Chivas having champions' hangover, while Monterrey and America rise
Tom Marshall takes a look at five important storylines following the week 4 matches in the Liga MX 2017 Apertura.
1. Champion Chivas fall
While other Liga MX teams improved ahead of the 2017 Apertura, Chivas were stagnant in the transfer market. And now with injuries, the Guadalajara club has ended up falling behind in the race to defend the title.
Saturday night's 4-1 mauling at the hands of Monterrey was evidence of a team lacking in character and quality compared to last season. Chivas took the lead following a well-worked free kick in the third minute, which Jair Pereira headed in, but from there were second best against a side that had picked up just one point of a possible 18 over its last six Liga MX matches against Chivas.
The loss of Alan Pulido to injury couldn't have been predicted ahead of the season, but not bringing in any new faces to freshen things up and create a little more competition for places appears to be an oversight by the club's hierarchy, as does letting the likes of Nestor Calderon and Miguel Ponce leave after winning the title.
Chivas have now won only two of their last 15 league games stretching back to last season and are suffering from a championship hangover. Matias Almeyda, who was sent from bench in the second half, has plenty of thinking to do about how to lift this team, which sits on three points and without a win after four games of the Apertura. On the positive side, the Argentine has week without Copa MX distractions to prepare for next Saturday's home match against struggling Puebla. That game offers the perfect opportunity to kick-start Chivas' season.
2. Pabon, Hurtado, Funes Mori finding form for leader Monterrey
Monterrey now sits top of the Liga MX on 10 points, having followed the 3-0 away win against Club Tijuana in week 3 with this thrashing of Chivas.
The combination of Dorlan Pabon, Aviles Hurtado and Rogelio Funes Mori is coming together and proving difficult to defend against. The trio is fluid in its positioning, making them difficult to mark. And Monterrey is now much more clinical in the final third than in the last couple of seasons.
Having Uruguayan Carlos Sanchez coming back into form is a big help in terms of creativity, and the controversial sale of Colombian international Edwin Cardona seems to have improved the team.
"The four games we've played as we want and we have to continue on the same track," Monterrey coach Antonio Mohamed said afterward. "We have class and quality to spare, [but] nobody can let the commitment slip."
It is also worth mentioning that 18-year-old U.S. youth international Jonathan Gonzalez again started the game for Los Rayados, while promising Mexico international center-back Cesar Montes has been relegated to the bench, replaced by experienced Argentine Nicolas Sanchez.
3. Marquez-less Atlas slip to America loss
A lo Atlas. Atlas style. The Rojinegros had Friday's game against Club America in Estadio Jalisco exactly where they would've wanted. Atlas won a penalty with 20 minutes to go, with Bruno Valdez sent off for the alleged foul on Matias Alustiza. Atlas appeared to be on course for an important three points, following a week in which the club was rocked by allegations from the U.S. government that captain Rafa Marquez has ties with drug trafficking organizations.
But then Milton Caraglio tried a Panenka-style penalty, which was saved by Agustin Marchesin, and the score remained at 0-0.
In second-half injury time, a foul by Daniel Arreola on Edson Alvarez handed America a penalty. And Mexico striker Oribe Peralta made no mistake. Making matters worse for Atlas, key midfielder Clifford Aboagye was carried off in the 86th minute with a knee injury that will require surgery.
In the space of just a couple of weeks, Atlas have gone from a team full of confidence and ambition in the Apertura, to one with two consecutive defeats and off-field problems.
America, however, is gathering consistency and identity under Miguel Herrera.
4. Pumas Castillo bursts Lobos BUAP's bubble
It was going to happen at some point. Lobos BUAP -- described prematurely by some as the Leicester City of the Liga MX Apertura -- lost their unbeaten record and dropped down the table.
Chilean international Nico Castillo netted both for Pumas in the vital 2-0 win. Coach Paco Palencia's name was booed as it was read out in Estadio Universitario, giving an indication of the pressure he is under, but the victory should give him some temporary breathing space.
5. Xolos continue to struggle
Club Tijuana finished in first place in the regular season in both the 2016 Apertura and 2017 Clausura under "Piojo" Herrera. But incoming coach Eduardo Coudet is off to an abysmal start, with Tijuana in last place in the Liga MX table after four rounds.
Xolos did manage to score their first goal of the season in Friday's 1-1 tie away against Puebla, but Coudet, who came to Mexico with a good reputation following his time at Rosario Central, is finding it difficult to mold Tijuana's much-changed squad in his style.
At least Tijuana isn't in immediate danger of relegation. Veracruz is currently in last place in that table (80 points), with Atlas (82), Puebla (87), Queretaro (87), Cruz Azul (88) and Santos Laguna (89) all in more immediate danger of going down next May.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.