Clasico Nacional: Alajuelense vs. Saprissa Preview

Costa Rica comes to a standstill when Alajuelense and Saprissa clash.

This Sunday will be no different.

Below is everything you need to prepare for the Clasico Nacional.

Current Form

After the COVID-19 pause, no club returned to the pitch with more conviction than Alajuelense. Powerful performances against Cartagines and San Carlos were enough to keep pace with Saprissa atop the table.

Then, Grecia happened.

An inexplicable 3-1 loss on Wednesday put a damper on Alajuelense’s plans for the liderato. Rotation played a significant role—understandably so considering the congested schedule—but the loss brings desperation into the fold.

La Liga are currently seven points behind in second.

Saprissa is perfect since returning to the pitch, but the accumulated nine points haven’t come without queries. A narrow 1-0 victory over Herediano was to be expected, but laboring away to Santos and at home to Limon raised a few eyebrows.

Especially since both clubs were fighting relegation. 

Momentum is never in play when these two rivals meet. It’s less relevant now that neither club has it.

Projected Lineups

Starting XI (1)

# Alajuelense # Saprissa
23 L. Moreira 13 A. Cruz
36 F. Zabala 29 L. Hernandez
13 A. Machado 52 A. David
3 F. Faerron 8 D. Guzman
6 J. Salvatierra 12 R. Blanco
26 B. Alfaro 20 M. Torres
10 A. Lopez 11 M. Barrantes
21 D. Flores 10 M. Angulo
11 A. Lassiter 77 A. Rodriguez
9 J. Moya 27 M. Ugalde
16 A. Guevara 2 C. Bolaños

No player has scored more goals in the Clasico Nacional for Alajuelense than Jonathan McDonald. That’s reason enough for him to return to the starting lineup on Sunday.

It would just be a grave mistake if he did. 

McDonald was suspended four games following a 3-3 draw with Herediano in Jornada 14. With Marco Ureña departing to South Korea, Alajuelense was left with Jonathan Moya at striker. Manager Andres Carevic was forced to abandon his favored 4-4-2 formation in place of a 4-3-3 that highlighted Moya as the lone option. 

It also allowed Bernald Alfaro to blossom.  

Only 23, Alfaro anchored Alajuelense’s midfield. Alex Lopez and Dylan Flores were granted the freedom to roam in more attacking areas. The results followed. The club accumulated nine points in three games by a combined 11-1 score. That came to screeching halt in Grecia on Wednesday.

Alfaro didn’t start that game. Coincidence? 

With McDonald available to play, it’s imperative that Carevic doesn’t revert to his former tactics. Moya should remain the lone striker. Alfaro should remain the focal point.

For Saprissa, replacing Johan Venegas is imperative. The winger is serving a one-game suspension after accumulating his fifth yellow card of the season. Manger Walter Centeno claims he will not deviate from his system.

Ariel Rodriguez is the most logical replacement.

Centeno already deployed a front three featuring Manfred Ugalde, Christian Bolaños and Rodriguez this season. Admittedly, it resulted in a scoreless draw with Perez Zeledon, but there isn’t a more experienced option to experiment with in a game of this magnitude.

Rodriguez will just have to do a better job of finding the back of the net than he has in previous weeks.

Player Who Must Perform

The last time the two clubs met, Ugalde was wrongfully sent off eight minutes in. Apparently, making a 50-50 play on the ball and getting assaulted by Lopez is reason enough for expulsion. 

It didn’t help that PSV was rumored to be in the stands on a scouting trip. 

It was a missed opportunity for Ugalde. Sunday is the opportunity to exact revenge. 

Battle to Watch

Alfaro’s greatest strength is neutralizing the counterattack. Marvin Angulo’s greatest strength is sparking one. The battle in midfield is likely to determine who has the upper hand. 

Prediction

This match typically runs high on emotions. That’s neutralized with fans no longer allowed to attend. 

It boils down to talent.

Alajuelense has the better goalkeeper, but Saprissa has the better back four. Alajuelense has the better midfield trio (slightly), but Saprissa has the better front three…and that’s not by a slim margin.

Bolaños is four years Alan Guevara’s senior. He’s also four-times the player. Despite being 10 years older, Moya will never be the player Ugalde is. It’s Venegas’ absence that makes the difference.

Rodriguez just isn’t the same player. Saprissa’s attack suffers as a result.

Alajuelense 1-1 Saprissa

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