10 things we’ve learned so far

10 things we've learned so far


It's been a busy opening to the Liga MX 2020 Guard1anes season, with 45 games already taking place since professional soccer got back underway in Mexico on July 24. Here are 10 things we've learned from the first five rounds of matches.

1. Club America top, but not convincing

It's a peculiar thing to see people calling to replace the manager of the league's first-place club. But “Fuera Piojo” was trending — perhaps tongue-in cheek by some — after Miguel Herrera's America imploded 4-1 away to an impressive Queretaro side on Sunday evening.

Las Aguilas were poor. Richard Sanchez's first-half red card highlighted the ill discipline that has too often overshadowed the positive work Herrera has done; America has two red cards already and has conceded three penalties so far this season. Based on Sunday's showing, it's also clear that the club's porous defense needs work. But if Herrera has shown anything since he left the Mexico national team in 2015, it's his ability to find solutions when problems have arisen. And, barring that game against Queretaro, there is cause for optimism for America fans this season, not least the fact that it is in first position.

Colombia international Roger Martinez appears to be motivated. If he remains focused, he can be one of the best players in Liga MX. Maybe then the offers that he has been hoping for from Europe will come in.

Accompanying Martinez in the America attack, centre-forward Federico Vinas continues to excel. The 22-year-old from Uruguay looks to have all the attributes to become a top striker, and his talent ceiling is likely to take him to one of the “big five” leagues at some point. Add in Argentine Leo Suarez, the improving Sebastian Cordova, Nico Benedetti nearing a return from injury and both Sebastian Caceres (centre-back) and Santiago Caseres (centre-midfield) starting to settle, and it's no surprise America is top of the league in the early going.

2. No early favorite

Behind America only on goal difference, Cruz Azul and Leon also sit on 10 points, with Pumas the only undefeated club so far on nine, the same as Toluca. Tigres are in sixth on eight points. But while La Maquina is in form, it's not been the same sense of dominance as last season. That said, the strength in depth is impressive, and Cruz Azul should be expected to remain in the top places.

Leon's 2-1 win over Club Tijuana restored its position at the top on Monday night, and La Fiera will be challenging once again.

Pumas have had a strange start to the season. “Michel” Gonzalez resigned as coach only hours before it got underway. It was all doom and gloom back then, and the side hasn't exactly blown opposition away, but Juan Ignacio Dinenno's goals and the experienced new signing Alfredo Talavera in goal has seen the university team take advantage of a relatively easy start to the season. The club announced on Monday that interim manager Andres Lillini will be in charge until the end of the campaign.

3. Coronavirus situation continues to be a concern

Three games in the first round of matches of the 2020 Guard1anes season had to be postponed as clubs waited for COVID-19 results, while the number of people associated with Liga MX clubs who have tested positive is now well over 100.

Even this past weekend, Tigres handed a debut to 20-year-old Carlos Galindo in goal for Sunday's 3-2 loss to Toluca and had 16-year-old Erick Gonzalez on the bench, after positive coronavirus tests ruled out first- and second-choice keepers Nahuel Guzman and Miguel Ortega.

On Saturday, Cruz Azul played without starting defender Julio “Cata” Dominguez, who is back training but was not fit to play after recovering from pneumonia, caused by a previous bout of COVID-19.

It seems to be accepted that there will be more coronavirus cases, but the show will continue to roll on, with teams simply quarantining the players who test positive until they return a negative test.

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4. Vucetich offers steady hand at Chivas

Chivas were the first club of the season to change their head coach, with Luis Fernando Tena exiting after three rounds of games with the team failing to score a single goal. Coronavirus cases, including Tena himself, didn't help the 2012 Olympic gold-medal winner, but the side was lacking confidence and out of ideas.

New coach Victor Manuel Vucetich is a sensible and shrewd, if not particularly exciting, appointment. The veteran head coach will bring all his experience to what he described as the biggest challenge of his career.

Chivas have taken six points from six since Tena left, and while there are issues to clear up, this is still a squad capable of a deep playoff run.

That said, the future of striker Jose Juan Macias remains key. Vucetich said he'd like the 20-year-old to stay, but Real Sociedad appears to be winning in the race to take him to Europe. If he does leave in this transfer window, it would be a bitter blow to Chivas' chances.

