America, Santos with strong start to Clausura; Apertura finalists struggle
The Liga MX 2018 Clausura got underway this past weekend, with a number of tight games and intrigue surrounding a new season in Mexico's first division.
Here are five talking points:
1. America, Santos off to impressive starts
Club America has a different feel to it this Clausura. The signing of French forward Jeremy Menez appears to have given the institution a lift. That was seen as Las Aguilas picked up a 1-0 victory against Queretaro in Estadio Corregidora on Sunday in an entertaining game.
Other recent incomers Henry Martin, Emanuel Aguilera and Joe Corona weren't heralded with the same fanfare as Menez, but all three have fit in seamlessly, with Martin netting the only goal with a vicious finish on the stroke of half-time.
Queretaro is a much-improved outfit compared to last season and should be able to avoid relegation, but America was good value for the victory on Sunday. Las Aguilas' improved strength in depth was clear and Miguel Herrera's side are well-positioned to push Nuevo Leon clubs Tigres and Monterrey and mount a title challenge.
It was only one game, but the immediate future looks bright for America, with Menez and winger Andres Ibarguen still to come.
Up in Torreon, the other outstanding performance of the weekend came from Santos Laguna, particularly forward Djaniny Tavares. The Cape Verde international scored a first half hat trick as Los Guerreros overcame Lobos BUAP 4-2 on Sunday.
Santos Laguna's victory was the only victory by more than one goal in the slate of Liga MX games this weekend.
2. Lopez shines for Chivas
Chivas forward Eduardo "Chofis" Lopez divides opinion.
His ability to impact games, play key passes, see through balls and be a difference-maker is not in doubt. What is still under debate is the accusation that he doesn't do it consistently and brings little to the table in terms of pace, defensive tracking, work rate and goals.
These are early days in the Clausura, but there are signs this could be a key season for Lopez and one that puts him on the map as one of Liga MX's top attacking players. The 23-year-old cut his winter break down to just a two-day visit to his native Torreon and worked with Mexican boxer Saul "Canelo" Alvarez's fitness trainer to get ready for the Clausura.
Lopez is noticeably trimmer and certainly looks like he means business this Clausura with his performance in Chivas' 1-1 draw against Toluca in Estadio Nemesio Diez on Sunday.
Lopez netted the equalizer and was the instigator of many of Chivas' better attacking moves, spreading play and offering for the ball. It was a bolder, more mature and rounded performance from Lopez.
Chivas coach Matias Almeyda last week asked for the player to no longer to be known by his "Chofis" nickname, seemingly to get rid of that old persona and the failure to live up to expectations once and for all. Only time will tell if this is the start of a special season for Lopez, or simply the latest false dawn for a player that has promised much but has failed to deliver over the long term. The early signs, however, are positive.
3. Apertura finalists off to sluggish starts
It's rare that Tigres coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti gives a postgame press conference, given that the 63-year-old has a policy of only talking to the press after his team is defeated. But if Tigres play like they did in Friday's 2-1 loss away to Puebla too many times this Clausura, Ferretti will be talking a lot.
Ferretti pointed out that the reigning champions have had a much shorter preseason that the vast majority of other Liga MX teams. It showed against Puebla in a result that is as surprising as you'll find in Liga MX.
Enrique Meza's Puebla deserves praise for their tenacity. When new foreign signings Omar Fernandez, Anderson Santamaria and Alejandro Chumacero are available, La Franja might be a surprise this season.
It was the same story for Apertura runner-up Monterrey, who drew 1-1 against Morelia in Estadio BBVA Bancomer after Mario Osuna equalized from the penalty spot for the away side late in second half injury time.
Tigres and Monterrey will remain title favorites despite the blip for each this weekend, but they look like they'll need a couple of weeks to get up to speed.
4. Pumas' stock rises with Castillo back
A new season always brings intrigue about which of the league's incoming signings can impact Liga MX, but it was the return of Pumas striker Nico Castillo that stood out.
Castillo netted twice as Pumas came from 2-0 down against Pachuca to win 3-2 on Saturday, showing fans exactly what they had missed when he was out for a large portion of the 2017 Apertura.
The Chilean capitalized on an error by U.S. international Omar Gonzalez to fire in the first from just outside the penalty area and scored the winner after a breath-taking counterattack and interplay with Matias Alustiza. In-between, Jesus Gallardo tapped in for Pumas' second.
The general mood around Pumas going into the campaign wasn't too optimistic, but in Castillo the university club has one of Liga MX's best players. If the 24-year-old can remain free from injury, perhaps Pumas won't be as bad off as originally predicted.
5. Don't rule out Boselli's Leon
Leon has the kind of consistent striker in Mauro Boselli that other Liga MX clubs are scouring Europe to find. It took Boselli only 19 minutes of the Clausura to open his account for the season. Having ghosted into space at the back post, Boselli controlled a Andres Andrade left-wing cross on his chest, took Atlas keeper Miguel Fraga out with a deft second and tapped in to give Leon the lead.
It was a class goal from one of the best -- and perhaps most underrated -- Liga MX players in recent years. It was Boselli's 91st Liga MX goal in his 155th appearance.
Leon was second-best to Atlas in pretty much all the stats for Friday's match in Estadio Jalisco. Atlas had more possession, shots, corners and made more passes over the 90 minutes, but lost 2-1.
With the Argentine's goals almost a guarantee, a good manager in Gustavo Diaz and a squad whose core has been together for some time, Leon should not be written off this season.
It shouldn't be forgotten amid all the deserved praise Tigres received for the Apertura title that Leon held them to a 2-2 tie over 180 minutes in the quarterfinal and could've gone through with a bit more luck.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.