The main soccer leagues in Europe have now come and gone after the extended break earlier in the year, and the Champions League and Europa League are also drawing to a close. But there is another, sometimes underrated, competition that has just gotten underway that routinely has some of the most heated club rivalries providing an enthralling spectacle for its fans.
Mexico’s Liga MX has been affected by the coronavirus like virtually all sporting competitions this year. But the new Apertura has just begun, and it is already looking like it will provide an exciting title race over the next few months.
There have been a number of changes since last season, and this Liga MX betting guide for 2020/21 will take a look at the format of the league as well as some of the teams to look out for when it comes to the betting markets.
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The Mexican soccer year is split into two separate league competitions like many countries in Central and South America. These are usually called the Apertura and the Clausura, but this year’s Apertura has been renamed the Torneo Guardianes (Guardians) in honor of the healthcare workers in Mexico that have been dealing with the ongoing pandemic.
The Torneo Guardianes will follow the same basic structure as before, with the 18 clubs facing each other once. After 17 games, the top 12 teams will then qualify for the Liguilla. In the past, it has been the top eight sides that are drawn by seedings to play knockout ties until only two are remaining. This year, Liga MX has extended this portion of the season with the top four in the league receiving a bye to the second round of the Liguilla. The clubs finishing fifth to twelfth will compete in that opening round of games.
As a warm-up to the new season and to help the players achieve match fitness after missing four months of soccer, the Copa por Mexico was played between eight of the Liga MX clubs. Cruz Azul won this one-off event, beating Chivas in the final. Cruz Azul had previously won seven out of ten games in the 2019/20 Clausura campaign that was eventually cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Clubs to Look Out For
With 12 of the 18 clubs making it to the Liguilla this time around, it should make the season even more competitive than usual. Although there are bigger, more successful teams in Mexico — as with any national league — Liga MX is usually a fairly evenly balanced competition. That being said, there are a few teams that probably won’t be involved in the knockout stage of the season.
Atlas, Puebla, Toluca, Queretaro, and Necaxa may all struggle to keep up with the better sides in the league, so can probably be disregarded for any futures markets. San Luis is another team that will probably ultimately fail to make the cut after 17 games. But it has made a few interesting additions to the front line. If it begins the season well, it may be able to just about sneak into the top 12, but that is asking a lot of the new arrivals.
The other club that will probably not make it to the Liguilla is Mazatlan. This side is more of an interesting proposition as it is a completely new club in many ways. It took Morelia’s place from last season in controversial circumstances — against the wishes of the fans of the original side. The new club brings Liga MX soccer back to the Sinaloa region of the country and has already made a few enemies thanks to a brash social media campaign ahead of the new season.
With new coach Paco Palencia in place, it is likely to struggle to settle down and is the rank outsider for the Guardianes title. The way the early games of the season have gone do suggest that it could be a while before Mazatlan is a contender.
There is a second group of clubs that should be a good bet to make the extended Liguilla but will probably find further progress difficult. Santos Laguna and Pachuca have both won titles in the last few years but may find that the bigger clubs in Mexico are more able to deal with the time off due to the coronavirus.
Santos Laguna actually finished top of the league during the 2019 Apertura but lost to Monterrey in the first round of the Liguilla. Its form in the Clausura was impressive, though, so it should be good to be one of the top 12 clubs this season. Leon might also be able to compete and employ an exciting attacking style that wins over a lot of neutrals. It has just signed former Arsenal attacker and Costa Rica international Joel Campbell on a permanent deal after playing on loan last year.
Juarez is a new club that was only formed in 2015 and made it to Liga MX as recently as 2019. Los Bravos understandably struggled in its inaugural Apertura campaign but had improved by the time the second season of the year came around. Scoring goals was not a problem, but Juarez also conceded far too many to be regarded as a real title contender.
Tijuana is another club that could cause a few upsets this season without ultimately being able to go all the way. Pablo Guede has joined as head coach after leaving Morelia when Mazatlan took its place in the top flight. He has veteran keeper Jonathan Orozco on board after his move from Santos, and the Xolos could be looking to improve on some disappointing campaigns during the 2019/20 seasons.
