Tigres, Monterrey begin Liga MX 2018 Apertura with wins; Club America slips
The Liga MX 2018 Apertura kicked off this weekend with Necaxa recording a surprise victory over Club America and young Mexican goalkeepers making an impact.
Here's what we learned:
All of Mexico's big guns notch up wins...
The 2018 Apertura began in fairly predictable fashion, with the vast majority of the teams best set to win the title picking up three points.
Tigres cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win over Club Leon in Estadio Universitario on Saturday, with Lucas Zelarayan curling in a free kick seven minutes before half-time and Andre-Pierre Gignac heading in the second in the 58th minute. It was a controlled performance from Tigres and one that emphasized why Argentine midfielder Zelarayan, who has been strongly linked with a move to Racing, can still be a huge asset.
Also on Saturday, Tigres' city rivals Monterrey took a 1-0 victory away at Pachuca. Aviles Hurtado benefited from a error from Alfonso Blanco in Pachuca's goal to net the winner in the second half in manager Diego Alonso's debut with Rayados.
In Estadio Azteca, Cruz Azul had to wait until late to open the scoring against Puebla, but eventually ran out comfortable 3-0 winners in a game La Maquina dominated in front of just over 45,000 in the club's temporary home.
Last season's finalist Toluca also put in a strong showing in downing Morelia 2-0 at home on Sunday, although the final goal was controversial, with Rubens Sambueza netting as Monarcas celebrated what they thought was an equalizing goal.
Finally, Clausura champion Santos Laguna may have lost key players like Djaniny, Nestor Araujo and Carlos Izquierdoz, but the Guerreros were able to come from behind to defeat Lobos BUAP 2-1 via goals from Brian Lozano and Jonathan Rodriguez.
... except Club America
The exception to the positive start for the title favorites and by far the stand-out result of the weekend was Club America falling 2-1 to Necaxa on Sunday in Aguascalientes.
Necaxa's 31-year-old manager Marcelo Michel Leano was making his Liga MX debut on the bench and followed last weekend's Supercopa MX victory over Monterrey up with three points against one of the Liga MX's strongest teams. Crucially, Necaxa's win came about with the side holding almost 50 percent of possession, having more shots on target (3-2) and creating more chances that America. It was a performance that bodes well for Necaxa's chances of making the playoffs.
Club America couldn't handle Necaxa's fast transitions, with 20-year-old Chilean Victor Davila netting the first goal on the counter and a slick move between Davila and Brian Fernandez leaving America's defense out of position for the second.
For America, striker Roger Martinez was a bright spot, with the 24-year-old Colombian debuting for Las Aguilas with the equalizing goal.
The absence of injured Jeremy Menez, however, has limited coach Miguel Herrera's options and it remains to be seen whether new signing Cristian Insaurralde can help replace the French forward's creativity.
Chivas concerning in opening day loss
There was a big question mark hanging over Chivas heading into the Apertura after the club lost Oswaldo Alanis and Rodolfo Pizarro this offseason. And after Friday's 2-1 defeat to Club Tijuana, the doubts about just whether this Chivas team can compete at the top of the table haven't been resolved.
"No one likes to lose, but it seems to me that we lost fairly," said new Chivas coach Jose Cardozo after the match.
"We never got into the game, what we'd worked on and planned. We never had possession of the ball, which is what you always prioritize."
They weren't particularly reassuring words from Cardozo after a tumultuous offseason for the Guadalajara club.
The one real bright spot was midfielder Orbelin Pineda, although more players will have to step up in next week's home opener against Cruz Azul.
Set piece goals crucial
Maybe the freshness of the World Cup, and the fact 43 percent of goals came set pieces, has re-emphasized the importance of the dead-ball aspect of the game. They were certainly key in Liga MX this weekend.
Both Club Tijuana goals against Chivas on Saturday came from well-worked corners, with flick-ons leaving first Juan Lucero and then Ignacio Rivera free to head in from close range. Xolos coach Diego Cocca had clearly worked hard on set pieces in preseason and spotted a weakness in Chivas' approach.
It was also a headed goal by Felipe Mora from a corner that put Pumas up in their 2-0 victory over Veracruz on Friday. And in Estadio Azteca, Cruz Azul had dominated Puebla for 80 minutes, but the deadlock was broken when Andres Renteria headed in from a free kick swung in from the left wing.
In terms of percentages, the goals from set pieces this weekend in Liga MX weren't up there with World Cup levels, but the fact they helped to sway the result in at least three games provided a remainder that perhaps it is an area of the game clubs in Mexico could place more emphasis.
Young Mexican goalkeepers stand out
The goalkeeping position has tended to be an area the Mexican national team has been strong in historically, but with El Tri manager Juan Carlos Osorio taking three goalkeepers to Russia 2018 that will all be aged over 35 when Qatar 2022 rolls around, Mexico will need some fresh faces in the near future.
The good news this past weekend was that young goalkeepers look set to be starters this Apertura. Atlas' 20-year-old Jose Hernandez started, looked confident and kept a clean sheet against Queretaro; 22-year-old Raul Gudino was solid for Chivas; 24-year-old Gibran Lajud is improving rapidly at Xolos and 22-year-old Carlos Acevedo surprisingly got the start for Santos Laguna.
Add to that list Alfonso Blanco Antunez at Pachuca -- although he did make a mistake to gift Monterrey victory -- Pumas' 28-year-old Alfredo Saldivar, Hugo Gonzalez at Necaxa, Rodolfo Cota at Leon and Santos Laguna's Jonathan Orozco and there is some healthy competition developing for the national team.