In soccer-mad Mexico, the build-up to the Clásico Nacional dominates the headlines, airwaves, and television screens for days and even weeks before kickoff. Any astute follower of the fervent coverage will be familiar with a few phrases that are always heard before this monumental match. Expressions like “No importa como lleguen los equipos en la tabla” (It doesn’t matter where the teams are in the table) or “Los clásicos son partidos aparte” (The clásicos are special matches) are repeated ad nauseam by a small army of pundits and journalists.
Yet, there is one saying that stands out above all the rest: “Los clásicos hay que ganarlos” (You must win the clásicos). That ubiquitous utterance attempts to capture the high-stakes nature of a meeting between América and Chivas, but there is extra pressure on the Guadalajara giants this time around. In addition to harming their chances of a top four finish, a defeat for Los Rojiblancos at the Estadio Azteca would hamper hopes of a return to competitive relevance in Liga MX.
Long gone are the days when the legendary “Campeonísimo” generation lifted eight league titles between 1956 and 1970. The success of that vaunted squad has not been replicated since, and just four more stars have been added to the club crest in the last half-century. That lengthy fallow period has allowed América to pass their arch-nemesis and become the country’s most successful team with 13 league trophies.
Chivas are only one behind their sworn enemy, but they have not come close to pulling even in recent years. They have failed to qualify for the liguilla in five consecutive seasons, with their last appearance coming all the way back in the Clausura 2017. Establishing a consistent postseason presence is mandatory.
Even though Chivas occupy a playoff place right now, they would be forced to host a do-or-die contest as part of the revamped repechaje system. In order to avoid that tension-packed tie, Víctor Manuel Vucetich’s men must overtake Los Azulcremas in fourth. They are currently five points off that aim, and this weekend’s duel provides the perfect opportunity to reduce the gap.
While Los Rojiblancos travel to Mexico City under greater pressure, there is reason to believe that they can collect their first victory over América since February 2017. They boast one of the stingiest backlines in all the land, with a measly eight goals conceded so far. Furthermore, the return of misbehaving duo Alexis Vega and Uriel Antuna has boosted a shot-shy offense, with both attackers playing a key role in last Friday’s come-from-behind triumph over Necaxa.
That in-form twosome will face a beleaguered América backline. The absence of defensive anchor Bruno Valdez has been keenly felt, with veteran Emanuel Aguilera unable to replicate the Paraguayan’s calming influence.
Las Águilas possess ample firepower at the other end, but they need to score first if they don’t want to suffer on Saturday. Chivas are set up to counterattack under Vucetich, and allowing the visitors to take the lead would open up more space on the break.
Nevertheless, a loss would not change much for Miguel Herrera’s charges. They would still hold an automatic liguilla spot, and would still be one of the favorites for the title. Meanwhile, Guadalajara must not only show they are prepared for a deep postseason run, but also that they are ready to reclaim a seat amongst the Liga MX elite. Although such a massive task cannot be accomplished in just one night, prevailing over their eternal rivals would be a good place to start.