Liga Bancomer MX

Liga MX Apertura 2017 Preview: The Favorites

With the new Liga MX season fast-approaching, Tom Harrison brings you an in-depth preview of every single team. Including their key transfers, possible line-up, the view from a fan, and Tom’s analysis. In the final part, Tom looks at the favorites to go deep into this season’s play-offs.

América

Last season: Apertura- 5th (Runners-up), Clausura- 9th

Key additions: Guido Rodríguez, Carlos Vargas (Both Tijuana), Pedro Arce (Veria), Emilio Orrantía (Santos Laguna)

Key departures: Paolo Goltz (Boca Juniors), Erik Pimentel, Moisés Munoz, José Guerrero (All Puebla), Javier Guémez (Querétaro), Michael Arroyo (Gremio), Osmar Mares (Veracruz)

Failing to make the play-offs was a disaster for Club América. A disaster which led to big changes.

Ricardo La Volpe, who came so close to winning the Apertura, but adopted a dull, pragmatic style of football, lost his job. Meanwhile, sporting president Ricardo Pelaéz has stepped down after more than five years with Las Águilas.

In search of an improvement in results, América have gone back to a winning formula, Miguel “Piojo” Herrera. After his controversial departure from the Mexico national team, Piojo revitalised his career with a superb season in Tijuana. Los Xolos didn’t make it past the semi-final stage, but Tijuana finished top in both sections of the 2016/17 season, whilst playing some remarkable football.

Herrera has brought a couple of players over from Tijuana with him. Carlos Vargas is a promising centre-back that Piojo seems to have plenty of faith in. Guido Rodríguez is the star addition though.

Guido was possibly the best player in Liga MX last season. The Argentine defensive-midfielder was the best ball winner, making over svene tackles and interceptions per match, with over 100 tackles and interceptions across the campaign. Rodríguez also displayed quality in possession, helping Tijuana launch attacks with good dribbling ability (89% completion rate) and an eye for a pass. He also scored five goals, despite attempting just 20 shots.

 

Possible line-up

 

Piojo favoured a 5-3-2 formation when previously at América, and during his spell with Mexico, but showed his capability to adapt to the players at his disposal when using four defenders in Tijuana.

With Carlos “Darwin” Quintero’s dramatic drop-off in form, Diego Lainez not looking quite ready to step-up into a starting role, and the Oribe Peralta-Silvio Romero partnership not working well in the recent supércopa, and last season, América look strongest with three attackers.

And what attackers they are. Renato Ibarra completed the second highest number of dribbles per 90 minutes in the Clausura, and is the only player in the top 23 to have a completion percentage above 65%. Cecilio Domínguez was sensational in the few games we saw him. It’s no wonder that América’s form trailed off when the pair got injured.

Through the middle, Piojo has the option of Peralta or Romero. Peralta has been one of the most consistent scorers in recent years, whilst Silvio was the most efficient forward in front of goal in 2016/17, although you wouldn’t believe that listening to his critics.

Playing with three in attack should lead to the use of three centre-backs, América are light on numbers in central midfield.

It’s hard to pick too many faults with this América squad, but there are some. Depth could be seen as one, as could Miguel Samudio at left-back. But perhaps the biggest issue for Las Aguilas is a lack of creativity from midfield. Cecilio and Ibarra will provide plenty of sparks, but creativity from deeper is limited. William da Silva is a great physical presence, the Brazilian isn’t the best distributor of possession.

 

The view from the fan- The Eagle Insight (@TheEagleInsight)

Miguel Herrera, the man who has America fans excited for the new season. After suffering through the disappointment filled Nacho Ambriz and Ricardo La Volpe eras, America finally has the manager they always wanted back. Piojo is a proven winner who knows how to bring out the best from his players. Having those qualities, fans are hopeful he can help Romero and Darwin regain confidence and form. In Darwin’s case, something he left back in Santos and has never been seen since. Fans want to see an America team that knows how to build up plays, attacks all game, and yet defends well. Most importantly fans want to see a team that has discipline. America has notoriously been a team who receives many red cards, commits many poor fouls, and fights on the field sometimes within own teammates. Whether Piojo is the person to bring discipline has yet to be seen, he himself has had many on and off the field issues such as fighting a reporter or challenging fans to fight. For America to be a title contender they must stay relatively healthy. These past few seasons America has become somewhat of a hospital and like we saw versus Gallos in SuperCopa MX, without their starting wingers they struggle to create any plays. As fans, we must have patience. America will not change overnight but Miguel Herrera is the right person to turn things around this upcoming season.

