Liga MX: 4 early candidates for Coach of the Year

Robert Siboldi has Cruz Azul at the top of the standings, finally getting the Cementeros to buy into his aggressive, attacking style of football. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images)
Robert Siboldi has Cruz Azul at the top of the standings, finally getting the Cementeros to buy into his aggressive, attacking style of football. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Liga MX coaches
Cruz Azul coach Robert Siboldi celebrates with Liga MX scoring leader Jonathan Rodríguez after the Cementeros defeated América last month. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

The managers of the four best teams in the Liga MX standings deserve much of the credit for their clubs’ success.

The second half of the Clausura 2020 had just gotten under way when the Covid-19 pandemic forced a suspension. The break in Liga MX action affords an opportunity to take a closer look at performances and trends at the halfway point.

With this in mind, here are our top candidates for Coach of the Year.

Liga MX coaching honors

Cruz Azul sits atop the table after 10 games — and at No. 1 in our Power Rankings — while fashioning a 9-game unbeaten streak in all competitions.

During the streak, the Cementeros have looked explosive on offense (a league-high 24 goals) while playing a disciplined defensive style made more impressive by the fact that they played their last four games without stalwart back-liner Pablo Aguilar. Both elements were on display on March 15 when Cruz Azul defeated Mexico City rivals América 1-0.

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Only four weeks into the Clausura, pundits were predicting Robert Siboldi would be sacked. After all, Cruz Azul lost its first 2 games and was just 1-1-2, this after missing the Liguilla last season. Siboldi had taken over for Pedro Caixinha midway through the Apertura 2019, but the Cementeros were a complete mess, finishing 3-4-3 and 4 points out of a playoff spot.

La Máquina Azul had yet to embrace Siboldi’s tactics, or at least were failing to execute them. The Uruguayan manager employs a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1) that features flexible rotation up front and asks the wide defenders to press forward. Last season, strikers Milton Caraglio and Jonathan Rodríguez were erratic in front of net, and support from midfield and fullbacks was inconsistent. Errant passes were not uncommon and the central defenders (including Aguilar) tended to lose patience and thump long balls at no apparent target.

This season, Siboldi’s personnel decisions have been spot on.

With winger Elías Hernández back healthy and linemate Roberto Alvarado getting more comfortable with his two-way duties, Siboldi was able to add playmaker Orbelín Pineda to the midfield. This dynamic threesome attacks relentlessly and have established a rapport with striker “Cabecita” Rodríguez who leads the Liga MX with 9 goals.

Holding up the middle of the defense are midfielder Rafa Baca and the new central defense pairing of Luis Romo and Julio César Domínguez. Romo slid back from his holding midfield role to take over for Aguilar, while “Cata” Domínguez slotted into the spot vacated by Igor Lichnovsky who has struggled with a high ankle sprain.

There have been some growing pains, but goalie Jesús Corona has rediscovered his form after a down year and Cruz Azul is able to play out of the back with effectiveness.

The Cementeros’ aggressive offense is fed by the team’s willingness to chase on defense. Cruz Azul has just 44% possession on the season, but the defensive pressure (and ability to win the ball back) leads to quick-strike offense. The rapid transition into attack often leads opponents into more careful ball control (thus the low possession number for Big Blue), but also means clubs are reluctant to press forward too quickly.

Siboldi emphasizes getting forward and pressuring the defense over possession, preferring a fast-break and a shot over ball control. He has also made satisfactory use of his bench, playing newcomers Lucas Passerini, Pablo Ceppelini and Alex Castro to provide alternatives in attack late in games.

For all these reasons, Siboldi has the inside line to be Liga MX Coach of the Year.