Most of the buildup to the Súper Clásico heralded Club America as an all-conquering juggernaut capable of brushing aside Guadalajara with little regard.
America labored a bit more than expected, but the reigning champions nevertheless eased to a 2-0 victory over Chivas at Estadio Azteca in Mexico's most divisive rivalry Saturday night. Raul Jimenez and Luis Gabriel Rey scored within three second-half minutes to leave the two biggest clubs 23 points apart in the Liga MX table.
In truth, this was a tight game: Chivas had to get something from the game, and boss Juan Carlos Ortega named an adventurous lineup by mandate. Jorge Enríquez missed out through injury in central midfield, yet the 5-3-2 setup remained with just Patricio Araujo to hold the middle -- and this, unfortunately, opened space up for America to thrive.
But the script had been written, and America always stood as the likely beneficiaries. Las Aguilas' robust defensive trio compensates for the desire to send players forward in the 5-3-2 setup without sacrificing too much stability. The quality in the final third usually tells at some stage of the affair.
So while Chivas started the second half well enough, but it eventually succumbed to a quick double from an America side capable of turning the game at a moment's notice.
Sambueza served as the protagonist for the opener with an ambitious run down the left side. The Argentine schemer maneuvered around the outside and reached the byline to pull apart Chivas' defensive shape. The chance could have gone at that stage, but Sambueza clipped a perfect ball toward the back post for Jimenez to thump home a header to spark wild celebrations at the Azteca.
The celebrations shaded into delirium three minutes later. But America's insurance goal owed far more to Chivas' defensive inadequacies than any particular brilliance from Las Aguilas. Ortega attempted to rectify his side's pervasive defensive concerns by adding a third central defender shortly after his appointment. The tactical switch did not -- and will not -- mask the dearth of capable options beyond veteran Hector Reynoso, though. The killer second from Rey brought them all to bear.
America broke forward with three attackers against four defenders. Chivas failed to step accordingly as a unit or track runners beyond the line. The incoherent approach -- perhaps something between the two -- allowed a simple ball over the top for Jimenez to create a simple two versus one. Jimenez squared for Rey to send Chivas to another defeat.
The fact is that Chivas exited Estadio Azteca with little to take from this derby defeat. The visitors huffed and puffed to frustrate America for long periods, but they were ultimately found slipshod at the back and wanting in front of goal.
America muddled through this game a bit more than expected, but it can use this victory -- its 10th in 12 league matches in the Apertura -- to push forward in search of glory this season. Miguel Herrera's side remains the firm favorite to win a second consecutive Liguilla based on recent form. A record-setting point total in league play isn't out of the question, either.
No records were broken in this rather routine victory, though. America didn't hit its usual heights in this match, but it did not need to do so in order to claim the victory. On this occasion at least, the triumph -- and the corresponding bragging rights until the Clausura -- constitutes more than enough of a reward.