The Eagle Insight will be providing news, updates and information on Club América in English throughout the coming season. You can follow them here.

 

Chivas

Last season: Apertura- 4th (Quarter-finals), Clausura- 3rd (Winners)

Key additions- N/A

Key departures- Miguel Ponce (Necaxa), Alejandro Zendejas (Zacatepec)

The Apertura ended, once again, with a devastating liguilla defeat to América. But Chivas fought back.

Carlos “Gullit” Pena didn’t work out, so Chivas swiftly moved him on, and splashed out on Rodolfo Pizarro. Injury kept Pizarro out for much of the campaign, but the ex-Pachuca man still managed to score six times as Chivas secured a first Liga MX title since 2006.

This wasn’t Chivas’ only title won last season. They also bagged the Clausura Copa MX crown, despite using second string players for the majority of the tournament. In fact, the Guadalajara side would have completed a Copa MX double if it weren’t for the heroics of Tiago Volpi in the Apertura final.

All this goes someway to illustrating how successful the partnership of Jorge Vergara and Matías Almeyda has been in recent seasons. Vergara has provided the funds which has built a very strong squad at Estadio Chivas, whilst Almeyda has shown great tactical knowledge, and evidently has been capable of getting his players comfortable in his system of play.

 

Possible line-up

 

Moves for star names like; Carlos Vela, Javier Aquino, Jurgen Damm, Hirving “Chucky” Lozano and Erick Gutiérrez failed to materialise, but it may not matter. Chivas have kept together the side that won last season’s title, and with an average age of 25.2 across the 2017 Clausura, this squad has the potential to compete at the top of Mexican football for many years.

Almeyda is blessed with flexibility within his core squad. He can play with two up front; Ángel Zaldívar and Alan Pulido, or a “number ten”- Rodolfo Pizarro or Javier “Chofis” López- in-behind the striker. He can also play with two defensive-midfielders by putting Michael Pérez or Carlos Salcido alongside José Juan “Gallito” Vázquez. This tactic proved very effective in the second-leg of the Liga MX final.

Chivas may have to recover from a difficult start this season though, with so many players on international duty at the Gold Cup, and some key injuries. It remains to be seen how long Alan Pulido, who became a crucial player towards the end of last season, will be side-lined for.

With players missing and the departure of a few backups over the summer, the start of the season will be a huge test for Chivas’ youngsters, and Almeyda. When players were missing towards the end of last season, Chivas struggled, failing to win in their final five regular season matches.

A similarly poor run of form at the start of the campaign would be difficult to recover from, but if Chivas make liguilla and have a full squad available, they’ll be one of the favourites.

 

The view from the fan- The Stray Goat (@thestraygoat)

After 10 years without a league title, winning the double last season was nothing short of magical. The possible hangover from this championship run isn’t so much a concern as the injury plague (bug isn’t strong enough of a word) that has already claimed Alan Pulido for the season along with countless others who are still nursing existing injuries or treating new ones that they picked up while away with the national team. With the only additions to the first team this season being youth system prospects handpicked by the coaching staff, they may be given an opportunity sooner rather than later and, even then, I still feel comfortable expecting a good/great season from Chivas because they’ve proven they can persevere after losing key pieces of their lineup.

The Stray Goat will be providing his usual humorous slant on Chivas and Liga MX once again this season. You can follow him here

 

Monterrey

Last season: Apertura- 9th, Clausura 2nd (Quarter-finals)

Key additions: Jorge Benítez (Cruz Azul), Avilés Hurtado (Monterrey), Juan Pablo Carrizo (Internazionale)

Key departures: Iván Piris (León), Aldo de Nigris (Retired), Edwin Cardona (Released), Yimmi Chará (Junior)

It’s difficult to judge Antonio “Turco” Mohamed’s time with Monterrey. Last season, failing to make the Apertura play-offs, with their star-studded squad, and crashing out of the CONCACAF Champions League in the group stages, were terrible outcomes. Bouncing back to finish second in the Clausura was impressive, but then Los Rayados suffered an embarrassing six-one defeat to rivals Tigres in the quarter-finals.

It was this tie which really raised questions of Turco’s future at Estadio BBVA Bancomer. Monterrey had beaten Tigres previously in the season by playing with five at the back, limiting space in the final third for Tigres, and hitting on the counter. In liguilla, Turco changed his tactic, attempting to battle over possession with Tuca Ferretti’s side, and the plan back-fired spectacularly.

Faith has been maintained Turco, and once again Monterrey have invested in the squad. The key move has been replacing the enigmatic Edwin Cardona, with the best attacking player in Liga MX since 2015, Avilés Hurtado.

