Looking at an upcoming season is always a daunting task. Will the new coach work out? Will the new signings pan out? Can everyone stay healthy? Add this on top of dealing with an ongoing global pandemic that has forced changes to the laws of the game itself, and this season’s predictions might be less about predicting the upcoming season and more about making sense of it all.
I tried to make sense of it all when I spoke with FOX Deportes’ Mariano Trujillo Wednesday night about the upcoming season and started off by asking whether it was even safe to play now in Mexico. “I think it’s uncertain not just for soccer in Mexico, but in general with the country,” he tells me. While it’s been difficult to keep track of everything that’s going on in light of the pandemic, and perhaps adding to that murkiness is how things are being handled. “It’s all gonna be confusing, and just the fact that the federation is giving the freedom (to) the teams to create their own protocols or to follow their own protocols in order for them to be healthy and able to play. I think it says it’s not a good decision.”
Trujillo ’s comments were prescient. The league was slated to start the following night, but the match between Mazatlán and Puebla was postponed until Monday (as was the Atlético San Luis vs. FC Juárez match) and Santos Laguna announced four players had contracted COVID-19.
The show will most likely still go on, and it’s ok for fans (and media!) alike to be conflicted about it’s return, so we shifted gears to talk about the upcoming season. When asked who he thought was going to win it all, and he said it would be Cruz Azul “Not just for the (Copa por Mexico) tournament, and not for the result of what they were doing in the previous tournament when everything stopped.” He credits manager Robert Dante Siboldi for the team playing as a cohesive unit, but cautions against crowning them just yet. “Everything comes down to winning the tournament, because they can be perfect (in the regular season and still not win the tournament.) I’ve seen that story before with Cruz Azul.”
One team he expects will improve greatly and could challenge La Maquina is Monterrey. After a dismal 2020 Clausura, Trujillo thinks Rayados will bounce back. “I think they are very solid team to try to get everything this tournament,” he says, noting that the added downtime was something they didn’t have going into the 2020 Clausura. “Everything that they couldn’t do in terms of preparation for the last tournament, I think they did right now,” he says. “They have a fresh start with preparation for the tournament in terms of fitness. So with the (new rule allowing) five substitutions and the new format I think Rayados can bounce back from from previous seasons.”
Having five substitutions won’t affect players and their preparations much he said, since “as a player, you don’t want to go out.” Some coaches though will have more options available for them during a game. “I asked (Rayados manager Antonio ‘Turco’) Mohamed about that and he said ‘No no no it’s an advantage for us, because I can pull (Rogelio) Funes Mori out and put (Vincent) Janssen in, and also have Jonathan González go and play in the middle, and I have Sebastián Vegas who can play for (César) Montes if I need to. So all the players that I just mentioned can be a starter any other team in Liga MX.’ So it would be an advantage for the powerful (teams)” with a lot of roster depth.
As for a dark horse candidate Trujillo thinks Xolos, although he doesn’t necessarily think it will be a surprise. “ Xolos is putting something something nice together,” Trujillo says “starting with the coach. They’re bringing key players to play the style of football that Guede likes, starting with Jonathan Orozco as the goalkeeper. And and then if you analyze the roster they have two or three players in each position, so that gives you a a lot of possibilities considering not (necessarily) the amount of games they’re going to have, but the the the time of recovery they will have after the games you can easily put two starting (lineups) together with no problem.”
With every dark horse however comes a team that will fail to live up to expectations or not do as well as first thought. Trujillo points to Santos Laguna as a team who most likely won’t be as good as seasons’ past. “Obviously not having Brian Lozano is gonna be hard for them,” he says, adding also that not having Orozco will hurt as well. “He was the the captain (and) the leader of the team. I think they’re going to struggle, and (though) they have a lot of trust and confidence in what they have, but their style of play is very demanding fitness-wise. So if for whatever reason one of the starters gets hurt, the quality of the player coming in is not going to be the same. They can run and try, but when you’re facing an opponent there so opponents I think they’re going to struggle.” With the playoffs expanded to 12 slots Trujillo thinks Santos will get into the Liguilla, “but I don’t think they’re going to be the first four (places) for example,” he says.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out for sure, and if Liga MX is consistent in one thing, it’s being inconsistent.