Chivas defeated Club America 2-1 in Estadio Azteca on Saturday night to seal a famous 3-1 aggregate victory over their arch-rival and change the narrative surrounding the club radically from just a few weeks ago.
On Nov. 4, Chivas indefinitely suspended three players and fired one for alleged misdemeanors at a party. Now, the Guadalajara team -- which plays only with Mexicans and boasts 40 million fans -- is in the semifinal of Liga MX's 2020 Guard1anes season, has momentum and little to lose in the semifinal against Club Leon.
Top seed Leon was able to overturn a first-leg deficit to defeat Puebla 2-0 (4-3 on aggregate) on Saturday, while Pumas advanced 1-0 on aggregate against Pachuca on Sunday and will face Cruz Azul, who hung on to a 3-2 aggregate victory over Tigres.
The semifinal first legs are scheduled to be played on Wednesday and Thursday, with the second legs on Saturday and Sunday. The exact times will be confirmed later on Monday.
'Chicote' Calderon sends Chivas to semis
In a phrase that won't quickly be forgotten, Chivas' Cristian Calderon was asked by Chivas TV to explain his winning golazo that handed Guadalajara a 1-0 first-leg lead last Wednesday.
"I wasn't confident, but I just thought f--- it, let's see what happens," Calderon said.
Calderon's use of some colorful Mexican swearing, which doesn't really translate naturally into English, seemed to endear the former Atlas player to Chivas fans. You can even imagine it on T-shirts. But then what happened in the Azteca in Saturday's second leg elevated Calderon's status yet more and etched his name down in clasico nacional folklore.
Calderon received the ball on his favored left side just after the 30-minute mark, controlled and drove it into the top corner, showing the same nonchalant approach as with his first-leg goal. His second of the night wasn't the shot of a player lacking confidence; Calderon purposely looped a left-foot shot over Guillermo Ochoa and off the crossbar to seal victory in the second half. It was a stunning way to win any game, never mind a clasico nacional.
While Calderon may not have over-thought his three goals, Chivas coach Victor Manuel Vucetich certainly had considered how best to overcome Miguel Herrera's America.
Vucetich's tactics were spot on. The 65-year-old had his Chivas team set up to counter. That didn't mean completely ceding the ball to America, although Las Aguilas had more possession in both legs. Instead, Chivas picked their moments, utilized the pace of Uriel Antuna, Isaac Brizuela and Calderon and surprise inclusion Oribe Peralta did well as a target man holding onto the ball up front in the second leg.
America pushed and will wonder how it only scored once with 14 shots on target over the two games, but this was far from a vintage performance and it's been an awkward season in general. If you compare this America team to the 2018 Apertura champions, the difference is vast. Agustin Marchesin, Mateus Uribe, Guido Rodriguez, Renato Ibarra and Diego Lainez have all left the club, while key players Bruno Valdez and Nico Castillo have longer-term injuries. Then there is the murky situation with Roger Martinez, who apparently wants to move on.
It's been a complicated season and America needs to take stock, but that didn't stop "Piojo out" trending in Mexico after the game. It would be unfair for Herrera to be removed given how consistent this America side has been in making playoffs and going deep, but it was a reminder of the high bar that is always set for Las Aguilas.
Leon turn around deficit against Puebla
The 2-1 loss in the first leg was somewhat of a shock to Leon, but La Fiera was much more intense back in Estadio Leon, taking a 2-0 lead into half-time in Saturday's game.
There was simply too much Leon firepower over 180 minutes for a plucky Puebla side that was able to knock out Monterrey in the play-in round and gave Leon a brief scare.
There's still no news on whether Colombian left-back Yairo Moreno will be available for La Fiera after injury and his presence and penetration down the left is missed, but this Leon team has been Mexico's best over the last couple of years and will go into the series against Chivas as favorites regardless.
That said, Vucetich's counterattacking style and low block could well cause problems, as Puebla's did for periods in the quarterfinal.
Cruz Azul topple Tigres
Is 2020 the year? It's been a long and heartbreaking road since Cruz Azul last lifted a Liga MX title in 1997, but the 3-1 win last Thursday over Tigres at Estadio Universitario and then the solid, if not spectacular, 1-0 loss in the Azteca on Sunday will have been reassuring in the sense that there was no nervous finale.
La Maquina had a blip prior to the playoffs, losing four of its last five regular season games, but that victory over Tigres will be a confidence-booster for Robert Siboldi's team.
As for Tigres, a first CONCACAF Champions League title in Florida later this month may provide some relief when the tournament starts up again in a bubble, but there's a sense now that this squad is starting to age and that Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti needs to give younger players a more regular shot.
Pumas keep grinding out results
How far can Pumas go? If they play like they did in the first half of the second leg against Pachuca on Sunday, Pumas won't make it past Cruz Azul. Los Tuzos should've been ahead at the break given how many chances they created and it could've made for a difficult second 45 for Pumas. La Maquina and especially Jonathan Rodriguez are likely to punish more effectively than Pachuca's struggling forward line.
But there's no way Pumas can be written off in the title discussion. The Mexico City university team has lost only once in 19 games now this season and continues to find ways to avoid defeat.
Also, Alfredo Talavera should be back from injury to provide a boost against Cruz Azul.