Combine Hurtado’s technical ability, game intelligence, pace, balance, goal-scoring ability and hard-work with Dorlan Pabón, Rogelio Funes Mori and Carlos Sánchez, and you have a potentially devastating attack.

 

Possible line-up

 

Turco has usually used a 4-3-3 or 4-2-2-2 during his time at Monterrey, although he does occasionally go with 5-at-the-back, something that can be done easily by bringing in Nicólas Sánchez.

Sánchez is just one example of Los Rayados’ excellent strength in depth. Almost every position of the pitch is covered by two players that are experienced in Liga MX.

Monterrey created more chances than anyone else last season and scored 57 goals across 2016/17. Adding Hurtado into the attack is a frightening prospect, but will it work?

There is a possibility of Avilés becoming frustrated with playing alongside Dorlan Pabón, a player who attempts a huge number of long-shots. This is highlighted by Pabón taking 7.1 shots per 90 minutes in the 2017 Clausura, the highest amount in Liga MX. With a 29.55% shot accuracy, most of these shots are wasted. For the Pabón-Hurtado partnership to reach its potential, Dorlan must improve his decision making.

 

Pachuca

Last season: Apertura- 2nd (Quarter-finals), Clausura- 10th

Key additions: Edson Puch (Pachuca), Robert Herrera (Puebla), Ángelo Sagal (Huachipato), Keisuke Honda (Milan)

Key departures: Hirving Lozano (PSV), Roberto Alvarado (Necax) Braian Rodríguez (Released), Sergio Vergara (Zacetecas)

Football teams are constantly battling between short-term and long-term goals. Being one of the best Mexican sides at developing young talent, if not the best, in recent seasons, Pachuca usually prioritise the longer term. But this summer, following a disappointing domestic Clausura, and with a Club World Cup approaching, the short-term has taken precedence.

Replacing Hirving “Chucky” Lozano was always going to be an enormous challenge. Pachuca have tested young replacements like; Roberto Alvarado, Sergio Vergara, Mateus Goncalves, José David “Avión” Ramírez and Francisco Figueroa, but they ended up bringing in a proven 31-year-old, Edson Puch.

Puch is as good a replacement for Lozano as could have been found. A right-footed inside forward who likes to operate from the left, just like Chucky, Puch has the ability to replace Lozano’s goals. The Chilean is also an excellent dribbler with intelligent off-the-ball movement, similarly to Chucky.

Puch isn’t the only high profile 31-year-old to join Los Tuzos. Liga MX was stunned when Pachuca announced the signing of Japanese legend Keisuke Honda completely out of the blue. The former Milan midfielder is a massive addition to Mexican fútbol. Off the field, he’ll help to boost the league’s profile, particularly in Japan. On the field, Honda’s one of the best long-range shooters in recent times, and he joins a league famous for golazos.

Pachuca have also bolstered the defence with more proven Liga MX talent in the form of Robert Herrera. Plus, the signing of 24-year-old Chilean international Ángelo Sagal could prove an interesting one.

 

Possible line-up

 

On paper, this Pachuca team is right up there with the best in the league.

Diego Alonso is expected to continue to use his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. The evergreen Óscar Pérez continues in goal for yet another season, and will be well protected by Omar González and Óscar Murillo, one of the best defensive partnerships in Liga MX.

Jorge “Burrito” Hernández holds the midfield together in the deep-lying playmaker role, whilst Erick Gutiérrez will continue to combine creativity and passing efficiency as well as anyone else in the league, if not better.

Puch-Honda-Urretaviscaya sounds jaw-droppingly good. Puch and Urreta both managed 19 goals and assists across 2016-17, highly impressive.

In front of that trio, Franco Jara, Ángelo Sagal and Germán Cano will battle over the starting forward spot. Jara’s record of 31 goals in 58 Liga MX games is superb, but he struggled to find the back of the net last season, and some began to question his qualities. These struggles were more to do with a lack of service than poor finishing though, Jara’s record of one goal for every 4.27 shots was one of the best across 16/17.

 

The view from the fan- Dan (@dvfoos)

As a Pachuca fan I’m interested in seeing how they perform with out Hirving Lozano in the upcoming Apertura season. But with the recent acquisitions of Edson Puch and Keisuke Honda we can see this team become a candidate for the title. If they can work as a team and find a way to win without Hirving Lozano they can progress into a winning candidate.

