Liga MX review: Chivas' fifth consecutive loss sends Guadalajara club into crisis
"Get out, all of you," went the Chivas fans' chant on Saturday evening directed toward the players near the end of the 3-1 defeat to Puebla inside Estadio Akron. "Not one of you should stay."
It isn't uncommon for fans in Latin America to call for changes at their club after a run of poor form, but when it comes from the supporters of arguably the continent's biggest team -- Chivas boast 40 million fans -- people tend to sit up and take notice. The call for change reflects the frustration stemming from a club in crisis. The all-Mexican Guadalajara team is now in 15th position and out of playoff contention in this 2019 Apertura, making it the fourth consecutive season that Chivas won't make the postseason.
Chivas will be in the relegation fight from next season, with Liga MX's system worked out on a points-per-game ratio over the last three years.
The lack of investment in the playing squad and the gradual dismantling of the squad that won the 2017 Clausura championship has not only meant that Chivas has slipped further away from the top squads like Club America, Tigres, Cruz Azul and Monterrey, but has been consistently worse than even Atlas, Puebla and Lobos BUAP.
"If we all have to leave, we all have to leave because honestly we've been an embarrassment and we have to accept that," was midfielder Jesus Molina's take after the loss to Puebla.
It was a poor performance from Chivas and one that highlighted the lack of confidence in the squad. It also showed that dismissing Jose Cardozo in favor of Tomas Boy as head coach hasn't given the squad the lift it needed. But even more than that, the hiring of 66-year-old Boy on a temporary contract seemed to confirm the confusion over the club's long-term direction.
"I have to recognize that I came in turn this around quickly and I haven't been able to," said Boy after the game, describing as a "nightmare" what Chivas is going through. "But I'm not going to stop trying."
Reports that owner Jorge Vergara's health has deteriorated, which were denied by the club, haven't helped and many fans blame CEO Jose Luis Higuera for creating the decline since their last championship. But the problems at Chivas run deeper than just one individual and go to the core of the club.
Chivas' Under-20s are 12th in their league and the U17s are in the same position. As a club that only fields Mexican players, Chivas need their youth system to be producing talent and it appears the club has been left behind in that regard by the likes of Santos Laguna, Pachuca, Monterrey and America.
"The most important problem at Chivas isn't the relegation situation. That will be resolved," said Hans Westerhof, a former Chivas coach and sporting director. "The problem is the future because none of the teams are in playoff positions -- the first team isn't, the U20 isn't and the U17 isn't. There's a disaster in Guadalajara."
The talented Marcelo Michel Leano is overseeing the youth setup and results are clearly not everything in the lower age groups, but it's difficult to remember the last truly international-quality player the club produced -- you'd almost have to go back to 29-year-old Marco Fabian. The club's commercial appeal as a team that represents almost the soul of Mexico and only fields domestic players is still there -- as was seen when Chivas was named as part of the summer's International Champions Cup to face Roma, Benfica and Atletico Madrid -- but it's a complex and almost surreal juxtaposition that the Liga MX giant will be hoping to grow its global appeal while also fighting relegation.
Back in Guadalajara, the fans just want to see some pride restored in the team's last two games of the Clausura. Chivas is without a win since Feb. 17, has netted only three goals in its past eight matches and is below local rival Atlas in the league table. It's simply not good enough for such a big club.
Other weekend notes
- Leon extend winning streak: Whatever happens from here on in, the 2019 Clausura will be remembered for Leon's historic winning run, which is now up to 12 games following the 5-2 win on Saturday against Atlas. The question now is whether La Fiera can win its last two games against Chivas (away) and Pachuca (home) to surpass America's all-time 43-points haul for a short season. Leon is currently on 38 points, a remarkable feat in itself for a club expected to be on the fringes of the playoffs.
- Playoff race tightening up: Only six points separate fourth-placed Cruz Azul from 11th-placed Lobos Buap and the last couple of weeks in the regular season promise to be fascinating. Leon, Tigres and Monterrey are all guaranteed their places; Cruz Azul, Necaxa, Pachuca, America and Puebla are in the playoff places and will stay there if they win their last two games; Tijuana, Toluca, Lobos Buap and Santos Laguna need to capitalise if others slip up, while Pumas, Atlas, Chivas, Morelia, Queretaro and Veracruz have no chance of making the postseason.
- Herrera criticises use of VAR... again: America coach Miguel Herrera hates losing. And after the 3-2 Sunday loss to Toluca, the former Mexico coach was again venting his anger, this time about refereeing commission president Arturo Brizio and how VAR is used in Liga MX. Yet again it was a bad look for a coach who has been been exceptionally successful since he swung a punch at a TV commentator in 2015 and was fired from the national team. It doesn't appear that he has calmed down much. The victory was vital for Ricardo La Volpe's Toluca -- one of the form teams at the right moment of the season.
- "Chelis" working magic at Puebla: Jose Luis "Chelis" Sanchez Solis may not be the most advanced coach in Liga MX tactically but if he can get players on his side, then his motivation powers can be a powerful force, especially at Puebla. The victory over Chivas lifted Puebla into eighth in the league, a remarkable achievement for a squad with one of the lowest budgets in Liga MX.
- Easter weekend excitement: There were no shortage of goals in round 15 of the Clausura, with a bumper 3.7 per game. The 24,224 average attendance per game was also healthy.
Player of the Week: Lucas Zelarayan (Tigres)
This was the Argentine's first start of the season in Liga MX, but it'll be difficult for Ricardo Ferretti to keep him out after his performance in the 3-3 tie with Morelia. Zelarayan, playing in an attacking midfield role, netted twice and came up with a sumptuous assist as Tigres drew level late on.
Goal of the week: Eduardo Vargas (Tigres)
Zelarayan's back-heel pass split the Morelia defense and left Vargas clean through on goal against keeper Luis Malagon. It was an exquisite piece of skill and vision by Zelarayan, capped by Vargas' control and lofted finish over Malagon to earn Tigres a point.