In one of my season previews, I suggested the first month or so of the Apertura 2021 would be ragged since the Liga MX decided in all its wisdom that it would kick off the season without dozens of international stars.
That turned out to be an accurate assessment. Thirty-four Mexican stars missed from two to four weeks at the beginning of the Liga MX season while on duty with El Tri (either at the Gold Cup or at the Olympics). Some coaches also had to figure out how to manage time for two dozen or so South American internationals who arrived late to Liga MX training camps after participating in the Copa América.
Several top teams (Cruz Azul and Monterrey, in particular) have been unable to establish a rhythm with so many players missing time.
What I failed to calculate, however, is that the condensed FIFA schedules – due to delays caused by the global pandemic – would complicate the Liga MX season even further. National teams are playing three games in 10-day windows when they traditionally have only played two games. Stars returned to their club teams exhausted from the September FIFA break which ended Wednesday for Concacaf and Friday for Conmebol.
Opportunity for Liga MX also-rans?
This compressed schedule had a direct impact on player availability and team performance. A case in point: Cruz Azul coach Juan Reynoso held out nine key players (five who’d been on duty with Team Mexico, four with South American squads) from Friday’s embarrassing loss at last-place FC Juárez. The Cementeros’ chances of defending their title are diminishing as they struggle to establish a preferred line-up rotation.
The next FIFA break occurs in early October in between Liga MX Matchdays 12 and 13, while the November FIFA break is scheduled to begin the day after the regular season ends.
As if that were not enough, several teams also have international obligations, adding to the fatigue element hitting their rosters. América, Cruz Azul and Monterrey have Concacaf Champions League contests in the coming days, while León, UNAM and Santos will be participating in Leagues Cup matches this week.
The frantic pace of all these games will surely satisfy soccer fans eager for matches, but it increases the potential for injury and that would certainly limit the attractiveness of some games. Player fatigue and increased reliance on substitutes will also produce poorer quality matches.
On the other hand, the situation might allow several Liga MX teams without national team players – or with just a few – the opportunity to sneak into playoff positions. While that would be nice for fans of Liga MX minnows, it could also result in less-enticing playoff match-ups.