Santos Laguna excel as Liga MX's 'big four' trip up
Week 10 of games in the 2019 Apertura in Liga MX came to a close with Santos Laguna flying high at the top of the table, Leon impressing, Veracruz continuing to be terrible and the "big four" struggling.
Here are the major talking points from the weekend:
Santos leading a surprise top four
It wouldn't be fair to call Santos Laguna an "underdog." Given Los Guerreros have reached six Liga MX finals in the past 10 years, it'd be a out of place to give them that label.
But after the 10 rounds of matches in the Apertura, the fact that Santos lead the table from Leon, Queretaro and Necaxa is a major surprise, as is Morelia being inside the playoff spots in sixth place.
While most of the attention focuses on the troubles of the "big four," Santos Laguna has become the team to watch right now in Liga MX.
Uruguayan coach Guillermo Almada has come in without a big reputation, but has changed the make-up and DNA of the side. No team has won the ball in the final third as many times per game (4.67) as Santos, no team has fewer passes per sequence of possession (2.3) and no team has a lower average time per possession (18.7 seconds). In other words, Santos Laguna is a high-pressing side that tries to win the ball back high and wants to move the ball forward quickly.
The opening goal of the 3-2 away victory on Saturday against Atletico San Luis was a case in point. Brian Lozano lost the ball to San Luis' Luis Reyes on the right side of the field close to the penalty area, but counter-pressed immediately to win it back and then sent in a low cross for Julio Furch to tap in. It may not have seemed like an abnormal play, but it wasn't just Lozano reacting quickly to win the ball back; the key was young striker Adrian Lozano cutting off the easy release ball that Reyes had and not dropping back when his teammate initially lost the ball.
With the vast majority of Liga MX teams showing at least some commitment to playing out from the back, Santos Laguna's press and counter-press is causing major problems for opposition. If the players continue to show the kind of understanding of the playing idea seen in against San Luis, remain fresh and Julio Furch and Brian Lozano stay in form, Los Guerreros will take some beating when the playoffs swing round.
Of the other leaders, second-placed Leon came from behind to defeat Necaxa 4-3, while Queretaro held on to a 2-2 tie against Club America in Estadio Azteca.
'Big four' struggling
Club America couldn't win at home, Chivas lost 1-0 to Morelia in Estadio Morelos and Pumas drew 1-1 at home to Cruz Azul. In sum, things didn't go very well for Liga MX's "big four" this past weekend.
Las Aguilas are the only of the four in the playoffs right now, but haven't managed a win in the league since Aug. 17. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa is yet to taste victory in Liga MX since his return, while Giovani dos Santos started against Queretaro and once again disappointed. There's much to work on for Miguel Herrera's side to prove that it is a title contender.
But it's not as though next Saturday's Clasico Nacional opponents Chivas are doing much better. The relationship between fans and Tomas Boy remains far from positive and the 1-0 loss to his former team Morelia did little to sooth it.
The game was defined by VAR. Morelia was given a penalty for a handball from Antonio Briseno 10 minutes before half-time -- from which Mario Osuna scored -- while a similar penalty call in Morelia's penalty area wasn't given Chivas' way seven minutes later.
"The problem is you [the press]," Briseno told the media afterwards, in reference to people saying VAR had been benefitting the Guadalajara club.
Still, Chivas aren't down in 14th position and theoretically in a relegation battle because of one VAR decision. The problems run much deeper.
As for Pumas and Cruz Azul, the fact La Maquina dropped a one-goal lead may have been framed as a cruzazuleada -- losing from a winning position -- but the truth was that it's a good point away at Ciudad Universitaria. Full judgement on the Robert Siboldi and his changes will have to wait.
The draw left Pumas in ninth position, with Cruz Azul in 13th, although both are within striking distance of the playoff places.
Leon proving Clausura was no fluke
Angel Mena performed last season like Liga MX's Lionel Messi, at least statically in terms of goals and assists. When those performances and numbers dropped during the playoffs and Leon ran out of steam in the final against Tigres, there was a feeling that it was a regression to the mean.
A question mark heading into this campaign was just how good "Nacho" Ambriz's Leon actually is. Was last season's top regular season finish and run to the final simply good form boosted by Mena's genius, or is La Fiera really a top Liga MX side?
We're getting the answers in the second half of 2019 and the evidence suggests Leon will once again be a tough team to beat in the playoffs.
Leon has only lost one game this season, is the highest goal-scoring team in Liga MX and showed resilience in netting two goals in second half injury time in the 4-2 win on the road against Necaxa, who was leading the table.
Ismael Sosa's hat-trick highlighted that the team's strength in depth is greater this season, while Luis Montes is arguably playing as well as he ever has and Jose Juan Macias is showing that talk of a move to Europe is far from ridiculous.
Veracruz remains abysmal
It's 36 games now since Veracruz won in Liga MX. The latest defeat came to FC Juarez on Sunday. This time it was 2-0, with Juarez's Dario Lezcano and Angelo Sagal getting the goals.
Veracruz is breaking international records and is almost certain to have to pay to stay in the league once again at the end of the Clausura.
Work to do with goalkeeper chant
Liga MX is cracking down hard on the goalkeeper chant that has been deemed anti-gay by FIFA. The informative campaign about games being suspended and teams playing behind closed doors will only begin in round 11 of games this midweek, with new regulations coming in for round 15.
But this weekend showed some positive initial results, with the chant not heard in Estadio Jalisco in Atlas' 1-0 loss to Toluca. Then there has been some negativity, with some suggesting that the new policy is exaggerated.
The comments surely don't help a problem that could potentially threaten Mexico's place in Qatar 2022.