Thursday, April 24, 2014
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Liga MX, 2014 Clausura preview: Big questions for the season ahead

The new Liga MX season kicks off on Friday. Here are the biggest storylines heading into the new season.

Liga MX has awoken from its brief slumber, ready to resume after an offseason that featured dramatic changes to a number of teams. Here are the big stories to keep an eye out for as the season progresses.

Can 'El Turco' pick up where Miguel Herrera left off?

Miguel Herrera's tenure with Club America was so successful that it got him the Mexican national team job. He left the club after winning a title and reaching the Liga MX final in two consecutive tournaments, but his replacement will be expected to bring similar success to the club. 'El Turco' Antonio Mohamed left Mexico in 2013 to be closer to his family in Argentina, but he's returned after his spell at Huracan went poorly.

Mohamed took over Tijuana in 2011 and guided them to their first ever Liga MX title, subsequently qualifying them for Copa Libertadores, where they turned in an impressive showing, beating Corinthians in the group stage and advancing to the quarterfinals, where they fell to eventual champions Atletico Mineiro on away goals.

America probably couldn't have found a better coach to replace Herrera, but Mohamed will face an entirely different kind of pressure at his new club. Tijuana had financial backing, but weren't expected to win a league title so quickly or beat Corinthians in the Libertadores. At America, Mohamed's side is the favorite, especially given that they only lost fringe players in the transfer market over the winter break.

The system at Club America certainly isn't broken, so don't expect Mohamed to fix it. He's used a 3-5-2 setup similar to the one utilized by Herrera in the past and his personnel is certainly tailored to that formation, so there's no reason to believe he won't stick to what turned America into a powerhouse. Still, it will be hard to resist some tinkering, and it's tough to see how anyone could possibly improve on what Herrera did. 'El Turco' has his work cut out for him.

Fourth time's a charm for Luis Fernando Tena?

Cruz Azul hasn't won a title since 1997, despite regularly having one of the most talented teams in Liga MX. The last manager to win a title with the club was Luis Fernando Tena, and he's returned to the team for his fourth stint as boss. He was unable to recreate the magic of that title win in his 2004 stint with the club, but he's been through a variety of jobs since.

Tena's most recent gig was a failed one-game caretaker stint as Mexico boss, in which he lost to the United States and got to watch them celebrate their qualification for the World Cup. Before that, he was the highly touted boss who won the Olympics with the Mexico Under-23 squad and 'Chepo' Jose Manuel de la Torre's assistant with the senior squad. The last year probably hasn't done his resume any favors, but Cruz Azul will be hoping he's more the coach that won a gold medal than the one who contributed to the national team's meltdown.

His biggest task will be getting the most out of the perpetually disappointing Marco Fabian. Once touted as the future of Mexican football, Fabian has struggled on very poor Chivas Guadalajara teams, has been frozen out of the national team setup and has been labeled as a player with a bad attitude. With Fabian failing to attract big-money offers from Europe, Chivas opted to loan Fabian to Cruz Azul in hopes that a new environment would revitalize him, allowing them to either bring back a much better player or make some real money on him.

How Tena plans to use both of Fabian and star 'Chaco' Christian Gimenez -- essentially the same player -- is anyone's guess. Fitting them into the same team with wingers Joao Rojas and Pablo Barrera is going to be difficult. It's also not clear how he plans to use the trio of Jose Villarreal, Rafael Baca and Michael Farfan, who were all just brought in from MLS.

Cruz Azul has enough talent to challenge for a title, but it's not obvious how that talent fits together or if they have the right man to make it work.

Will Atlante make the relegation race interesting?

Things are looking grim for Atlante at the start of the Clausura. The gap between them and the second-worst team in the relegation coefficient is larger than the gap between that team -- Club Atlas -- and Chivas, the team fifth from bottom. Atlas were recently purchased by TV Azteca, who have brought in some solid reinforcements in an effort to avoid relegation. They'll probably pull it off.

Atlante's biggest hope might be catching up to Veracruz, who were recently promoted. Their coefficient is based on two tournaments' worth of points, not six like the other relegation battlers. That means their average will fall more quickly than other teams as they post bad results, so they're in serious trouble, even though they currently sit 13th out of 18 teams. Atlante only has an 8-point gap to make up on Veracruz, but they're also 8 behind Atlas and 12 behind Puebla and Jaguares Chiapas.

