The Apertura ’17 Liga Mx Contenders

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.

Chivas.

Logo-Chivas.pngThe 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.

Predictions:

  • 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.

Cruz Azul.

Logo-CruzAzul.pngLast 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.

Predictions:

  • 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.

Tigres

Logo-Tigres.pngIt’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.

Predictions:

  • 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.

Santos

Logo-Santos.pngThis 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.

Predictions:

  • 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.

America

Logo-America.png

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.

Predictions:

  • 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.

Monterrey

Logo-Monterrey.pngAll 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.

Predictions:

  • 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.

Toluca

Logo-Toluca.pngThe 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.

Predictions:

  • 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.

Pumas

Logo-Pumas.pngPalencia 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.

Predictions:

  • 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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The 80% Elite

From a list of players with more than 500 minutes of play time I looked at the top passers in Liga Mx Clausura ’17 and wondered which of them were taking more risks with their passing and where were they passing from and to. And by analyzing Ligamx.net “Pass Routes” charts for each player with over 80% Pass Effectiveness I found only 14 players whose weighted average passing position happens in the opponent’s half. Here is the chart and some general judgements and inferences we came up with about them.

PassingKingsNoText.jpg


The distribution of the players in the image is exaggerated for aesthetics but true in relative proportion. Angel Mena is the +80% player with the most forward weighted average pass rate at 15.25 meters from the half line.

First let’s take a look at Puebla’s Elderly Duo. Between these two guys they intermittently attempted to give Puebla some balance and distribute play, but seemingly did not have the opportunity to join much in the forward action, with 22 attempted shots between the two it’s somewhat clear they were too worried about tracing back to venture forward. But like fine wine these two approaching their 40’s know what is important in life: not to waste passes around.

  • Paco Torres: His pass route analysis puts him as a left interior, but not as a box-to-box midfielder. At 34 years old and either subbing in or getting subbed most of the times he managed to run for 11.95km per 90 minutes. I bet he has some gas left in the motor for next season.
  • David Toledo: At 35 years old he is Torres’ sheepherding partner and while running 10.70km per match as a starter he surely is not showing signs of wanting to retire.

Then we have the Tuca Boys Will Be “Almost There” Boys, who are screamed and yelled at by Tuca on every little mistake they make whether it’s a playoff match or the first day of the off-season camp. Tuca never stops what I believe he calls “correcting” players, and passing correctly is just part of the everyday player inquisition he calls coaching. With the high-position ball-control strategy this team has it’s no surprise 4 Tigres players made the list.

  • Javier Aquino: Interestingly the only pure winger in the bunch, although interestingly as well is how he did not excel at the dribble department with a modest 46.5% success rate.
  • Lucas Zelarayan: Second most aggressive passer in the group. If only he could improve his dribbling (43% success), and especially his shooting (13% on goal), he could easily become one of the best players in LigaMx.
  • Eduardo Vargas: His high completion rate is not surprising, the Chile national team has fine midfielders in every sector of the field, including on defense and center forwards, you can’t play in it if the ball bounces off you twice or if you throw  a single watermelon at your teammates, ball control is a religion down there. It will be something to watch if Tigres can finally make use of his skills at the club level.
  • Jesus Dueñas: He has the highest passing completion rate in this “offenders” category. Had he not switched to a fullback during some matches his pass positioning would be even more aggressive. His 54% shooting accuracy really add to his name sounding more “Elite”.

Jekyll

With Jemez’s arrival Cruz Azul attempted a high-possession forward-position football, unfortunately they were effective at it for the first 80 to 85 minutes each game. But in the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde show that La Maquina put out this season, these two players are about the best thing that happened to the Noria team this season, even if heir work was squandered by Benitez’s abysmal shooting (32.5% accuracy), deplorable dribbling (24.3% success rate), and mildly unfortunate passing (63.6% completion rate), as well as Cauteruccio’s mediocre performance, there is something bright and shiny to look forward to next season.

  • Rafael Baca: By taking advantage of the team camping at the opponent’s territory for large lapses of time in most matches is how he was able to distribute from inside enemy lines with high percentages. And from that forward spot he found vacant had a front row seat at the award winning “Les Miserables” one-man-show version showcased by Benitez.
  • Angel Mena: This man was the yin to Benitez’s yang, and no I am not pounding on the striker for free. Mena danced around Cruz Azul’s forwards not only holding a world class pass completion rate, he also had a very respectable dribbling rate (50% success), and managed to score 5 times out of 38 shooting attempts, perhaps Mena deserves a shot at the striker position and have Big Bird Benitez serve him crosses and see how that goes, I imagine there would be not much to lose.