 

Tigres

Last season: Apertura- 3rd (Winners), 7th (Runners-up)

Key additions: Enner Valencia (West Ham)

Key departures: Guido Pizarro (Sevilla), Luis Advíncula, Luis Quinones, Julián Quinones (All Lobos BUAP), Manuel Viniegra (Veracruz)

Another season in which Tigres were at the forefront of Mexican fútbol.

Dominant Apertura liguilla performances meant Tigres entered the final as favourites, but when Edson Álvarez scored in the 95th minute of the second leg, it looked like América would go on to become champions. Then, the magical drama of Liga MX took over. After four red cards, Jesús Duenas headed in a 119th minute equaliser. América missed all of their penalties, and Tigres became champions.

Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti’s side weren’t able to win their other two finals last season though. An 83rd minute Franco Jara goal gave Pachuca a two-one victory in the CONCACAF Champions League final following a drawn first-leg.

In the Liga MX Clausura final, which Tigres qualified for after scraping into the play-offs, the Monterrey side did well to battle back from two-nil down in the first-leg, but lost the second-leg in Guadalajara two-one.

It was a bizarre final, with Tuca abandoning his ‘tuca-taka’ style for a more direct approach. Tigres completed 74% of their passes in the second-leg against Chivas, around 10% lower than their usual pass efficiency. A more direct approach proved effective during the Apertura liguilla, but on this occasion, Chivas were able to take advantage of the frantic match, creating more opportunities through rapid, intelligent moves.

 

Possible line-up

 

Tigres are often interesting to watch from a tactical perspective, but after losing Guido Pizarro to Sevilla, they should be even more fascinating to analyse. Guido was pivotal to Ferretti’s system, with his superb ball-winning and ball-distribution skills.

It looks like versatile Colombian Mateus Uribe will be the man brought in to replace Pizarro, after rumours of moves for Chileans Gary Medel and Marcelo Díaz have cooled.

The most obvious option for Tuca is to bring Uribe into Pizarro’s old deep-lying playmaker role, and hope he’s capable of dictating the tempo in a similar fashion.

In attack, Tigres have once again strengthened with a marquee signing. Enner Valencia was outstanding during his season with Pachuca, and has a remarkable 20 goals in 38 internationals for Ecuador, but he struggled in the Premier League, mainly due to being played out of position on the wing.

Rumours have linked Eduardo Vargas with a move to San Lorenzo, but if he stays, Tuca faces a major headache of how to fit in all of his star attackers, and get the best out of them. The most obvious solution would be adopting a 3-4-3, with Valencia and Vargas supporting André-Pierre Gignac. Would be a risky move, but fun to watch.

Gignac looks set to stay in Monterrey despite the frustration at Mexican media, and links to LA Galaxy. The Frenchman underwhelmed during the regular sections of the Apertura and Clausura, but found form in spectacular fashion when we reached the business end of the seasons. At one point, mid-way through the Clausura liguilla, Gignac had scored seven of his previous ten shots. Mind-blowing.

 

The view from the fan- Tigres Nation (@TigresNation)

Losing the Clausura final to was tough to take for Tigres fans. The truth is we ran out of steam. Over the two legs, Chivas thoroughly deserved to be champions. The lack of energy had been lurking in the shadows for a long time, but it was also almost inevitable. Let’s wind the clock back to January 2014. Since then, we’ve been to four Liguilla finals, two CONCACAF Champions League finals, a Copa MX final, and a Copa Libertadores final. In the summers, we’ve played in a Campeon de Campeones, a SuperCopa, and lost players to the World Cup, Gold Cups, Copa Americas, and the Euros. I say all this not to brag, but to highlight just how much more football our players have played compared to every other side. With Tuca’s focus on experience over youth and his general unwillingness to rotate the first XI, the drop off in performance was predictable. And so, to this summer. For the first time since the summer of 2013, most of our players have been on a beach for the last month (the El Tri contingent excepted). While the rest is welcome, the new season is one of unknowns. For the first time since summer 2014, we will probably see wholesale changes to the first XI. Pizarro has gone, Rivas has gone and the Quinones brothers have gone. The aging Juninho is under threat from the improving Meza. Where will Enner Valencia fit in? With a shorter pre-season than elsewhere in the world, and with an expectant fanbase spoiled by recent successes, Tuca arguably faces his most testing spell since the disastrous 2014 Clausura. He needs to hit the ground running. It’s easy for rival fans to look at Tigres and see a champion-in-waiting. And yes, with the talent in the squad, we should be competing for silverware come December. Anything less would be a failure. But it would be folly to assume it’ll be plain-sailing. Liga MX never is.

Tigres Nation is the best source of specific Tigres coverage in English, through their twitter account and website. You can follow them here.

 

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