Nuevo Leon pair still top Liga MX, big things expected from new-look Cruz Azul
It feels like just yesterday that Tigres won their sixth Liga MX title at Monterrey's Estadio BBVA Bancomer, but the new season is only several hours from beginning. As was the case last season, only one manager of the 18 is from Europe; the only difference is that it's no longer Paco Jemez, but his replacement Pedro Caixinha.
Here's where each of the 18 Liga MX clubs start off in our weekly Power Rankings:
1. TIGRES UANL
Here comes another season where Tigres will have an offense led by one of the league's most powerful attacking trios -- Andre-Pierre Gignac, Enner Valencia, and Eduardo Vargas. Yes, Gignac only scored six goals last season (including playoffs), but Valencia scored 12. In two full seasons in Liga MX, Valencia has scored 30 goals.
By adding Jonathan Urretaviscaya, Monterrey got one of the league's perennial assist leaders. His arrival is bound to increase the competition for starting places in the team's attack. Players like Dorlan Pabon and Aviles Hurtado can't relax because if they do, "Urreta" will be ready to take their place.
3. CRUZ AZUL
La Maquina made significant additions in the current winter transfer market. New manager, Pedro Caixinha, has a heavy-loaded attack with plenty of options. The arrivals of Carlos Fierro, Walter Montoya and very likely Carlos "Gullit" Pena will make Cruz Azul one of the most exciting sides to watch in the Clausura.
4. CLUB AMERICA
Although Las Aguilas saw center-back Pablo Aguilar leave for Tijuana in a swap for Joe Corona, Henry Martin and Emanuel Aguilera, the team hopes to build a strong squad to go deep in this season's Liguilla. The club is rumored to bring in players of the caliber of Jeremy Menez, Andres Ibarguen and Luuk de Jong.
In 2016, Pachuca brought in Omar Gonzalez, Oscar Murillo and Emmanuel Garcia to boost its defense, and in May of that same year the club lifted its sixth league title. Two years later, Pachuca has brought in Walter Gonzalez and Kekuta Manneh to boost its offense. Los Tuzos have a powerful squad, which manager Diego Alonso will need to get rolling right away to claim a place in this season's Liguilla and avoid another letdown.
For most of last season, Morelia appeared to be the league's dark horse heading into the Liguilla. At the end, it lost to Monterrey in the semifinals. The same faces remain at the club, which means that it could build from where it left off in the Apertura. Ray Sandoval, who comes from Peru's Sporting Cristal, is the club's biggest offseason move.
7. CLUB TIJUANA
New manager Diego Cocca will have an interesting base to work with over at Tijuana. Players like Juan Manuel Iturbe, Miller Bolanos and Gustavo Bou could once again help lead the club to a playoff appearance.
As long as Mauro Boselli and Elias Hernandez stay in shape, Leon has what it takes to be among Liga MX's top 10.
Chivas are coming off a strange Apertura, where they were never able to pick up speed. However, with the arrivals of Gael Sandoval and Ronaldo Cisneros, Chivas reinforced their offense, but they will only show important improvements if players such as Orbelin Pineda, Alan Pulido and Rodolfo Pizarro give consistent performances.
10. LOBOS BUAP
In the last few weeks, Lobos have added seven new players to their roster, and they're still expecting to add two more. The main addition has been Ecuadorian playmaker, Gabriel Cortez from Independiente del Valle. Let's see if young Mexican manager, Rafael Puente, can lead Lobos to a surprising Liguilla appearance in year two.
Atlas' newcomers include Chileans Angelo Henriquez and Cristopher Toselli and Peruvian Alexi Gomez. Also, Ravel Morrison, who arrived late into last season, could become an important player for the club in the Clausura. Los Rojinegros will be a tough team to beat at Estadio Jalisco.
12. SANTOS LAGUNA
Last season, Santos only got three wins. It's a weak number for a club that has worked hard to be one of the most exemplary clubs in Liga MX by combining strong elements from its youth system with experienced foreigners. Los Guerreros are desperate to once again be among the best in Liga MX, and their offseason moves suggest they might make a great run this season.
Necaxa almost reached the Liguilla last season, but it only scored 19 goals and conceded 15. Defensively, Los Rayos have been one of the most consistent sides over the last two years. It mostly has to do with the fact that their goalkeeper is Marcelo Barovero, but if there's no spark offensively, the Liguilla seems far from their reach.
Toluca is a team built to compete with the league's top 10, but current manager, Hernan Cristante, appears to already be on the hot seat, and the season still hasn't started. If Los Diablos Rojos can't get positive results early on in the Clausura, Cristante might become the first manager to lose his job.
Queretaro brought in players like Miguel Samudio from America, Edson Puch from Pachuca and Diego Novaretti from Leon. The moves indicate that Queretaro will be looking to cause trouble and stay away from the relegation zone, but will the new players help it return to the playoffs?
Like Queretaro, Puebla is another club who made a good number of additions. The main one was bringing in Bolivian, Alejandro Chumacero, from The Strongest. With manager Enrique Meza captaining the ship, it wouldn't be surprising to see Los Camoteros climb the rankings in the next weeks.
Guillermo Vazquez Jr. is Veracruz's new manager, and his pragmatic style might help the club as it tries to avoid relegation. Nevertheless, Veracruz is the main candidate to leave Liga MX after the season comes to a close.
18. PUMAS UNAM
Pablo Barrera, one of the experienced players in the squad, will be out for about eight weeks due to a shoulder injury he suffered in training. Right away, Pumas are encountering difficult scenarios heading into the new season. Chilean striker, Nicolas Castillo, will need to be healthy and will need other attackers to help him out in order for Pumas to compete this season.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.