UNAM — or Pumas, as it is more commonly known — is traditionally one of the biggest clubs in Mexico, but the capital city side has been well off the pace in recent years. The last title it won came way back in 2011, but there was a slight improvement during the last Clausura, and it did look as though it would at least qualify for the Liguilla.
Losing its manager just before the season kicked off was a blow, but things do look to be going well in the opening games, even if the opposition has not been of the highest standard.
Favorites for Liga MX Torneo Guardianes
That leaves five clubs that I feel have the best chance of lifting silverware at the end of this Apertura season. Most of them had looked good in the cancelled Clausura season and should definitely be able to be one of the top 12 this season, at the very least.
Before the season started at the end of July, the 2019 Apertura champion was the favorite with many bookmakers to be successful once again. One of the biggest clubs in Mexico, Monterrey made it all the way to the FIFA Club World Cup semifinal stage last year but had made a terrible start to the Clausura, rooted to the bottom of the table after winning none of its first ten games.
It looked unlikely that the Rayados would even make the Liguilla, but the cancellation of the season gave the club a chance to regroup. There is not much change to the squad, apart from the return of keeper Hugo Gonzalez, but it looks like the curtailed Clausura will be regarded as just a minor blip.
The Guadalajara club can boast of being the most popular in the country but won its most recent title in 2017 after an 11-year wait for success. Fernando Tena has one of the strongest squads when it comes to depth, which should be an advantage when it comes to fatigue and fitness taking its toll on players that have not played to the same standard as usual this year.
Losing Alan Pulido to MSL was a huge blow at the end of last year, but Chivas has spent a lot of money and has a very good crop of youngsters at the club that may be able to return some glory days to the city.
The Mexico City club should be very confident going into this season after leading the Clausura before it was cancelled and then winning the Copa por Mexico. The curse attributed to the club might well disappear as a first title in two decades might be on the cards.
Coach Robert Siboldi has a very experienced squad at his disposal and has Uruguayan compatriot Jonathan Rodriguez as a star player. The playmaker has already been linked with a number of European clubs and is the one that makes things happen for Cruz Azul on the pitch.
Along with Chivas, America is arguably the country’s biggest club and is currently managed by one of Mexico’s most recognized soccer personalities in Miguel Herrera. He is not usually far from the center of attention and will be expecting his side to go one better than the 2019/20 Apertura, where it lost to Monterrey on penalties.
Everything is going to plan in the early rounds of the season, with a 4-0 thrashing of Xolos the highlight. Bruno Valdez starred in that game and is an important goal-scoring defender for his team. Losing winger Renato Ibarra was a blow for Las Aguilas, but it has to be considered as one of the favorites for the title.
Finally, UANL — or Tigres — has been one of the most successful Liga MX clubs over the past decade and is my personal tip to be victorious in the Torneo Guardianes.
Former France international striker André-Pierre Gignac is the standout star and is consistently one of the top goal-scorers in the league. This season, he will have attacking midfielder Leo Fernandez to help him after returning from a loan spell at Toluca. If those two get going, then the defenders of Liga MX could be in for a torrid time.
Losing to Cruz Azul in the semifinals of the Copa por Mexico was a disappointment, but there is a lot of hope for the new season.
With Mexico gripped with the COVID-19 pandemic at the current time, there is still a big question over whether this season will even be completed. The opening game of the new campaign was postponed when some of the players involved tested positive before a ball was kicked, and there have been further cases at other clubs in the past week. Games have gone ahead, though, so hopefully, we will be able to enjoy an exciting Liga MX season with the players’ safety and health a priority throughout.
I’m not entirely sure why there isn’t more attention paid to Liga MX on a global scale, as it is consistently one of the most exciting competitions outside the biggest leagues and one that tends to be far more competitive. The Torneo Guardianes promises to be a closely fought affair with a whole host of clubs in with a chance of lifting the trophy at the end of the season.