was that he wanted to bank on the talent in the youth academy.
Players to watch
Kevin Magaña – Made his official first team debut versus Tigres in the Copa de Campeones match and he also made their left back look silly a few times. A speedy RW who displays very good ball control and the ability to take players 1 v 1, expect to see his incorporation more and more as the season progresses.
Jose Juan Macias – Another youngster who made his debut versus Tigres. This young striker scored 32 goals for the youth teams in the last year and half and having already scored once this preseason he could see considerable first team minutes, with Chivas only fielding one natural number 9 on the roster.
Alejandro Mayorga – The 20yr old defender has spent his summer in Russia and in the states, essentially training with the national team, and while he hasn’t played any minutes for the senior teams, this experience is not to be taken likely. At a youth level he displayed great talent at LB and wouldn’t be surprised if he starts coming on late in games to give Aris Hernandez a break.
Rodolfo Cota – He was one of the best goalkeepers last season and that statement is warranted because he was the winner of the goalkeeper of the year award for Liga MX and he was finally given a call up by Juan Carlos Osorio.
Orbelin Pineda – The Iniesta to Pizarro’s Xavi, unquestionably the motor of this team. A true box-to-box midfielder who cannot only come back, defend, and recover, but on offense he can distribute and take on players one on one, leaving defenders in his path. This might be his last year in Chivas if continues playing the way he has.
Rodolfo Pizarro – To say he is a game changer, is an understatement. His ball control and possession are some of the best in Mexico and he is arguably the best Mexican midfielder at the moment, whether playing in Europe or Mexico. Without his return last Liguilla, Chivas doesn’t win the championship, his off the ball movement, scoring prowess and ball retention is essential in the Almeyda offense. With Orbelin being the motor of the team, Pizarro will be the brains that mastermind the success of this team.
“Hay que ser realistas.” Let’s be realistic. – My Father.
I used that quote last year but I use that quote at the start of every Chivas season, because if there is one thing my father is when it comes to Chivas, its realistic. I stated earlier that with Chivas it’s always championship or bust, and realistically this team has what it takes to win another champion. Can anyone accurately predict a winner for a Liga MX season? You’d have better predicting a Juan Carlos Osorio line up, but one thing I am certain about is that Chivas will compete and I can definitely see them raising number 13.