How will Guadalajara respond to ‘Super Clásico’ drubbing?

Roberto Alvarado reacts after the Chivas suffered a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of bitter rivals América, prompting questions that Guadalajara might be in crisis. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Roberto Alvarado reacts after the Chivas suffered a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of bitter rivals América, prompting questions that Guadalajara might be in crisis. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Chivas in crisis
Guadalajara coach Veljko Paunovic trudges off the Estadio Azteca pitch after the Chivas were trounced by América 4-0 on Saturday night. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Chivas Nation is in turmoil.

The pantsing Guadalajara suffered at the hands of bitter rivals América prompted irate fans to loose tirades on social media and sent the front office scrambling into full damage control.

The howling horde immediately demanded the head of coach Veljko Paunovic while condemnations of certain players cascaded across the internet.

A day later, general manager Fernando Hierro summoned reporters for a (rare) media session and declared that the though the Chivas had been soundly beaten the club was no in chaos.

Unrealistic expectations?

After reaching the Liga MX Finals last season, Guadalajara fancied itself a legitimate title contender. Chivas Nation were sure their beloved club would finally equal América’s league-record 13 titles.

But fans conveniently overlooked the fact that the Goats overachieved last season.

During the Clausura 2023, “El Rebaño Sagrado” was a scrappy team that made few mistakes, riding a pressing defense and a relentless attacking style to a surprising third-place finish.

When owner Amaury Vergara hired Hierro to take over club operations before the season, it was presented as the foundation of a rebuild. When the Real Madrid legend then hired the unknown Paunovic as coach, it did not inspire confidence of a quick turnaround.

When the Serbian took over, Guadalajara was seen as a middle-of-the-table team. The Chivas had qualified for the past five playoffs as a wildcard – after missing the postseason the five seasons before that – and had lost on Wildcard Weekend three times.

The players responded to Paunovic and benefited from the European-style training methods. Despite not having a reliable center forward, the Chivas developed a flowing attack that produced multiple scoring options.

As the No. 3 seed, Guadalajara earned a first-round bye then struggled to get past city rivals Atlas (seeded ninth) before upsetting second-seeded América to reach the Final where they came up short against Tigres, losing 3-2 in overtime.

So, unrestrained confidence was understandable. But an objective look at the playoffs revealed chinks in the Chivas’ armor.

A modest Atlas side had nearly derailed the heavily favored Goats with stout defense and the primary reason Guadalajara knocked out América was that they were able to take advantage of a minute 64 red card, turning the tide and scoring twice late to escape by the hair of their chinny chin chin.

Chivas take a licking; will they keep ticking?

Three weeks into the Apertura 2023, Guadalajara sat atop the Liga MX table, the only club with a perfect 3-0-0 record.
However, even a cursory glance at the results would show this did not indicate a juggernaut had been born. Their Week 2 win over Atlético de San Luis was assisted by the early ejection of Tuneros striker Angel Zaldívar and their Matchday 3 victory came at home against Necaxa, the worst team in Liga MX.

And since then, Guadalajara has won just once, a 1-0 home win over Tijuana that featured a controversial red card just before the half of a scoreless match. (The red card was so bad it was overturned on appeal by the Disciplinary Committee, but that didn’t help the Xolos.)

The Chivas were first bounced from the Leagues Cup with two losses in the group stage and have gone 1-1-3 in Liga MX since. The loss to América was their third straight.

Worse than the results have been the performances (and attitude) of several “stars,” a situation that had been whispered about in seasons past. It was a thinly-veiled secret that a few of the big-name players – divas, critics would say – were coddled and allowed to live, and train, by their own rules.

This is a serious concern for Paunovic and it was on full display during the 4-0 thrashing given to them by América.

The club’s highest-paid player, winger Alexis Vega, has struggled with fitness issues for several seasons and his recent confession that he is only just now realizing the importance of dietary and calisthenics regimen was a head-shaking moment.

Vega was subbed out at the half after a particularly ineffective 45 minutes and he has added to his reputation of disappearing in big games.

Left back Cristián Calderón is a supremely gifted offensive player but his lack of discipline – on as well as off the field – has relegated him to the bench on numerous occasions.

Calderón was absolutely undressed on the Aguilas’ third goal … by a defender. “Chicote” allowed Igor Lichnovsky to spin past him at the baseline and feed (an unmarked) Diego Valdés for an easy shot.

Midfield Víctor Guzmán captained the Chivas last season – his first with the club – but has seen limited action during the Apertura 2023 amid rumors of training ground clashes with Paunovic. “El Pocho” had a well-deserved reputation as a partier during his Pachuca days and as Guadalajara is his home town (allegedly his regular destination during “escapes” from Pachuca) the activity has apparently continued.

Guzmán did not even get off the bench Saturday against América.

Even before the final whistle blew, Chivas Nation was inundating X (formerly Twitter) with requests for Paunovic and Hierro to be fired. Some lashed out at Vega, Calderón, Erick Gutiérrez and several others, demanding a blood-letting.

On Monday, Hierro spoke to reporters briefly, denying there is a crisis and insisting the club would follow the course. He declared Paunovic’s job was safe and fought to sustain the narrative that the evolution of the franchise was a work in progress.

No doubt, last season’s success caused fans’ expectations to soar and perhaps allowed players – especially undisciplined players – to rest on their laurels.

The question now is how do the Chivas respond to the embarrassment of being clobbered in their biggest game of the season. Can they rebound and make a serious playoff push and ought the team continue to experiment with academy players?

No doubt, Hierro has a much better grasp of who he can count on for the long term and who he might want to build around, including a few debutantes who have shown flashes of considerable talent.

Liga MX leaders wobble as once-dormant giants awaken. dark. Next

It also remains apparent that he will need to find a center forward who can galvanize the offense. But the No. 1 task is to make it clear that Paunovic is in charge (he did that on Monday) and that the coach will be expected to re-establish discipline. Even if that means the troublesome prima donnas are put in their place.