Here we have the lonely ones…

  • Bryan Rabello: Another impressive piece of information about him is his 55% dribbling success rate product of 26 dribbles out of 47 attempts. What is not so impressive about him are his 2 goals and 2 assists, and though not necessarily bad, that is the perception some Pumas fans have.
  • Orbelin Pineda: We all know how he carried Chivas in his backpack when things weren’t going well for the forwards. This guy basically kept them alive through his 11km per match work rate, his 300+ recoveries, his 57.1% dribbling success rate, among many other accolades. Like Dueñas his multi functionality may have drew his passing position back somewhat, but I think it’s safe to assume this guy has more skill than any bunch of numbers can tell.
  • Victor Guzman: This Pachuca midfielder has the game almost completely on lock-down, but does not get the national or international fanfares and spotlights Conejo or Chucky, and the reason for that may be key in that: he is missing a lot of shots. With only 2 shots on goal out of 23 attempts he needs to go back to basics during the summer and return with better technique and decision making in that regard, maybe give Zelarayan a call and compare notes.
  • Dieter Villalpando: The Chiapas Jaguars had many troubles, so many that BBVA Liga Mx wiped them out from their website not a week after they had been relegated, but Dieter was not one of their many problems. Apart from being one of the Top 10 Hardest Working Players in LigaMx he also decided to excel at passing. If I had to guess why he can’t find himself on a solid career I would say he is a raging alcoholic who prank calls his teammates at every hour of the night, but I doubt that’s the case. He is simply an extremely fine player that can’t find a way to create highlights reels or media buzz and he keeps under the radar.
  • Willian Da Silva: He barely made it into the list by the positional requirement, but here are some other numbers that may give him some credit as to why he can and should be part of next years Super America with the return of Renato Ibarra and hopefully a fully integrated Diego Lainez: he managed a 57.5% dribble success rate, and missed only 16 minutes of play during the season. With the turmoil America suffered through you need beacons like these to keep the format and sense of a team stable.
  • Clifford Aboagye: He earned his place late in the season and didn’t look back. As a defensive midfielder hybrid he can either be a ball collector or a distributor. With 16.57 recoveries per match and is only second to Orbelin as far as this group of elite passers goes, no shame in that.

So those are the 14 men who went beyond the half line and became proficient passers in no particular order, although if we have to judge them strictly by the numbers it is Angel Mena who deserves the “Finest Player of the Clausura ’17” award. Hanging on and committing to efficient passing at such high pressure areas is no easy feat. If comparisons have to be made, there are seasons in which Messi and Neymar coast between 76 and 81 percentages.

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Los “Rudy” de este Apertura ’17

Los que juegan o jugaron futbol, de cualquier nivel, nos acordaremos de aquellos que siempre que lo veíamos en el equipo contrario nos decíamos “chingama’ ahí está ese pinche necio, me caga jugar contra él”. Nos referíamos a esos que van a todas, al choque, y que no dejan de intentar driblar o que te marcan de cerquita, pegado como estampilla. Aunque muchos de en la lista son gente de gran futbol, la calidad que tenga el jugador no es lo más importante o necesario para estar en esta lista, la clave está en la persistencia en intentar verse involucrado en todas las jugadas o  llegar a balones que otros no intentarían, es decir son el clásico “Rudy”, apodo que proviene de la película basada en la historia de como un jugador de futbol americano con muy pocas aptitudes logró jugar un partido oficial con Notre Dame a base de perseverancia extrema.

La manera en que encontramos a estos jugadores en el futbol es por medio de los “duelos” en los que se ven involucrados, y estos duelos son la suma de intentar crear or detener regates,  de intentar ganar un balón sin dueño ya sea en tierra o por aire, así como de cometer o recibir faltas.

