Liga MX: Leaders stub their toes; dark horses emerge

Ref César Ramos tries to break up a scrum during Saturday's América-Chivas match, but he somehow missed the face rake being applied to Henry Martín by Guadalajara's Miguel Ponce. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Ref César Ramos tries to break up a scrum during Saturday's América-Chivas match, but he somehow missed the face rake being applied to Henry Martín by Guadalajara's Miguel Ponce. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
Liga MX M10
Atlético de San Luis teammates surround Germán Berterame after he scored the first of his brace that gave the Tuneros a 2-1 win at Toluca on Sunday. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

There’s not much time to dwell on Matchday 10 as the Liga MX schedule is doubled up this week – six Matchday 11 games Tuesday and Wednesday, and the entire Matchday 12 calendar squeezed into the weekend (Oct. 1, 2 and 3).

The league then takes a couple weeks off to accommodate the October FIFA break, returning with a full slate of games from Oct. 14-17 (Matchday 13).

As such, we’ll just skim the surface and touch upon a few highlights … and lowlights.

Let’s start with the “Super Clásico.” The América-Chivas game ended in a scoreless draw even though there was plenty of end-to-end action (23 shots in all, 10 on target), but the big story was (yet another) sub-par performance by the officials. This is a subject we’ll revisit in the near future.

Liga MX table-toppers stumble

Back on Sept. 18, Toluca handed league-leading América its first loss of the season, pulling even with the Aguilas atop the Liga MX table with 20 points. Neither has won since.

América was 6-2-0 when it paid the Diablos a visit only to get trounced 3-1. The 0-0 draw marked the first time the Aguilas had failed to score since an identical scoreless result in the season opener. Next up is a visit to Pachuca (the Tuzos knocked América out of the playoffs last season) followed by the always-rowdy Mexico City derby known as “Clásico Capitalino” (with América hosting the Pumas).

Meanwhile, the Diablos emerged from their triumph over the Aguilas looking like genuine title contenders after finishing no better than 11th in any of the previous four seasons. Their 17 goals in 9 matches were easily best in Liga MX. So what do “Los Choriceros” do? Sputter into a 2-game losing streak, that’s what.

Toluca was blanked at Monterrey (2-0) then crashed and burned at home against Atlético de San Luis (1-2). The Diablos have slipped into third place and must sit home and stew about their run of bad form because the Monterrey game was a Matchday 11 contest moved forward for no apparent reason (Liga MX said it was at the request of Fox Sports). So Hernán Cristante has until Sunday to help his men regain their form before Querétaro arrives to the Estadio Nemesio Diéz.

Sly Zorros showing they might be for real

When Atlas acquired veteran forward Julio Furch before last season, pundits figured “Los Rojinegros” were on the road to turning the franchise around. Furch (with 83 Liga MX goals to his credit) would provide the scoring punch the club needed to return to the playoffs (the Zorros’ last Liguilla appearance had been in December 2017) and escape the Relegation Standings crisis on the horizon.

Then Furch broke his leg in training camp and fans feared the team was on its way to a 120 million-peso “relegation penalty.” But that didn’t happen.

Coach Diego Cocca found a productive mix of veterans and academy players who scrapped their way to 7-4-6 record and a 7th-place finish. The Zorros climbed out of the “relegation” cellar which allowed them to participate in the playoffs (and reduced the relegation penalty – for finishing 17th – to 70 million pesos). Furch returned late in the season and though limited to about 15 minutes per game, contributed 3 goals as Atlas advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Puebla.

This season, with the addition of Julián Quiñones as a strike partner for Furch, the Zorros have forged a 5-4-1 season – good for 4th place – and they are on a league-leading 6-game unbeaten streak while winning their last three matches (including victories over Monterrey and León).

Cocca has installed a 5-3-2 alignment that has conceded the fewest goals (4) in Liga MX.

With a win over visiting Puebla Tuesday night, the Zorros will climb into second place and, if América loses at Pachuca, Atlas would be sitting atop the Liga MX table. This could be the Dark Horse of the Apertura 2021 season. We’ll know more after the “Clásico Tapatío” on Oct. 2 when the Zorros visit crosstown rivals Guadalajara at the Estadio Akron.

Tuneros making life miserable for oddsmakers

Back on Matchday 4, Atlético de San Luis lost to a winless Necaxa team, seemingly confirming that the Tuneros would once again be battling to avoid the label of “Worst Team in Liga MX.” But “Los Potosinos” have lost only once since and currently find themselves in fifth place with a 4-4-2 record. Atleti is coming off a huge upset, a stunning 2-1 win at Toluca on Sunday.

Winger Germán Berterame leads Liga MX in scoring (8 goals) and veteran goalie Marcelo Barovero has settled into the starting job since moving back to Mexico from Argentina.

Next. Ansu Fati breathes new life into Barça. dark

The club still can’t be considered a title contender, but the playoffs are within reach. That’s a big turnaround from the 17th- and 18th-place finishes of the past two seasons. The Tuneros host the injury-riddled Tigres on Wednesday and a win over the northern giants could do wonders for their confidence. But there’d be no time for complacency as San Luis must travel to León just three days later.