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 By Nayib Moran

America, Chivas lead list of challengers to Nuevo Leon powers Tigres, Monterrey

Monterrey was a sea of blue and yellow Monday morning as Tigres celebrated their Toreno Apertura title after beating Rayados.

MEXICO CITY -- Monterrey fans want to forget about the week, while Tigres fans still want the week to continue, and it's likely that it will keep running all the way until New Year's Eve. The main event that was last week's Final Regia was the result of two clubs that have worked hard to become the best in the country. The notion that there will be more Clasico Regio finals in the immediate future is one that makes a lot of sense because Monterrey and Tigres are on a straight line, working to become better clubs each year.

So the question going around Liga MX is the following: which clubs will be able to compete against Tigres and Monterrey in the following years? What Tigres are building around manager Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti is starting to look like a dynasty, while Monterrey is a solid club, that will be able to once again compete for the title. However, there are Liga MX clubs that will work hard to challenge Monterrey and Tigres, and those clubs are Chivas, Club America, Pachuca and Cruz Azul. Here's why:  

Chivas

When it looked like Rodolfo Cota was leaving the club, Chivas extended his loan. In Cota, Chivas have a goalkeeper that provides leadership and an overall good track record. His presence will be important as they once again prepare to challenge for the title with manager Matias Almeyda in command.

After not making last season's Liguilla, Almeyda reiterated that he had hoped for a better preseason, where most of his squad would have been available, but it wasn't the case. The mistakes from last season are ones that must be addressed and improved, but Chivas, at the moment, have one of the most attractive attacking units in the league. An attack that includes Gael Sandoval, who's an offseason addition, Rodolfo Pizarro, Javier Eduardo "Chofis" Lopez, Carlos Cisneros, Alan Pulido, Isaac Brizuela and youngster Ronaldo Cisneros, another offseason signing, gives reason to think that Chivas will be a strong offensive threat.

Also, the team will have to closely follow Angel Zaldivar's recuperation period after undergoing surgery to repair a dislocation of the peroneal tendons and rupture of the posterior retinaculum of the left ankle, and the ascend of Jose Juan Macias might be a huge positive for the team.

It remains to be seen if the team will miss someone like Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez, whose contributions in the 2017 Clausura were key to Chivas' championship run. What makes Chivas a contender is that not so long ago they were able to win the cup and the league in a single season, but one of Almeyda's main tasks in the upcoming season will be to make the attacking unit work and turn it into one of the league's fiercest.

America

Miguel "Piojo" Herrera is once again in charge of America's destiny, and in the first season of his second stint as America's coach, the team got 30 points in the regular season but failed to win any of the four Liguilla matches it played. What's worse is that America was unable to score a single Liguilla goal, and the main problem was how bad the team's attack looked.

The main objective in the following days will be to improve the team's attack. But in order for that to happen, America will have to sell players like Silvio Romero, Darwin Quintero and Cecilio Dominguez, so that the team can have a strong budget heading into this winter transfer market.

After America confirmed the trade that sent defender Pablo Aguilar to Tijuana for midfielder Joe Corona, defender Emanuel Aguilera and striker Henry Martin, Herrera declared that the team doesn't have the strong budget it once had.

In that department, Monterrey and Tigres will have the advantage over America, but there are players in the current squad that could make the team into a serious contender. Next season will be an important one for players like Edson Alvarez and Diego Lainez. Lainez, specifically, will need to take advantage of the opportunities and have the firm intention of becoming a key player for the club.

Miguel Herrera and America will look to make a run at the title in his second season back in Mexico City.
Miguel Herrera and America will look to make a run at the title in his second season back in Mexico City.

Pachuca

The arrival of Keisuke Honda was one of the big storylines of the 2017 Apertura, however, Pachuca performed well below their standards. What makes Pachuca a contender is the fact that usually all the club members -- coaching staff, players, directors, owner -- are on the same page, and they all set objectives, which for the most part they accomplish. Coach Diego Alonso was aware that several of the team's new signings would need at least six months to adapt to the team's style. With that process now completed, Pachuca will head into the Clausura with a lot of confidence.

But in order to compete against the Nuevo Leon clubs, Alonso has to finalize which position on the field will be Honda's. Will Honda play as one of the forwards, or will he be part of the midfield block?

Cruz Azul

Now that Pedro Caixinha is the new manager, Cruz Azul aspires to build on what Paco Jemez left behind. With Jemez, Cruz Azul returned to the Liguilla after missing out for six consecutive seasons.

The acquisitions of Jose Maduena, Javier Salas and Carlos Fierro will improve the depth of Cruz Azul's current squad, but the club might still make more important additions in the coming days. Caixinha wants to improve the team's midfield and forward options for the upcoming season.

If he's given the time to work out his plan, Caixinha's Cruz Azul will become a tough side to beat. With the Portuguese in charge, the team will gain more defensive stability and improve its counterattack. For Mexican football, it will be massive to once again see Cruz Azul competing for the top places in the Liga MX table.

Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.

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