En las 4 semanas que van del torneo estos son los “Rudy” de la Liga Mx:

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 1.42.26 PM.png

Debido a la no-transmisión de los partidos de los Lobos BUAP los jugadores este equipo cuentan con 2 partidos  contabilizados, y sus rivales Pachuca y Santos tiene contabilizados solo 3 partidos. Por parte de Santos el espigado Djaniny estaría muy cerca de los líderes basándonos en su promedio por partido, y para los que vimos el Tigres-Santos de la jornada 2 no nos sorprende en lo absoluto.

Para destacar de la lista están Diego Valdés de Morelia quien es por mucho el que más duelos ganados tiene con 43, Jaime Gomez de Querétaro y Luis Perez de Necaxa con porcentajes de duelos ganados por encima del 65%, es decir ganan al menos dos terceras partes de sus duelos. También para mencionar están los que tienen estos duelos cerca del área enemiga como Javier Aquino, Rubens Sambueza y Avilés Hurtado. Y sorprendentemente el líder, un centro delantero que limpia el terreno para Matías Alustiza llegue con claridad, pues solamente 7 de sus 66 duelos son regates intentados. ¿Será que estará sufriendo Xolos su ausencia más de lo que pensábamos?

Por mencionar algunos Nestor Calderón de Pumas se ha visto involucrado en solamente 14 duelos en 260 minutos, 100 minutos menos que los 360 de Caraglio, pero aún así la diferencia es muy grande. Gustavo Bou y Juan Lucero, sus reemplazos en Tijuana, tienen 64 duelos entre ambos. Algo en que pensar. Caraglio es un jugador que lejos de buscar desmarcarse en espacios reducidos prefiere utilizar su cuerpo para “echar lámina” y ganarse un espacio, o bien para estar cerca del defensa e intentar robarle el balón ante cualquier descuido. No es algo que le haya funcionado como goleador últimamente, pero si como parte de un aparato ofensivo, pues no hay nada peor para un defensa que uno de estos jugadores, en el area, en una cancha “rebotona” como la del Estadio Caliente, pues buscar balones por aire o en bote alto son en extremo incómodas para cualquier jugador de enfoque más “fino”. Veremos como le va con Alustiza, aunque por el momento parece que el desempeño es aceptable.

Y ya entrados en estadísticas estos son los jugadores con más faltas recibidas hasta el momento:

FALTAS RECIBIDAS

  • Diego Valdés: 16
  • Rubens Sambueza: 15
  • Milton Caraglio: 14
  • Nicolás Castillo: 13
  • Javier Aquino: 12

 

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The Tuca-ball® Matrix

Tuca Ferretti is a simple man, his genius is in the day-to-day training intensity, the repetition and respect of the concepts he imposes, and above all keeping player’s mental mistakes to a minimum. Conceding goals does not make him half as angry  as watching his players derail from his core beliefs.

Tuca-ball is a known formula, but it’s meant to be played from a position of strength, it relies on a basic but elusive premise to hold true to attempt he system:

  • Against most opponents your team has the skill, discipline, and fitness to be able to control the ball for long periods of time regardless of the score (winning, losing, or even).

Once that premise is true Tuca-ball is attainable, and the objective is simple: to control the ball in order to have more quality shots than the opponent, it does not matter if there are not many shots, the important thing is either have double or triple the shots or to have substantially more quality in the shots taken. Most shots will either become a goal or a lost ball, and ball possession is not to be wasted. The rationale is, statistically, it’s better in the long run to outshoot the opponents by a bigger ratio or quality than it is to outshot them by mere number of shots. In other words Tuca-ball allows you to have matches where you will only shoot 6 to 10 times on their goal but will allow only 2 to 4 shots from the other team in return, where other more aggressive systems will create bigger average margins by outshooting your opponents  16 to 10, or 20 to 15 this is not preferred, it leaves too much out to chance and bad luck. For 7 years now Tuca has consistently maintained the team below the 1 goal conceded per match average threshold, a serious achievement on it’s own, if there is something he will not allow is to “have his ranch stoned”.

Tuca-ball is a conservative strategy, it is basically admitting to play 30 favorable and quality minute matches instead of 90 minute regular back-and-forth ones, until… (and this is how the system breaks) the tie is broken and then the Tuca Matrix goes into play, and it’s effectiveness relies on how the opponents respond to different scenarios, there are 3 situations and 2 modes that make the Tuca matrix:

Matrix.jpg

For example losing the game will cause any team to want the ball and be forced to compete across the field, and that is what a team like Tigres wants, they want the other team be exposed more thoroughly to the virtues or limitations of it’s players because there will not be the advantage in numbers playing defensively has, and by rolling the ball around (or being ahead on the board) they want the opponent to break rank and abandon their game plan. It’s in Tuca’s interest to have a fair, open, and even man-to-man competition in every sector of the field. Everything goes when it comes to forcing the opponent to come out of their shell and compete for the ball.