Over the other side of Guadalajara, there's been another coaching change at Atlas, with Diego Cocca replacing Rafa Puente. Los Rojinegros remain the only team without a win this season.

5. Concerns about Mohamed at Monterrey

Antonio Mohamed and Monterrey are, in theory, reigning Liga MX champions following the cancellation of the 2020 Clausura. But since that epic 2019 Apertura final in December in Estadio Azteca against Club America, the team has won just one of 15 games.

For a club that arguably boasts the best squad in the league, that kind of record is simply not good enough. There is now pressure on Mohamed, who hasn't seemed to be able to find a starting XI and formation that clicks.

The fact Los Rayados are third in the expected goals (xG) per game (1.95) table after five matches and has created more chances than any other team suggests that finishing is a significant issue. Mohamed needs to hope that strikers Rogelio Funes Mori and Vincent Janssen — as well as the rest of the team — start finding the net quickly if he wants to remain in the job.

6. Veteran players in fine form

It certainly feels like veterans have stepped up this season. Maybe it was the extended break that brought the realization that the time to hang up their boots is closer, but whatever the reason, they have defined the early season in Mexico.

Leon's Luis Montes, at 34, continues to be a delight in midfield and a Mexico call-up this year shouldn't be discounted, while 36-year-old Rubens Sambueza has impressed at Toluca, producing some vintage performances. Up at Tigres, French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac will turn 35 this year — he's scored five goals in five games and isn't showing signs of slowing down.

7. Positive start for Queretaro coach Diego

“If the opponents want to think we are less [than what we are], that's their issue, we're going to keep playing each game as if it was a final,” said Queretaro coach Alex Diego after thrashing America.

At 35, Diego is a rare example of a young Mexican coach being given a chance in Liga MX, and there's certainly pressure attached because of the complaint that not enough of his peers get such opportunities. But although the Gallos Blancos squad is one of the weakest in the league on paper, Diego has already defeated America and Cruz Azul and, importantly, crafted an identity. The team has had an average possession of only 36.8% per game so far and the lowest pass-completion percentage (73.7%), but what is crucial is that the team moves the ball upfield the quickest (2.19 meters advanced per second).

In other words, Queretaro likes to hit hard and fast on the defense-attack transition when it wins back the ball. It's a style that will cause problems for more than one team in what remains of the regular season.

8. Toluca the entertainers

Toluca had become a middling team that failed to make the playoffs since the 2018 Apertura. Liga MX's third-most successful club — on 10 titles — had lost any sense of fun. That has changed this season under former Mexico coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre. Switching between a 5-3-2 and a 4-4-2, only Club America (32) has managed more shots on goal than Toluca's 31.

Los Diablos Rojos' xG is 11.31, the highest in the league, while only America's 11 total goals beats Toluca's 10 overall. But as effective as Toluca has been in creating, the team from Estado de Mexico has leaked 10 goals at the other end, the most in the league.

9. Mazatlan, Xolos struggling, but interesting

Mazatlan and Xolos make up the bottom two for the bottom three teams in expected goals (xG) per game so far this season — the other one is Atlas — but both sides will be interesting to keep an eye on.

Paco Palencia's Mazatlan has only one win all season, but the expansive possession-based game — the team has had a 59.6% possession average per game — makes it fascinating. In short, it looks as though Mazatlan and Palencia are determined to take the game to bigger and more talented teams.

Up in Tijuana, Pablo Guede's project has had a tough start, with Xolos picking up only four points. His style is bold: He likes to play youngsters (18-year-old centre-back Victor Guzman is an example), takes risks playing out from the back and picks attacking formations. But it's also going to take time, something that Xolos don't tend to give managers. Guede isn't a head coach who is going to compromise his style and, like in Mazatlan, the development of the style and starting XI as the season continues is a storyline to follow.

10. Young Mexican goalkeepers shine

It's been a while since Mexico had a couple of goalkeepers under the age of 25 to get excited about. Over the 2019-20 season, only Antonio Rodriguez, Gil Alcala and Gibran Lajud were getting regular minutes, were born in Mexico and were under the age of 30.

But these first few games of the season have shone the spotlight on 24-year-old Santos Laguna keeper Carlos Acevedo and Necaxa's 23-year-old Luis Malagon. Both have stepped up in starting roles so far.

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