While Atlante strengthened significantly in January and will do much better than they did last season, it's tough to see them making up that kind of a gap on any of the other teams in the relegation battle. Expect to see Atlante in the Ascenso next season, provided they stay in business and nothing weird happens like last year's shuffling of team names and cities.

Is there any hope for Chivas?

This winter's transfer dealings felt more like house-cleaning for Chivas than they did an effort to build a contender. Miguel Sabah, Marco Fabian, Miguel Ponce, Hector Reynoso, Luis Ernesto Perez and others went out, but very few high-profile senior players came in. Israel Castro, Jair Pereira and Gerardo Rodriguez joined the club while Omar Bravo returned from loan -- a decent haul, but hardly awe-inspiring.

There's talent at Chivas, but it's the same talent that's led them to disappointing finishes over and over again. Carlos Fierro is failing to live up to his potential just like 'Cubo' Erick Torres did before he was loaned to MLS. Fans have been waiting for Jorge Enriquez and Kristian Alvarez to become stars for years. Fierro and Giovanni Hernandez should have become solid first-team players a year ago if they're as good as the hype. Nestor Vidrio, Aldo de Nigris and the departed Perez and Sabah were top players at other clubs, but have failed to produce for Chivas.

Based on what all of the players on the Chivas squad have done for other Liga MX teams, youth international teams or even Chivas many years ago, they should have the talent to compete for a title. That's been the case every tournament where they've struggled since their 30-point 2011 Apertura, but they've failed to reach 20 points in three of the last four tournaments.

The benefit of the doubt has long expired for Chivas. Don't believe they're legit until they win a Liguilla series.

What's the plan at Morelia?

Even though they made Liguilla for the fifth straight tournament in the Apertura, Morelia strangely decided to pull a near gut job on their team, shipping out a dozen players and bringing in just as many, Most of these were not minor transactions -- Felipe Baloy, Hector Reynoso, Arevalo Rios and Duvier Riascos have histories as big stars in Liga MX and will be expected to produce right away.

This isn't the first time Morelia's made dramatic changes in one window. It's fair to ask whether they actually have a plan or if they're making sweeping changes for the sake of sweeping changes, but there's one thing that points to them having quite a bit of ambition.

Despite all the turnover, the biggest transfer at Morelia is probably one that they haven't made -- at least yet. Ecuadoran international winger Jefferson Montero, perhaps the club's biggest star, is still with the club. He'll be linked to European teams throughout January, but Morelia probably likes their chances of hanging on to him if they're going into the season with him still in the squad.

Can anyone play their way into the Mexico team?

The Mexican national team that beat New Zealand to qualify for the World Cup featured a lot of Herrera's boys and the core of Club Leon, the team that won the Liga MX Apertura title. There were no European-based players in the team, something Herrera will certainly have to reconsider come World Cup time.

If some of his boys or other Liga MX players are already getting kicked out of the Mexico side to make room for the likes of 'Chicharito' Javier Hernandez and Hector Moreno, will there even be any room for Liga MX players who were previously off Herrera's radar to prove themselves and earn a spot on the team?

There probably isn't an open competition for many spots on El Tri's roster. It's going to take a spectacular and maybe even dominant season for anyone to slip in that isn't already in Herrera's good graces.

Week 1 schedule (all times ET)

Monarcas Morelia vs. Queretaro - Friday, 8:30 p.m.
Santos Laguna vs. Chivas Guadalajara - Friday, 10:30 p.m.
Club America vs. UANL Tigres - Saturday, 6 p.m.
Monterrey vs. Cruz Azul - Saturday, 8 p.m.
Pachuca vs. Toluca - Saturday, 8 p.m.
Atlas vs. Tijuana - Saturday, 10 p.m.
Jaguares Chiapas vs. Veracruz - 10 p.m.
Pumas UNAM vs. Puebla - 1 p.m.
Atlante vs. Leon - 6 p.m.

This article originally appeared on SBNation.

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