Soon after the 7-0 Juan Carlos Osorio talked about the strategy and I remember him mentioning how they decided to play Chile with a “mirror” formation because he thought they were ready to prove they were better on man-to-man on every position. The month before Mexico had hustled out an undeserved win against them by playing a more cautious and defensive style,  by decreasing the chances of shots for both teams Mexico was able to reduce the outcome to luck, at least to a larger degree, and it paid off. But then during the quarterfinals of Copa America Centenario Osorio attempted to play from a position of equality in most aspects: positions, formations, fitness, and skill, and we all know the result. It’s not that Mexico is necessarily worse than that Chilean team, it’s that El Tri was not prepared to adapt to a defensive stance and count on a bit of luck as any team should when things are not going their way as they did the month earlier, and because of a simple mistake in strategy and mental preparation that small edge in quality Chile had was enough to turn the game from the usual two-team battle into a series of countless mano-a-mano duels stacked onto each other with humiliating results for the Mexicans.

7-0

The connection here is that Tigres’ small edge in quality to other LigaMx teams, as Chile’s was to Mexico, gives them the opportunity to dictate how the match is set up and negotiated. When your team has the skill edge you want the rival to break away and isolate into manageable duels. From this position of power some opponents will try different things to deal with it. This is how some teams have succeeded:

Defense stance. Low emphasis on ball possession. Focus on quality counter-attacks:

  • Oct 15, 2016. Necaxa 2-0 Tigres.
  • February 4, 2017. Toluca 1-0 Tigres.
  • April 1, 2017. Leon 1-0 Tigres.
  • April 22, 2017. Monterrey 1-0 Tigres.
  • April 26, 2017. Pachuca 1-0 Tigres.

Out skill the opponent. Ball control. Possession. Outshoot the opponent:

  • March 18, 2017. Cruz Azul 0-0 Tigres.

By adopting defensive strategies and selecting quality opportunities to break away and score is how teams have been able to beat this organized Tigres team. This is not to be meant as an ode to a superior team, as described by the Chile example it only takes a small superiority in skill to punish a team that can’t adapt to the terms of the game and know when to attack and when to defend. Tigres has done that impressively in the late season and early liguilla.

It’s important to know though, that Monterrey (as is Xolos) is not a team that would or will adapt to counter-attacking. Mohamed and Piojo have similar styles and they usually don’t believe in retreating because they have  practiced all season how to destroy teams, not how to temporarily weather a storm, their best defense is to keep attacking. When Monterrey beat Tigres in April they chose note to compete for ball possession but managed to severely outshot Tigres 12 to 7, like an old school boxer they know how to take a punch and throw two in return, and quality shots can knock out the biggest and strongest opponents.

The only apparent and recent time Tuca has seen his team be blatantly dispossessed from the ball, manhandled, and taken for a ride was in their match with Cruz Azul, which if not for the bloopers and blunders of Benitez and Cauteruccio we would likely be seeing La Maquina Celeste in the Liguilla today and Tigres watching it on tv. Also, Tigres has been dominated by teams like America, Pumas, Monterrey, and Pachuca many times in recent years, in play-off matches when emotions run high and even Tuca’s squad is susceptible to losing it’s mojo and deciding to hunker down and regroup for large spells of time and become the injured beast for a change.

piojo

Today Herrera and his Xolos have to make a choice when playing Tigres: to fight like Julio Cesar Chavez and trust they will weather any storm coming at them and land enough strikes to win, or to fight like Mayweather and be a pragmatic panther clinically efficient with the timing and quality of their attacking efforts. Although honestly, who are we kidding, Piojo is a born brawler, a once “barrio” hustler learned at a young age running away form enemies often lead to worse results, and once he starts swinging there is no stopping him. Tuca is taunting him for a reason, he wants Xolos out and angry chasing Tigres through every nook and cranny of the field. The question is how soon will Xolos start swinging?

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