Liga MX: America is the new favorite for the 2018 Apertura title

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 28: Mateus Uribe #8 of America celebrate with teammates after scoring the second goal of his team during the second round match between Club America and Atlas as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Azteca Stadium on July 28, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 28: Mateus Uribe #8 of America celebrate with teammates after scoring the second goal of his team during the second round match between Club America and Atlas as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Azteca Stadium on July 28, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Since the Necaxa loss in week 1, Las Aguilas have been showing improvement. Now with the implementation of Diego Lainez and some of the familiar weapons regaining health, America appears to be the most dangerous team in the league.

After their 3-0 victory over Atlas in week 2, Club America had rejoined the win column of the Liga MX table, but they hadn’t yet shown Americanistas enough to instill confidence. Supporters of the club lamented the amount of time Atlas appears to be in command and focused on the areas that America was winning on talent alone. There was another gear in this machine, and fans were eager to see it put to use. Diego Lainez was the name being thrown around as a young talent that must get playing time for America to reach their potential.

A solid showing from Lainez in an otherwise frustrating 3-0 defeat of Veracruz in Copa MX, plus injuries to Renato Ibarra and Matheus Uribe, allowed the Mexican star-on-the-rise to break into the starting XI against hapless Pachuca in week 3. The results were fantastic. Club America looked dynamic on the ball. They seemed to be able to vary their attack more and kept defenders on their heels. Despite being crushed in ball possession, Las Aguilas weren’t ever in real danger. In fact, a dubious penalty given to Pachuca was the only reason America missed out on a third straight clean sheet.

This Saturday, America took out Monterrey in their first victory against Los Rayados since April 1, 2017. The pitch at Estadio Azteca was nightmarish, but Matheus Uribe’s return was a dream for Americanistas. He lined up in the middle of the park with Andres Ibarguen to his left on the outside and Diego Lainez occupying space on the right. The balance of offensive threats in the midfield was aided by Oribe Peralta and Roger Martinez up top, who benefitted from the midfield, as well. It seemed Monterrey were determined to play physically with the 18-year-old Lainez and, in doing so, kept his impact low in the box score and he received his lowest SofaScore rating as a starter.

The problem, and the reason America is now seems to be the favorite for this Apertura, was the effectiveness of the America players on the opposite side. Uribe assisted on a gorgeous goal from center back Bruno Valdez, and Ibarguen was dangerous enough to draw a penalty and put the ensuing PK into the back of the net. Even when taking into account Monterrey’s playing with only 10 men after Stefan Medina’s 2nd yellow, it’s hard to deny that America looked dangerous the whole match. The reduced lineup from Los Rayados only exaggerated what was already an encouraging performance by Piojo Herrera’s men.

Looking ahead to the weekend, America goes on the road for a match against Queretaro in week 5 play. Renato Ibarra came back from injury in the win over Monterrey, putting in about 20 minutes of the kind of play we’ve come to expect from the Ecuadorian. Assuming he doesn’t play in Tuesday’s Copa MX match, Queretaro will probably face him returning to the starting XI. As I’ve mentioned before, I think the best thing would be to shift formation and play a midfield consisting of Renato, Lainez, Guido Rodriguez, Uribe, and Ibarguen. Such balance would make America daunting through the middle third of the pitch. However, even if Piojo makes the decision to sit one of the midfielders, even if that midfielder is Lainez, the balance the coach has seemed to have found by spreading the attacking threats across the pitch, not only down the right side as in the first couple matches, has unlocked a world of potential.

In addition, we need to consider the other contenders in the league, if we are to cement Club America as the favorite for the crown. Prior to the season, the main favorites included Toluca, Tigres, Cruz Azul, and Monterrey. Toluca is 6th in the table after four weeks, and are going to be without captain Rubens Sambueza for 4 to 6 weeks due to injury. Tigres have tallied four goals in four matches this season, and now have losses to Cruz Azul and Toluca. Tuca’s men are going to be without their captain Guido Pizarro, as well as Javier Aquino this weekend against Santos Laguna, because of red cards received in their week 4 loss to Toluca. Monterrey was just defeated handily by America, and while they might be the most logical choice for Apertura title contender, it is hard to see them topping the table after dropping the head-to-head match with America.

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Currently, Azteca roommate Cruz Azul appears to be the other most likely challenger to Los Azulcremas. La Maquina has not been held point-less in any match of this Apertura and has conceded just one goal in their four total Liga MX matches.  However, their marque win against Tigres came with Tigres star Andre-Pierre Gignac out due to illness. Adding to the skeptical case is the inability to score more than one goal in all of their Liga MX matches, other than week 1 against Puebla.

The only other team that would seem a likely candidate for challenger to an America Apertura title would be Pumas, who sit atop the young table and remain undefeated. They too have major holes in their case, though, with wins coming against bottom of the table teams, save Necaxa, and an inability to win at home against dead-last Pachuca in week 4.

It’s hard to make a case against this being America’s Apertura to lose. Only Pumas have scored as many goals and only Cruz Azul have allowed less. Unless someone catches them looking too far ahead, Las Aguilas seem to have the offensive firepower along with the defensive grit to inflict damage on every opponent they face. It’s certainly not a guarantee. Anything and everything can happen in Liga MX. Through the first four weeks, though, it’s Los Azulcremas who appear to have made the best case for title favorite.