After a long wait, the world's most enjoyable league (well, maybe I’m a bit biased) is coming back to action this weekend. Morelia will host Monterrey on Friday night at the Apertura tournament´s opening. Due to next year's World Cup in Russia, and although Mexico has not yet ensured their qualification, the league will start earlier than usual. As always, the season will be divided into two tournaments: the Apertura and the Clausura. In addition, a League Cup tournament will take part too. The top eight teams at the end of the regular season will qualify to the playoffs, two-legged knock out tie all the way to the title. Due to the fact that Mexico qualified this week to the Gold Cup semi final - all of its players will miss the first matchday, and might miss the second one.
Therefore, here is your exclusive Liga MX Apertura guide.
The Title Contenders
The reigning champions, Chivas Guadalajara hasn't been so active during the transfer window, as they didn't brought players to their squad. The coach Matias Almeyda made his team more efficiet and the results were clear - winning the double in the previous season and becoming a Chivas legend among the fans. Even though the team have non-foreign players policy, Chivas are once again favorites to win the title with many Mexican talents. Alan Pulido (currently injured) and Orbelin Pineda, are two of Mexico's greatest talents. A good season here and Pineda will be among the leaders of Mexican national team in Russia next year.
Title winning is part of Tigres UANL's DNA. Finished as runner-ups last season, so all they need is to move one step further. Their squad is still loaded with some top guns like the French forward André-Pierre Gignac, Argentina's backup goalkeeper Nahuel Guzmán and Mexican international Javier Aquino. Recently, new name added to their squad, the Ecuadorian Enner Valencia. After three years in England, Valencia returns to Mexico and making Tigres' squad even more flashy.
Four years after he left the club for coaching the national team, Miguel Herrera is once again the manager of Club América. Herrera keeps the club's tradition of playing local youngsters and foreign stars. If you need proof for that, just look at the two players that he bought from his former club Tijuana: Guido Rodríguez, who made his debut for the Argentine national team this year, and Carlos Vargas, 18 years old Mexican defender. Pay attention for Edson Álvarez, ex-Mexico U-20 and now playing in the senior team starting lineup during the Gold Cup. With these names, América will speak up.
Last season, Pachuca failed to qualify to the playoffs but they made a huge achievement with winning CONCACAF Champions League. Their biggest star, Hirving Lozano, left this summer to PSV Eindhoven. The club used the money to strengthen their squad. The biggest name they brought is the Japanese Keisuke Honda. Two international Chilean players, Edson Puch and Ángelo Sagal, are also top purchases. As a club with one of the best academies in the country, Pachuca's young superstar this season will be Érick Gutiérrez. He's only 22 years old, but in his fourth consecutive year first team he should fly and shine for the club. From Japan to Chile through the local products - Pachuca looks fresh.
I had some doubts whether Monterrey are real title favorites or no. They are usually qualifying to the playoffs, but always miss the titles by inches. The manager Antonio Mohamed made some big changes in the squad. Aldo de Nigris retires, Walter Gargano criticized the coach and got suspended and Edwin Cardona's transfer deal to Boca Juniors is almost done. Nevertheless, Monterrey has players that can lead them to a great season, such as the Colombians Stefan Medina and Dorlan Pabón. A big question mark, but has the depth to make interesting .
The Dark Horses
Los Diablos Rojos of Toluca celebrate their 100th anniversary and want to do it with another season that worth a playoff spot. They signed Santiago García, who played in Werder Bremen in past years. He joined to some of the veteran players like Carlos Esquivel who play for the club since 2005. For Hernán Cristante and his players, failing to qualify for the playoffs will be a huge disappointment.
For years Morelia was a team who only asks to survive. Last season they surprised and reached the playoffs. The change erupted thanks to the Peruvian striker, Raúl Ruidíaz. He was last season top scorer with 20 goals. Ruidíaz is the team's leader and will play with Ángel Sepúlveda, a newly Mexican international.
Santos Laguna is a young team with an age average of 24.3. The squad is based on the club's home grown players, that get chances to impress scouts from Europe and join bigger clubs abroad. For example, two of the key players last year have already left: Uriel Antuna, was sold to Manchester City, and Joao Malek, who joined to Porto. The coach is the veteran José Manuel de la Torre and he may give a chance to Ronaldo Cisneros. The talented youngster, who named after the former Brazilian international superstar, made an impressive performance at the U-20 World Cup, and will try to star in the local stage too.
Even though Pumas didn't impress in previous season, Francisco Palencia got another season as the head coach of the team. Palencia made some changes. Veterans - out, and signed two players that will try to improve the team: Néstor Calderón, who came on loan from the champions Chivas, and Mauro Formica, former Cruz Azul and Argentine Newell's Old Boys man.
Let's Just Finish the Season
Just three years ago Club León won the domestic title. Since then, the club is in a downhill, and it would be hard to see them preforming this term.
Xolos de Tijuana have a big problem after coach Miguel Herrera have left to América. They will count on new signing, Gustavo Bou, who arrived from Racing Club with his former manager, Eduardo Coudet. The teams is considered as one of the most "American" team in the league, as they have four players from USA. If not the playoffs, then some support from San Diego will do.
Club Necaxa surprised everyone last season, but now it seems that it would be harder to repeat. Necaxa main goal will be to escape as soon as possible from relegation zone.
Puebla are maybe not relegation material, but are still not good enough to fight for a playoff spot. Some of the signing played last season in Chiapas, that relegated at the end of the season. Interesting player that will try to score as many as he can will be Carlos Salom, the Palestinian-Argentinian striker that arrived from Unión Española.
Avoiding the Relegation
Imagine a major club with a big fan base that fails to win the title for years. It's not Liverpool, it's Cruz Azul, that also find themselves fighting against relegation this season. The club is a complete mess. During the last season they believed that there is sorcery on the club and paid for a witch to revoke it, something that actually didn't work. It will be their last season in Estadio Azul and they don't want to leave it with a relegation.
Atlas is also a team with large fan base, but unfortunately low point averge and the relegation system of the league made them one of the teams that will be in the bottom places. Bryan Garnica and Ghanaian foreigner Clifford Aboagye are good, but the real key player will be the veteran Rafael Márquez. As a 38 years old he still shows great abilities, including being part of Mexico national team at the last Confederations Cup.
Querétaro failing in their mission to be more stable, so they will try to get the points that will secure them at the top flight.
Veracruz got a lot of criticism. 20 foreigners were playing for the team, none of them really impressed. One of the players that at least helped them to survive was Pedro Gallese, Peru national team goalkeeper, that made bad performances at the beginning of the season, became substitute during the season and finished with amazing form all the way to the survival.
In their debut season, Lobos BUAP have an opportunity to show that they can be part of the Mexican top tier. Their coach, Rafael Puente, is just 38 years old and doesn't had an impressive career as a player. Yet, Puente managed to lead Lobos to historic promotion in his debut season as a manager. Suerte!