Only four days after the World Cup Final, Mexico’s Liga MX got underway with the first match of the Apertura 2018. Fortunately for those suffering from World Cup hangover, round 1 saw a host of exciting matches and intriguing storylines.

Without VAR, refereeing takes centre stage

Back in the spring, efforts were made by Liga MX to implement Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in time for the Clausura 2018 Liguilla. However, VAR was not installed in time for the Liguilla. Although the official Liga MX 2018-19 rulebook has a new section on VAR, the system has yet to make its debut in Mexico. The lack of VAR, combined with the already poor standard of Mexican refereeing, meant that the outcomes of multiple round one matches were directly affected by erroneous refereeing decisions.

In Cruz Azul’s match at home to Puebla on Saturday, referee Roberto Ríos Jácome failed to spot a first-half penalty for the home team, before incorrectly whistling a penalty for Cruz Azul in second-half stoppage time. In between, Ríos Jácome failed to spot a shove by Cruz Azul forward Milton Caraglio on Puebla’s Cristian Tabó following a set piece delivery for the home side. Caraglio’s push allowed substitute Andrés Rentería to convert the crucial first goal for Cruz Azul.

The next day, referee José Alfredo Peñaloza incorrectly called back a 90th minute equalizer by Morelia center back Emmanuel Loeschbor at Toluca. On the restart, Toluca keeper Antonio Talavera played the ball while it was still rolling. This detail was missed by Alfredo Peñaloza, who allowed play to continue. Within seconds, Toluca scored the 2-0 to kill the match off. Based on the mistakes made by Ríos Jácome and Peñaloza, among others, during round 1, the introduction of VAR in Liga MX cannot come soon enough.

Rule returns but will youth movement continue?

Round 1 of Apertura play saw 11 players given their first professional appearances. This surpasses the total number of players who debuted over the entire Clausura 2018. This spike can be explained by the re-implementation of the 20/11 Rule.

Initially established for the Apertura 2005 but done away with in 2011, the 20/11 Rule states that each Liga MX team must field players born in or after 1997 for at least 765 minutes of the Apertura 2018 season. During the first round of matches, only two teams, Tigres and Necaxa, didn’t field any players who count towards the 20/11 Rule. Any team who fails to comply with the rule will be docked 3 points at the end of the regular season.

However, it is questionable whether or not this rule will lead to more young players being given meaningful opportunities. It is possible that many teams will give minutes to players who satisfy the 20/11 Rule early on in the Apertura, so they aren’t forced to use them for the more important games later on in the tournament. Furthermore, Tigres coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti has discussed the prospect of ignoring the 20/11 Rule, as Tigres are still likely to qualify for the Liguilla even with a points deduction. Nevertheless, the 20/11 Rule will give chances to young players to force their way into consideration for their teams as the season progresses, something that wasn’t as common in previous seasons.

What to watch out for: Can Chivas bounce back?

During their surprise run to the 2017 Clausura title, Chivas won 7 games at home, losing only once. In the two seasons since then (Apertura 2017 and Clausura 2018), Chivas have won only once on home soil. This helps explain why Chivas finished 13th in the Apertura 2017 and a lowly 17th in the Clausura 2018.

After losing their first match of this Apertura 2018 2-1 at Tijuana, Chivas will play host to high-flying Cruz Azul in the most enticing match of round 2. Although they haven’t won a league title in 20 years, Cruz Azul spent lavishly in the offseason under new sporting director Ricardo Peláez, bringing in proven Liga MX talents such as Milton Caraglio, Elías Hernández and Pablo Aguilar. After collecting a 3-0 home win over Puebla in round 1, another victory would see Cruz Azul extend their stay at the top of the table.

In contrast, this summer saw Chivas lose some of their most important players, including star attacking midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro. Furthermore, the club’s lack of spending, coupled with increased tensions behind the scenes, led to the exit of inspirational head coach Matías Almeyda. During a press conference this week, new coach José Saturnino Cardozo said that “money doesn’t buy championships”, referencing the changes undertaken by Cruz Azul over the summer. However, Cruz Azul’s superior talent and increased confidence following their opening victory should see them prolong Chivas’ dire home record.