Last season’s finalists impressed in Round 5, while one of the title favorites has problems up front.
Santos Eye Back-to-Back League Titles
Surprise title winners in the Clausura 2018, few expected Santos to challenge again for the Liga MX championship this season. The playing squad was weakened significantly this summer. Mexican international centre-back Néstor Araujo and team captain Jose Izquierdoz were sold, leaving los Laguneros to find a new starting centre-back pairing. Furthermore, league top scorer Djaniny Tavares left for Al-Ahli in Saudi Arabia.
The team’s outlook for this season got even bleaker when title winning coach Robert Dante Siboldi resigned before the round 4 match against Chivas, amid reports of a fistfight with assistant coach Leandro Cufré. Yet, it seems that Siboldi’s exit has unified the dressing room, with Santos winning their subsequent two league matches, recording a memorable 3-1 win over perennial title challengers and northern rivals Tigres this past weekend. Los Guerreros have won their last three league games, bringing them up to 2nd in the table with 12 points.
Furthermore, they do not seem to be missing Djaniny, as they are the second best scoring team in the league with 10 goals. This week they face two important tests, visiting Tijuana’s imposing Estadio Caliente before hosting league leaders Cruz Azul in round 7. Wins in these two matches would signal that Santos are serious contenders for back-to-back league titles.
Toluca Show Impressive Resilience
Last season, Toluca played some of the most entertaining soccer in Liga MX. This was thanks in large part to ex-América man Rubens Sambueza, who joined the team before the Clausura 2017. Sambueza was Toluca’s most important player in their run to the Clausura 2018 final. Sambueza was third in the league in passes for shots (28), first in touches in attack (784), and fourth in fouls received (41) during the Clausura 2018.
However, Sambueza suffered a muscle injury in round 3 against Chivas, leaving him out for 4-6 weeks. Instead of struggling without their talisman, the Red Devils have picked up maximum points from their last two league games. In round 4, they defeated 10-man Tigres on the road, ending the hosts’ 29-match home-unbeaten streak. This past weekend, they dispatched Tijuana 3-0 at home, Toluca’s 15th straight match at home without defeat. More importantly, the result moved los Choriceros up to 6th place in the table. Sambueza’s return, coupled with their remarkable home form, means that Toluca should again find themselves in the liguilla at the end of the season.
Monterrey Must Sign Another Forward
Although centre-back Nico Sánchez’s header gave Monterrey a valuable 1-0 win over league leaders Pumas, head coach Diego Alonso will be concerned by the team’s lack of firepower up top. Sánchez has scored three of Monterrey’s six league goals so far.
Monterrey’s starting centre-forward is Rogelio Funes Mori. The former River Plate man has scored more than a goal every two games since joining Rayados before the Apertura 2015. However, injury problems have kept Funes Mori off the field for much of 2018. He missed the back half of the Clausura 2018 after picking up a knee injury against Querétaro in March. After returning to the first team with a goal against León in round 2 of this Apertura, Monterrey were hoping for a healthy and productive Funes Mori for the duration of the Apertura 2018. Yet, the forward is back on the treatment table after suffering a muscle injury in his right leg while warming up for the team’s round 4 match against América. Even though Funes Mori is only expected to be out for 2-3 weeks, he cannot be relied on as a consistent presence in the starting 11.
Funes Mori’s injury problems have exposed the one real weakness in Monterrey’s star-studded squad: the lack of a reliable backup centre-forward. In recent seasons, Jorge Benítez and Lucas Albertengo have failed to make the position their own, and have since been shipped out. These sales have given an opportunity to academy product Luis Madrigal, who started against Pumas in Funes Mori’s absence. Although Madrigal’s size (6’3, 198 pounds) allows him to occupy opposing centre-backs, he is not a proven goalscorer in the Mexican first division. In 73 games with Monterrey, Atlante and Queretaro, Madrigal has 16 goals. If Monterrey want to assure that their heavy recent spending does not go to waste, they should look to sign another centre-forward before the transfer market closes.