Top tasks for each member of the Big 4 as the Apertura 2023 resumes

América and the Pumas – stalwart members of the Liga MX Big 4 – will stage their "Clásico Capitalino" in late September. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
América and the Pumas – stalwart members of the Liga MX Big 4 – will stage their "Clásico Capitalino" in late September. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Big 4 AP23
Guadalajara head coach Veljko Paunovic read his players the riot act after their Leagues Cup debacle. The Chivas must respond positively to the tongue-lashing if they hope to return to the Liga MX Finals again this season. (Photo by Simon Barber/Getty Images) /

Challenges for Liga MX Big Four heading into Matchday 4

Real Liga MX fans recognize that the reference to the Big 4 has been little more than an honorary appellation for quite some time.

Over the past 20 seasons, América, Guadalajara, Cruz Azul and UNAM have won just five Liga MX titles between them (the Aguilas have three of those) although they can collectively claim eight runners-up trophies in that time span. Hardly worth bragging about.

In fact, the Northern Giants + 1 (Tigres – 5 titles in 7 Liga MX Finals appearances; Monterrey – 1 title in 3 Finals; Santos Laguna – 2 titles in 3 Finals) and two provincial teams (León – 3 titles in 5 Finals; Pachuca – 2 titles in 4 Finals) make a strong case for relegating the Big 4 moniker to the trash bin.

Still, the legacies and historical achievements of the four clubs that comprise this celebratory sobriquet do allow for a wee bit of deference. And that’s what we’ll offer here as we look ahead to the resumption of the Apertura 2023 season

New América coach André Jardine: Win title #14 or else

Before we look at the upcoming calendar for “Los cuatro grandes,” a bit more data to support the premise stated above, especially as it pertains to this season. The Big 4 has just 3 wins in 11 matches and have conceded 13 goals in those 11 contests.

As for recent trends, UNAM missed the playoffs entirely in three of the past five seasons and finished dead last twice since 2013, while Cruz Azul has been no better than a wildcard in the past four seasons. And Guadalajara was battling relegation only seven years ago.

América is the lone “Big 4” team that has consistently been in the title chase. The Aguilas have finished in the top four of the regular season standings each of the past six seasons and you have to go way back to 2011 to find the last time “Los Azulcremas” failed to qualify for the Liga MX playoffs.

It helps that the club perennially boasts a top four payroll (Thank you, Televisa!) but América also boasts a killer mentality – they will crush you any chance they get and if you don’t put them away they will more often than not make you pay.

With that said, the Aguilas have been stuck on 13 championships (yes, a league record) since December 2018 and new boss André Jardine knows his term in charge could end quickly if he doesn’t add silverware to the cabinet this season.

“Los Millonetas” are 1-0-1 (their opener at Querétaro was postponed) and must tighten up the attack and the defense, especially the defense (which ownership tried to address by making a futile offer to Sergio Ramos) which has been “adventurous” in the worst meaning of the word.

For now, América must also overcome injuries – striker and reigning Liga MX MVP Henry Martín is sidelined with fatigue from overuse, stalwart defender Sebastián Cáceres has a busted nose while playmaker Diego Valdés is battling a calf strain. Also, dangerman Jonathan Rodríguez’s knee injury will keep him out another 2-3 weeks.

New acquisition Julián Quiñones will be called upon to produce more up front while wingers Leo Suárez and Alejandro Zendejas must step up, and quickly. Goalie Luis Malagón will also be under pressure to pick up the slack for an occasionally leaky defense.

Which Chivas team will show up?

Guadalajara sits atop the Liga MX table with a 3-0-0 record but the Chivas looked woeful in the Leagues Cup, slinking back home after failing to escape the group stage.

“El Rebaño Sagrado” must regain last season’s mojo, which featured a stunning resurgence under first-year coach Veljko Paunovic that ended with a Finals appearance.

The Chivas were by far the most balanced team during the Clausura 2023, demonstrating efficiency moving forward on the counter and while sustaining possession, and also featuring a smothering press.

But things fell apart in the Leagues Cup and now one wonders which is the real Chivas? Was last season a mirage? A perfect storm? Or will the lack of a legitimate No. 9 hurt “los rojiblancos”?

Coach Paunovic reamed out the locker room after Leagues Cup elimination, citing a lack of teamwork and poor attitudes. How the players respond to the tongue-lashing will go a long way in determining whether or not Guadalajara can make another deep playoff run.

Injury-prone Alexis Vega must resume his playmaking role (but is he physically capable?) while fitting more effectively into the system and newcomer Erick Gutiérrez must take charge in midfield so that line mates Víctor “El Pocho” Guzmán and Fernando Beltrán can shine.

At the back, central defenders Antonio Briseño and Gilberto Sepúlveda must cut down on gaffes and goalie Miguel Jiménez must reprise his surprising star turn of last season.

Pumas must take a step forward

UNAM has missed out on the Liga MX postseason each of the past two seasons so the summer roster shake-up was not unexpected.

The Antonio Mohamed Era definitely shows promise (a late-season push – “El Turco” took the reins after Week 14 – fell 1 point short of the final wildcard spot) and the Pumas are undefeated this season, if only 1-2-0.

However, “los felinos” have too often experienced a glaring lack of concentration. Wasted opportunities in front of goal and sloppy defending have been frustratingly frequent in recent seasons. This team must find consistency and stop the in-game – as well as the game-to-game – yo-yoing that has cost them dearly.

Veteran front-liners Juan Ignacio Dinenno, Eduardo Salvio and Gustavo del Prete must get on the scoresheet with regularity and that will require greater attention to ball movement. This threesome tends to exhibit a reliance on one-on-one moves.

The Liga MX playoff field has been reduced from 12 to 8 for this season so the Pumas can’t afford to drop points like they did in Matchday 2 (a scoreless draw against lowly Mazatlán FC).

Whither goest Cruz Azul?

The less said about this hapless club the better. We’ve already detailed the front office dysfunction that appears to be leading the Cementeros toward irrelevance this season and next (and the one after that?).

Interim coach Joaquín Moreno has the unenviable task of rescuing a season off to a 0-0-3 start while piecing together a fractured locker room.

“La Máquina Azul” has shown little cohesion up front and a lack of ideas moving forward. Moreno might very well – and with reason – overhaul the line-up (a 5-man back line?) and adopt the strategy of limiting the damage from game-to-game.

Next. Jimmy Lozano gets El Tri job ... finally. dark

Cruz Azul will likely be reduced to chasing points here and there, with the modest goal of escaping the Liga MX basement. This will be a long, long season for Cementeros fans.