Round 2 of the Apertura 2018 saw one of the most thrilling Liga MX matches of recent times, with Pumas recording a 5-3 victory over Necaxa. However, that was not the weekend’s only important result…
Capital giants Pumas and Cruz Azul top table
Although they are two of Mexico’s biggest and most historic clubs, Pumas and Cruz Azul have failed to repeat their past successes in recent times. Pumas have not won a league title since 2011. The drought is even longer for Cruz Azul, who have not won a league title since the Winter 1997 tournament. However, after two matches of the Apertura 2018, Pumas and Cruz Azul are top of the league.
Both teams have benefited from balanced attacks. Last season, Chilean forward Nico Castillo was responsible for 11 of Pumas’ 24 goals. Although Castillo was sold to Benfica this summer, Pumas’ attack has not suffered. Six different players have scored for Pumas in their first two matches – the team only had six different scorers all last season. In the case of Cruz Azul, four different players have scored their four goals.
While Pumas shipped three goals in their wild victory over Necaxa, Cruz Azul posted a second consecutive shutout in their 1-0 victory at Chivas. New centre-back Pablo Aguilar, who was the key player in the league’s most stingy defence in the Clasura 2018 with Tijuana, has made Cruz Azul more solid at the back.
Cruz Azul’s long title drought, coupled with their considerable investment this summer under new sporting director Ricardo Peláez, means that they are under more pressure than Pumas to win the Apertura 2018 title. If Pumas can improve on their quarter-final exit in the Clausura 2018, the season will be considered a success.
But, Pumas also started last season strongly, going unbeaten their first six matches before having to wait until Round 15 to collect another win. Fans of Los Felinos will be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself.
City rivals Monterrey and Tigres to contend again?
It may be surprising to see Pumas and Cruz Azul atop the table, but the identity of the two teams directly below them is not as remarkable. City rivals Tigres and Monterrey have also won their first two matches. Like Cruz Azul, both teams are yet to concede a goal in this Apertura.
After home victories over León in round 1 and Tijuana in round 2, Tigres have extended their unbeaten run at the Estadio Universitario to 29 matches. Star striker André-Pierre Gignac has started the season in fine form, scoring two goals so far. Monterrey also has their main forward fit and firing. Returning from a four-month injury layoff against León last weekend, Rogelio Funes Mori scored La Pandilla’s second goal and his return to fitness is crucial for Monterrey.
Tigres and Monterrey boast the two most expensive squads in the league, with values of $74.8 and $60.7 million, respectively (according to Transfermarkt). Both sides spent big this off-season, with Monterrey bringing in ex-Chivas midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro for $16 million, along with Jesús Gallardo and experienced goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero. Tigres, meanwhile, paid $9.8 million to bring back Guido Pizarro from Sevilla.
As a result of their lavish spending, Tigres and Monterrey are always considered strong candidates for the league title. However, Monterrey, who have not won the league since the Apertura 2010, are under more pressure to lift the trophy. In contrast, Tigres are more concerned with winning their first CONCACAF Champions League title, which gets underway in February.
El Tuca rejects El Tri
After Juan Carlos Osorio rejected the Mexican Football Federation’s offer of a new contract on July 27, speculation intensified regarding who would take over the National Team job. While much of the conjecture centred on Matías Almeyda and Miguel Herrera, reports surfaced last weekend indicating that Tigres coach Ricardo “El Tuca” Ferretti was the Federation’s number one candidate. However, Ferretti confirmed at a press conference Monday that he had rejected the opportunity to coach El Tri.
Ferretti, who has coached more than 1,200 games during a career that began in 1991, looks set to honour his contract with Tigres, which runs through the Clausura 2020. Under Ferretti, Tigres will continue to be perennial contenders for the league title, and should add to their haul under the Brazilian.
Meanwhile, the Mexican Federation continues to look for a new head coach, with rumours linking Ricardo Gareca, Antonio Conte, and Andre Villas-Boas to the job, in addition to the aforementioned Almeyda and Herrera.