It’s just 2 weeks before the beautiful game is back in our living rooms and we are all wondering which teams are going to be in the Liguilla and have a shot at the title. In the ’17 Draft aftermath and while the dust was still settling I could see how a Chivas-Tigres rematch was the most plausible end to the next tournament, and now with the imminent departure of Guido Pizarro my confidence on them has been shaken. But let’s discuss this and each of my 8 Liguilla contenders one by one in order of confidence, along with some unlikely predictions.
The loss of Pulido is certainly a big one but not enough to diminish their place as favorites to get to the final match even if they lose some points during the season they shouldn’t have with him on the field. Orbelin and Pizarro will be able to hold the fort down while the team finds it’s path without Pulido. Almeyda’s side has consolidated their style with trophies, it’s the experience of those final matches that bind a winning team’s DNA together, because whenever they feel lost they can always go back to those memories and regroup from there with positions, formations, and the style that worked for them when they most needed it.
- Liguilla seed: 1-3.
- Rodolfo Pizarro will have 3+ goals by the end of week 5.
- Orbelín have over 80% pass effectiveness and 80+ recoveries by the end of week 5.
Last season this team was well ranked in many categories except the most vital one: wins. It’s a statistical aberration that they didn’t make it to the Liguilla while being second in ball possession and pass effectiveness among other things. They had the numbers to be competing for the top spots if not by the disastrous season Benitez and Cauteruccio had, but with Benitez out of the picture the Maquina forwards don’t need to have a spectacular season to make it to the Liguilla, all things being equal a mediocre performance would do this time around.
- Liguilla seed: 2-4.
- Angel Mena will have 4+ combined assists and goals by the end of week 5.
- Cruz Azul will lead the team pass effectiveness rankings by the end of week 5.
It’s an enigma what is gonna happen to this team and how long it will adjust to Pizarro’s absence. Many people are claiming for Tigres to move to a 3-defender formation given the arrival of Valencia and how stacked it looked on the offensive side, which in my opinion would exacerbate the problem many people would trash this team for: losing their style in finals. Tigres doesn’t need to win all the matches in the season, it only needs to win the big ones, and when it faces the “other” opponent with the most brilliant players Tuca would have to decide if they are going to play an open match or not, and as it happened against Chivas and River Plate if they try to put on their “playoff” pants too late they will be caught off guard and off style as they were. Tuca has to plan a season for how he wants to play the final matches this time and not just for how he wants the next 90 minutes to go, although that’s a big ask for a man whose greatest asset is living in the moment demanding the best from each player, non-stop from Monday 9am to the final whistle of the weekend match.
- Liguilla seed: 2-4.
- Edu Vargas will have 4+ combined goals and assists at the end of week 5.
- Jesus Dueñas will not have a passing effectiveness of over 82% by the end of week 5.
This exciting young team has nothing but upside and brightness in the future. Their silent and low profile staff have probably been focusing on all the right things when they decided to really honor the cliché notion of “building a team”. Young stars like Rivas and Gael Sandoval are slowly popping into existence while acquisitions like Rodriguez and Osvaldito are adding to the idea behind it. The first step to turn a team around is to be a difficult team to beat, and Santos was spectacularly difficult to put down. During the Clausura ’17 regular season the team found itself down on the board less than 10% of the time, which is an absurdly low amount in the highly competitive Liga Mx. Experience is what is gonna take this team to the next level, tagging them as semi-finalists in the Apertura ’17 is not a bad bet.
- Liguilla seed: 3-5.
- Ulises Rivas runs for over 11 kilometers per match by the end of week 5.
- Jonathan Rodriguez will be Top 3 in the shots-on-goal category by the end of week 5.
Piojo is a match made in heaven for America, the people love him, his attitude, and his story. People sometimes minimize how valuable it is to have a coach be an intricate part of the everyday training and confronting the players on a daily basis, making them feel like they are still 15 years old on the Sunday match at the neighborhood dirt field, and Herrera gives them that, he is an accessible man who likes players to have a clear notion of what their job is. With Renato Ibarra back on the roster, Lainez as a secret weapon, and Darwin Quintero doing his thing on demand, this Coapa Boys will surely lead the league in dribbling power, which begs the question “How do so many dribblers fit in Piojo’s system?”, that is a tough question but let’s not forget he empowered last seasons dribbling work of art Aviles Hurtado to roam free, to dribble as he saw fit with great results even if Milton Caraglio only scored 5 out of his 49 shots on goal. This could be a great year for the azulcremas, Oribe Peralta will have plenty of chances to score this time, and if he scored 8 times with 30 attempts at goal, I think he just wont stop scoring in this next Apertura.
- Liguilla seed: 4-6.
- Renato Ibarra and Diego Lainez finish Top 5 in the successful dribbles per match category.
- Oribe Peralta will score more than 13 goals this season.
All the off-field drama won’t be hurting Rayados too much, though the loss of Cardona and the situation with Gargano will be weakening their roster and team spirit. The arrival of Stefan Medina could open the door for a 5 defense formation having Basanta and Montes putting a lock on their goal and giving their mediocre fullbacks slightly less defensive responsibilities, and with Molina in front of them it doesn’t get any better than that as far as central defensive units go. If we add up Hurtado opening holes close to the goal where it matters Funes Mori (or Benitez) could finally be getting the real associate needed and have a breakout season.
- Liguilla seed: 5-7.
- Aviles Hurtado will have 5+ combined goals and assists by the end of week 5.
- Rayados will have at least a +5 goal differential by the end of week 6.
The choriceros are well coached by Cristante, it’s one of the more organized and cohesive teams out there. This will be Hernan’s second year coaching in the top circuit, there is no reason why he couldn’t get better with the weapons he has although the Toluca fans are definitely not happy about the lack of incoming talent for the club. With Sambueza in full form maybe this squad can distribute the shooting load from Uribe, whom with 56 shot attempts was very lonely at the top of this rank, Hauche followed him with 28, and Rios on third with a considerably lower figure of 13 shots. These are not numbers you can rely on to get trophies to the club house, they are too predictable.
- Liguilla seed: 5-7.
- Uribe and Hauche will combine for 7+ goals and assists by the end of week 5.
- Toluca will have a rough start and concede 7+ goals by the end of week 4.
Palencia has again chosen to go into a tournament with only 1 centre forward in the roster and hoping he stays healthy, because as we discovered Britos is a fantastic attacker but not a natural striker, and their new acquisitions Guerron, Calderon, and Formica aren’t either. Pumas was 5th on shots attempts with 247, and 4th with less shots attempts on their own goal taking only 198 of them, that is a 49 shot surplus that should have meant a whole lot more in the final standings but for some reason it didn’t, in fact Pumas finished the season with a negative 9 goal differential. How can a 49 shot attempt surplus turn into a -9 differential? Bad decisions, simply put these guys were taking shots when they shouldn’t have, perhaps they had little trust in Britos and simply rushed their shots before looking for him, or maybe he was lonely and well-marked most of the time, whatever it was Paco wasn’t able to make the adjustments when Castillo got injured and that is a coaching error, you can’t let the absence of a man turn your team upside down like that. The bright side here is Pumas has an attacking apparatus that can dismantle most defenses, and Castillo will be back in form for a new season.
- Liguilla seed: 6-8.
- Pumas will have a 4+ goal differential by the end of week 5.
- Pumas will be a top 5 team in the ligamx.net shot attempts rankings.
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