Defense set aside as Chivas and Pachuca serve up attacking thriller
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Chivas gave up a 3-1 lead on Sunday to tie Pachuca 4-4 in the Estadio Omnilife in one of the best games so far in the Liga MX's Apertura 2015.
The draw leaves both clubs on 18 points with three matches still left to play in the regular season. Chivas and Pachuca now need at least two victories in those games to have a chance of advancing to the postseason.
Here's what we learned:
Super Liga MX Sunday
What. A. Match. America's 3-2 win over Toluca earlier Sunday had been an epic, but what happened in the Omnilife topped it. And on a day in which Formula 1 returned to Mexico, the MLS playoffs really began and NFL was being played, the two Liga MX games gave a fine advert for Mexican soccer, at least in terms of entertainment.
In the last 15 minutes of the game in Guadalajara, there were at least four penalty shouts and a couple of quality saves from each goalkeeper as the two teams slugged it out. By then, the score was already 4-4.
The mayhem and scoring began in the third minute through Jonathan Urretaviscaya. Pachuca's young winger Hirving Lozano twisted and cut in from the right, firing in a shot that Chivas goalkeeper Antonio Rodriguez could only parry and Urretaviscaya was free down the left wing to sweep the ball in.
It didn't take Chivas long to reply though, with Angel Zaldivar heading in from a Raul Lopez cross in the 16th minute and Michel Vazquez squirming a shot past Oscar "Conejo" Perez one minute later.
The pro-Chivas crowd inside the Omnilife applauded and went into raptures in the 33rd, when Zaldivar netted his second to put Chivas two goals up. It was a great comeback from Chivas, aided by a porous Pachuca defense that didn't look at all comfortable.
At half-time, the Chivas side was given a standing ovation, while Pachuca's team gathered and had a heated and lengthy discussion in a huddle.
Whatever was said in that huddle and at half-time certainly worked.
Pachuca was more aggressive in the second half. Lozano was moved behind central striker Franco Jara and coach Diego Alonso changed the team's formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, to match Chivas.
With nothing to lose, Los Tuzos pushed forward and enjoyed great success. Hugo Rodriguez converted a loose ball inside the penalty area in the 60th, Jara equalized in the 64th and then slotted in his penalty to make the game 4-3 three minutes later.
Omar Bravo had the last laugh, however, when the substitute netted his 10th of the season from the penalty spot in the 73rd to level the scores once again.
"The truth is that it was spectacular," said Chivas coach Matias Almeyda in his press conference. Alonso agreed, as did every one of the 25,963 fans inside the Estadio Omnilife.
Mixed day for Almeyda
It was a major risk for Almeyda to rest Bravo and Carlos Fierro and start upfront Vazquez and Zaldivar upfront. After the first half in which Zaldivar scored twice and Vazquez once, Almeyda was looking like a football genius.
Marco Fabian in a more defensive midfield role was working out, as was the decision to put Carlos Salcido in central defense, thereby resting Oswaldo Alanis.
With the Copa MX final against Leon on Wednesday, everything was going to plan. Chivas were winning comfortably at 3-1 and key players were putting their feet up on the bench in anticipation for the big midweek game.
Almeyda then seemed to push it one step too far by subbing out Fabian for the attack-minded No. 10 Eduardo "Chofis" Lopez. At 3-1 up, most managers would've slotted in a defensive-midfielder or even a center-back. Not Almeyda. The result was Chivas giving up three goals in the next 10 minutes.
It made for an entertaining second half, but it also likely cost Chivas what would've been a vital three points.
Pachuca their own worst enemies
Los Tuzos deserve praise for the way -- like Chivas -- they give playing time to young talent. Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio was looking on in the stadium and would've been impressed with the way Lozano breezed past defenders and Rodolfo Pizarro seemed to cover every single blade of grass on the pitch.
But defensively Pachuca was a mess. Veteran goalkeeper Perez was clearly at fault for Chivas' second and arguably should've done better with their first. The center-back partnership of Hugo Rodriguez and Aquivaldo Mosquera oozed fragility and Chivas really didn't deserve to be 3-1 up at half-time; it was just that every time the home team attacked, Pachuca's brittle defense seemed to snap under the slightest bit of pressure.
The attacking style of each side was a joy to watch and this was arguably the best game ever in the Estadio Omnilife. But both sides will be kicking themselves that they couldn't close out a game that was there for the taking.
Now, both Chivas and Pachuca have a really uphill struggle to make the playoffs.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.