Early-season Liga MX standings prompt a double-take

Toluca captain Rubens Sambueza has the Diablos Rojos in first place thanks to a perfect start in the Apertura 2021. (Photo by Jam Media/Getty Images)
Toluca captain Rubens Sambueza has the Diablos Rojos in first place thanks to a perfect start in the Apertura 2021. (Photo by Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Liga MX M3
Atlético de San Luis is off to a fast start after three weeks in the Apertura 2021 season, a turnaround from its last-place finish last season. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Toluca remains the only perfect Liga MX team while Atlas is still unscored upon after three weeks while several powerhouse teams continue to tread water as players out on international duty finish trickling back into training camps.

The ageless wonder Rubens Sambueza led the Diablos Rojos to a third consecutive victory (a 2-0 road win at Tijuana) and “Los Choriceros” are again off to a fast start (Hernán Cristante’s men opened 4-1-1 last season before fading to an 11th-place finish). The 37-year-old Sambueza leads Liga MX in assists (4) and is co-top scorer (2 goals), participating in 6 of Toluca’s league-leading 8 goals. His opener against the Xolos – while trapped against the sideline – was a stunning strike from an impossible angle.

The Diablos should get a true test on Matchday 4 when they visit holders Cruz Azul on Saturday night. The Cementeros defeated Toluca on Matchday 7 last season, a loss that sent the Diablos Rojos into a tailspin, and Cruz Azul then knocked them out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals.

Cañoneros and Tuneros in the top three

Mazatlán FC and Atlético de San Luis have taken advantage of the national team obligations that sidelined 35 players until now, collecting 7 points from their first three matches. Both clubs missed out on the playoffs last season with the Tuneros finishing in last place.

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But so far this season, the pair has benefited from the absence of Liga MX stars (at the Gold Cup and at the Olympics).

The former beat Cruz Azul (missing eight players) on Matchday 1 and tied Monterrey (absent two starters) this past weekend, while San Luis upset host Guadalajara on Matchday 1 while five Chivas were out of the country with El Tri.

The Cañoneros will face a stiffer test on Saturday when they visit a full-strength León squad while the Tuneros could continue their fine early-season run since they host last place Necaxa on Thursday night.

Liga MX giants poised to bounce back

Lurking just below the top three are América (fourth), León (sixth), last season’s losing finalist Santos (seventh) and Monterrey (eighth). The Tigres are in 10th while defending champion Cruz Azul sits in 11th.

Although these teams are finally closer to full strength, their bid to “normalize” the Liga MX table are complicated by international cup matches. América, Monterrey and Cruz Azul have Concacaf Champions League contests to prepare for while León, Santos and the Tigres are occupied by Leagues Cup games. (The Tigres no longer have to concern themselves with external distractions after getting bounced out of the Leagues Cup by MLS club Seattle on Wednesday night.)

Several top teams must also cede a few stars in 10 days’ time for the inaugural Liga MX vs MLS All-Star extravaganza. Cruz Azul also has a mid-September tilt against Columbus in the Campeones Cup match which pits the winner of the Liga MX Champions Cup against the winner of the MLS Cup.

So, we can’t just expect the Liga MX pendulum to automatically swing back toward the traditional favorites, especially as September World Cup qualifiers will further tax the international players that populate the big-name teams.

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All these factors should make for an exceedingly interesting stretch run in Liga MX, especially if the “also-rans” manage to sustain the quick starts fashioned through the first three weeks.