Back in October, Chivas concluded another disappointing season after they were eliminated in the repechaje round. Soon after, both sporting director Ricardo Pelaez and head coach Ricardo Cadena were relieved of their duties while Fernando Hierro and Veljko Paunović were brought in to change things for the better. The two did just that even though most criticized Paunović believing he wouldn’t be the right fit for the team. Those people were wrong as he has proven to be the change Chivas desperately needed.
Now, people were not totally wrong in their criticism of Paunović. His biggest accomplishment as a head coach was winning the 2015 U-20 World Cup with Serbia. Since then, Paunović was not able to recreate that level of success with other teams. From there, he coached MLS side Chicago Fire and then headed across the pond to coach Reading where he left after two years. Due to this lack of success at the club level, his hire was a bit strange and left fans hesitant of him, but their biggest criticism of all was his lack of knowledge and experience in Mexican football.
While it is very helpful to be knowledgable in the league one is going to coach in, that does not determine whether one will be successful or not. There's so much more to it than that and Paunović proved it by leading Chivas to a third place finish in the regular season with a total of 34 points. The last time Chivas finished the regular season with 34 points was 19 years ago. No, that was not a typo. The last time that occurred was in the Clausura 2004 where Chivas made it to the final, but lost. Now they’ve done it again with a Serbian coach at the helm who positively changed the team. It's been a while, too long Chivas fans would argue, that the team has looked and played like a team. In past seasons, Chivas didn’t look like they had a gameplan when they took the field other than to pass Alexis Vega the ball in hopes he would score. Vega plays a vital role for Chivas, but the team cannot solely rely on one player to do it all. So when Vega went out with a knee injury in week two and had surgery that would put him out for 6-8 weeks, Chivas needed a new gameplan and they did just that. ‘Pocho’ Guzman was one of the players who stepped up in Vega’s absence and its surprising that with his form, he hasn’t been called up to the National Team as Mexico could use a player like him. The rest of the team followed Guzman’s example, so it’s no surprise the team finished in third place with a spot directly in the liguilla.
What has happened with Chivas in just a few short months is incredible. They went from a team who had no identity to a team playing collectively and competitively. With the start of the liguilla next week, it’s going to be interesting to see how Chivas perform after a long time of underperforming. Regardless of the outcome, Paunović is just what Chivas need to get the team back to its glory days.