Why Are Defending Liga MX Champions Chivas So Bad This Season?

Lead Photo: Photo is licensed under the CC BY 2.0 license.
Photo is licensed under the CC BY 2.0 license.
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During the last Clausura season, Chivas de Guadalajara completed a decade-long quest for silverware, capturing their first league trophy since the Apertura 2006 campaign. That success had the team dubbed the “most popular club in Mexico” and its fans riding high, which has made the subsequent crash in the Apertura 2017 season all the more shocking. After 6 games (roughly a third of the way through the 17-game regular season), Chivas has yet to win a match, drawing 4 and losing 2, which has netted them a last-place spot on the Liga MX table. What happened? How did a team that so thrillingly beat Tigres in the Clausura Liguilla final plummet to embarrassing and possibly harmful (they currently sit in the relegation slot due to goal difference) depths?

It’s hard to pinpoint any one factor, but Chivas’ stalwart defense falling apart is a good place to start. Through 6 games, the team has given up 9 goals, exactly half of their total last season. To put that in perspective, even if Chivas were to string together three straight shutouts (an impressive feat in an open league like Liga MX), they would only be at the same pace as last season. The nadir of their defensive showing was in a 1-4 defeat to Monterrey back on August 12th, although blowing a 2-0 lead in 6 minutes at home against Nexcaca the previous week sure didn’t help matters.

However, as bad as Chivas’ defense has been, its attack might be worse. 5 goals in 6 games is a bad tally for anyone, but especially for a team that knocked in 21 last season (tied for 5th-most in the league). After being shut out just once at home last season in 8 games at the Estadio Chivas last season, they’ve already doubled that number in just 3 matches in Guadalajara. Across the board, Chivas is performing at a much-worse level than last season, and they weren’t even that good in the regular season in the Clausura; they finished in 3rd, 4 points behind first-place Tijuana.

There have been smaller factors that have contributed to the winless start (their preseason was disrupted by sending a handful of players to El Tri’s two competitions, and striker Alan Pulido’s injury isn’t helping their low-quality attack), but one need only look at Chivas’ last two games to see exactly how this has come to be.

First, the champs were probably screwed over by poor officiating against Puebla over the weekend, as a controversial early red card put the team on the back foot. It probably didn’t help optics that they were denied what looked like a clear penalty in the closing moments of the match. That loss knocked them officially into last place, an indignity made worse by archrivals América soaring into the upper echelons of Liga MX.

The second match of the week might have been even more emblematic of how rudderless Chivas is right now. Playing away at fellow bottom-dweller Santos, Guadalajara only managed a draw through a penalty of their own, but they should have likely lost; Santos piled in 27 shots over the whole match, with only one, a late equalizer, actually scoring.

Until Chivas can inject some adrenaline into their attack, or at least some strength into their backline, the champs won’t be able to recover from this horrendous start. Dreams of a Liguilla spot are probably dead, but it’s possible to climb to a respectable-if-disappointing mid-table finish isn’t out of the question. That road back to mediocrity continues with a home tie against 9th place Querétaro, who sports a similar goal-scoring and goal-defending record (6 for, 10 against) to Chivas, albeit with 4 more points so far. A win here, and Chivas should climb to around 13th place. Not the heights fans could have been dreaming of coming off the Liga MX/Copa MX double last season, but it would be a tragedy if Mexico’s biggest club finds itself in a relagation battle a season after hitting the highest highs imaginable.