Tactical Breakdown: How Chivas look under Fernando Gago ahead of Concacaf tie vs. Forge FC

The 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup gets underway in February, and two Canadian Premier League teams will be going toe-to-toe with some of the top clubs in the region. will be covering the tournament extensively, with in-depth guides on the CPL teams and their opponents, plus more on the whole tournament. For more of’s coverage of the Concacaf Champions Cup, click here.

Club Deportivo Guadalajara, or ‘Chivas’ as they are known to many, take on Forge FC in the upcoming Concacaf Champions Cup and arrive in Canada with an incredible history. For more on the club and how they qualified for this tournament, you can read all about them here.

Now you know all about the club off the field let’s look further into how they are playing on the pitch with an in-depth tactical look at what Forge FC can expect from the Mexican powerhouse over the upcoming two legs. Forge FC are in pre-season mode at the moment while Chivas saw their new league campaign start on Jan. 14 and will arrive in Hamilton for the first leg having played five domestic matches already.

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Chivas tactical shape 

New manager Fernando Gago, who was only appointed on Dec. 20, has maintained a consistent look to his team in the opening rounds of the new season. Essentially, this is a 4-3-3 side. To give you an idea of who they are and how they look, this is one of their most recent starting XI lineups, which aside from a change at right-back due to an injury, is the same team they played from the start in each of their first three games.

What you need to know is this system allows Mexican midfield international Erick Gutiérrez to dictate the way they play as the holding midfielder. The former PSV Eindhoven man brings real balance to the side with his left foot and, when the club is in possession, understands the need to find space and push his team forward. Here you can see how important he is when he receives the ball and starts an attack that brings both wide players into play.

Left-footed wizards Gutiérrez and Alvarado are the danger men

It should come as no surprise to understand two Mexican international players for Chivas could present the biggest challenge to Forge FC. In a team that struggles to convert scoring chances (more on that later), Roberto Alvarado (#25) is undoubtedly the side’s best attacking player. A winger who often operates on the right side, he has a lot of Riyad Mahrez in his game in that he is very difficult to read when dribbling, controls the ball well with both feet and has a real eye for goal. In this clip you can see his trigger points are based on Gutiérrez, with Chivas moving their opponents to the right and then bursting into an attack with a clever ball over the top. Watch how Gutiérrez (#15) comfortably moves into space and then how Alvarado drives forward to deliver a right-footed cross:

Chivas have struggled to score for some time now and once Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez returns from injury they have the makings of a good side. Until then, however, opposition teams know Alvarado is the talisman. By virtue of playing on the right as a left-footed player he is already, naturally, drawn to look left and come inside. In a recent game against Toluca he often operated more centrally as a second striker at times. He is at his best when he can attack in one-on-one situations and use his teammates to play with and combine to create chances.

In this clip you can see a rare moment, as they chase the game, where the right back has got forward and Alvarado relishes the chance to dictate the play from deep, starting the move by playing the pass, drifting into the penalty box and scoring a crucial goal with an instinctive finish.

Winning and weakness in wide areas

With a strong midfield three and a lack of a real presence as a central striker, the form and concentration of wide players is really important to Gago at the moment. Their fullbacks are defenders and not playmakers, which is often seen in the modern game. This puts more emphasis on the wingers to create, but if teams attack wide areas they can be vulnerable with the wingers not tracking back quick enough to eliminate 2-vs-1 scenarios.

This was also the case in this goal that they conceded recently. Although this is a terrible goal to give away from the defence and it is clear they are vulnerable at the back, this conceded goal all starts because there is no pressure to the ball from the wingers further up the pitch.

Alvarado and Pavel Perez, the right-footed left winger, are very dangerous in possession, with Perez more of a threat in transition as this clip shows, while also highlighting another key area (look for the centre-back stepping up and starting the attack that led to Perez’s run).

Aggressive centre-backs

In that last clip we see the left-sided centre-back Jesús Orozco step up to begin an attack, and that is something he enjoys to do often. He has struggled defensively to start this season, but is very comfortable in possession and with yet another left-footer in the team brings real balance for Gago. In this next clip he understands, against Santos Laguna, that he is often the spare man against their relaxed press and is therefore happy to take the space, step up and look for Alvarado to once again start a valuable attack in the final third.

This also takes place from the right side of the back four and brings us to another important member of this team, midfielder Fernando Beltran. In this next clip watch how centre-back Gilberto Sepúlveda (#3) takes the space and immediately Beltran (#20) ahead of him dictates the play by signalling for it to go to the right. What follows shows how important Beltran is as a true box-to-box midfielder, how Alvarado once again excels with link-up plays in attack and how the team has struggled to finish opportunities, this time with Cade Cowell wasting an opportunity.

When we combine aggressive centre-backs who lack confidence, space in wide areas and a team struggling to score and often being ill-disciplined what can happen is that teams can hurt them in transition. In this next clip, with the team drawing 0-0 away from home and having a good period in the game, you can see how Alvarado gives the ball away, Beltran presses, Sepúlveda steps up once again and Tigres rip them apart targeting wide areas and poor defenders in the box.

Fast starters

Each of their games so far have taken on familiar patterns. It should come as no surprise to see a new manager clearly getting his players to respond to him so early in their time together. This has been clearly evident in how quickly they start games. In the first four matches they were outstanding in the first quarter of the match and created enough chances to be leading early in each of those games. In the first three games they scored just two goals, however, with one coming from Alvarado (as seen above) and another headed in by Gutiérrez from a free kick nine minutes into stoppage time of their season opener.

When watching them closely it is clear we should expect Chivas to start quick, show how they press, hunt quick for second balls and look to attack right away. This clip shows all of that and more as Beltran narrowly fires wide after a fantastic team effort from kick off.

Frustration and a lack of confidence has followed them the longer the games have gone on. Each time, though, they start another game in the same way and finally it came together right from kick off in the fourth match when they scored inside 20 seconds at home to Toluca this week. This is very similar to the above clip and this time Beltran shoots and finds the back of the net.


While it is clear that Gago has a lot of work to do to build confidence and carve this team into the characteristics he prefers, tactically their identity is clear: a 4-3-3 side, with a little variety shown away from this, with a good midfield and key attacking pieces. They will, of course, be overwhelming favourites against Forge FC over the two legs this month, but there are clear areas of weakness, some of which we have covered here.

Goalkeeper and defence are areas of real concern, which inevitably can lead to worrying moments at set-pieces also. In possession, they have a lot of things to admire, but despite their incredible history the 2018 winners of this competition will not arrive in Canada in a formidable state and that should give Forge FC and their fans a glimmer of hope that they can get something from this tie.

Forge FC take on CD Guadalajara in the opening leg of the Concacaf Champions Cup at Tim Hortons Field on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. ET. Tickets are still available here.

Clips courtesy of TUDN/Fox Sports

The 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup begins Feb. 6, 2024. Forge FC will take on C.D. Guadalajara (beginning Feb. 7), and Cavalry FC will play Orlando City SC (beginning Feb. 21). The matches will be available to watch in Canada on OneSoccer.