Liga MX W2W4: America kick off title defense without Diego Lainez
It's Week 2 of matches in the Liga MX's 2019 Clausura, at least for most teams. Here's what to watch for in Mexico this weekend:America makes season debut vs. Atlas
After being granted a break in the first round of matches of the Clausura, Club America's title defense will begin on Friday night against Atlas in Estadio Jalisco, with the sale of Diego Lainez to Real Betis still fresh and the squad incomplete.
The celebrations from winning title number 13 back on Dec. 16 have barely finished for Las Aguilas and, having sold Lainez, the club is also analyzing whether to let Cecilio Dominguez leave for Independiente and Edson Alvarez to Europe. On top of all that, head coach Miguel Herrera is still waiting for a new number 9, possibly former Pumas striker Nico Castillo.
Even with all that going on, America begins its campaign with high hopes of becoming the first team to win back-to-back titles since Leon in 2013-14.
America fans will make their presence felt in Guadalajara's Estadio Jalisco, but the Atlas faithful have been boosted by last weekend's victory over Queretaro and the midweek Copa MX win away at Pumas. Now comes a significantly greater test for a new-look Atlas, which sporting director Rafa Marquez has admitted was put together on a shoe-string budget.
There's always a good atmosphere when these teams -- two of Mexico's most traditional -- meet and, as has become the norm, it'd be a surprise if America doesn't take the three points back to the nation's capital.
Chivas face stern Cruz Azul test
Over in Mexico City is the game of the weekend on Saturday, with last season's finalist Cruz Azul hosting Guadalajara's Chivas in Estadio Azteca.
Like America, Cruz Azul has had unwanted transfer issues to deal with and will be without key central midfielder Ivan Marcone, who is set to move to Boca Juniors, badly disrupting Pedro Caixinha's plans for the Clausura.
Chivas coach Jose Cardozo has his own selection concerns, with recent signing Dieter Villalpando set to miss out due to an injury.
The game pits two of Mexico's "big four," although the clubs are in very different places right now. Cruz Azul may be without a title since 1997, but the club paid big money to bring Orbelin Pineda from Chivas over the offseason and invest in the likes of Jonathan Rodriguez and Yoshimar Yotun and should be one of the main challengers for the Clausura.
On the other side, Chivas haven't made the playoffs in the last three tournaments.
The win against Club Tijuana was a timely boost to Cardozo and Chivas and following it up against Cruz Azul would give Guadalajara and its fanbase another injection of confidence and belief that this season may not be as miserable as many thought it would be.
Pachuca test against Queretaro
Whether Monterrey can impress again against Leon; if Santos Laguna can bounce back from a shock defeat to Lobos BUAP versus Morelia; Pumas' trip to Necaxa and Oscar Pareja's home debut at Tijuana against Tigres are all promising match-ups this weekend, but perhaps no team needs a performance and result more than Pachuca against Queretaro in Estadio Hidalgo.
Los Tuzos were defeated 5-0 by Monterrey in the opening round of games, despite going into the season with expectations soaring following the signings of Edwin Cardona, Victor Davila and Ismael Sosa.
"I prefer to lose in week one and have a lot of time to work, to show our quality, which today we didn't," was Pachuca coach Pako Ayestaran's assessment afterwards.
It was a fair statement, but the heavy nature of the defeat means that Pachuca clearly needs to respond and steer the season onto a more positive path before any real pressure starts to kick in.
In truth, a game against a Queretaro side now without keeper Tiago Volpi and center-back Hiram Mier should provide the opportunity for Pachuca to pick up the three points and put its season back on course.