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Liga MX ramps up after short break

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Kyle McCarthy

Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter.

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Glory lasts only so long in Liga MX. Club León lifted the Mexican title at the Azteca in the middle of December. Its title defense starts in Cancún on Sunday. So much for the revelry between the Apertura and the Clausura.

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The brisk procession between tournaments leaves little time for successful clubs to alter their approaches. Players inevitably shift from one club to another on loan as an economical means of triage for sputtering outfits, but the major moves often take place in the summer. Not even Chivas has enough time to engage in a proper overhaul within the compressed time frame.

Substantive moves serve as the outliers. Pablo Aguilar (Tijuana to Club América), Felipe Baloy (Santos Laguna to Morelia), Omar Bravo (Atlas to Chivas), Marco Fabián (Chivas to Cruz Azul) and Duvier Riascos (Pachuca to Morelia) captured the headlines. The usual shuttling of players between clubs rounded out the squads of several laggards, while American fans took special notice when Cruz Azul swooped for MLS trio Rafael Baca, Michael Farfan and Jose Villarreal.

Most of the scrutiny fell on the alterations in the dugout after three major clubs changed their managers. Former Tijuana boss Antonio Mohamed replaced new Mexico manager Miguel Herrera at América. Mohamed's preference for a back four raises questions about how Las Águilas might evolve in time for the Clausura. Former Mexico number two Luis Fernando Tena stepped into the breach at Cruz Azul after Guillermo Vázquez departed. The decision to bring Fabián – one of his Olympic heroes two years ago – to Estadio Azul highlights the tension between the old guard and the new operating principles poised to emerge under Tena's direction. José Luis Real shuttled down from Carson to take charge in Guadalajara once more as Chivas attempts to steer clear of relegation. His steady hands supply some hope of a revival despite the underwhelming transfer activity at Estadio Omnilife during the close season.

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The impending shifts for those three clubs – plus the similar renovations ahead for Atlas (Tomas Boy is back for a third spell after the TV Azteca takeover) and Tijuana (César Farías takes charge after a successful spell with the Venezuelan national team) – illuminate the revamped landscape. Success or failure hinges on the ability to adapt to the circumstances ahead and move into a position to take advantage of them.

Consider the plight ahead for León, Morelia and Santos Laguna. All three sides figure to push for a place near the top of the table, but they must juggle the taxing demands of the Copa Libertadores in order to sustain their domestic success. Morelia must overcome Independiente Santa Fe in the first stage later this month to book its place in the group stage, but León and Santos do not possess a similar exit strategy. The prospect of playing six additional matches between February 12 and April 9 influences how those sides might fare against unencumbered opposition. Cruz Azul, Toluca and Tijuana face more limited obligations when the CONCACAF Champions League resumes in March, but they must compensate for their duties as well.

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Those obligations and the state of flux at América create further instability at the top of the table and provide openings for other sides to rise to the fore. Querétaro (under the tutelage of blossoming coach Ignacio Ambriz) and Tigres both made the Liguilla during the Apertura to lay the groundwork for better campaigns this time around. Other potential interlopers include Monterrey (perhaps a bit more grounded after the transition away from Victor Manuel Vucetich last semester), Pumas UNAM (presumably poised for a response after an insipid Apertura) and Veracruz (still recovering from a precipitous decline in form after a bright start) if everything falls into place.

Similar sentiments apply at the other end of the table with relegation looming at the end of this 17-game gauntlet. Five teams – Atlante (.94), Atlas (1.03), Puebla (1.08), Chiapas FC (1.08) and Chivas (1.12) – enter the Clausura in some danger of exiting through the trap door into Ascenso MX. Every endangered side bolstered its ranks during the close season in a bid to stave off the potentially crippling departure from the top flight.

Races at the top and the bottom of the table offer plenty of intrigue as the Clausura commences at Estadio Morelos on Friday night. The promise of further upheaval – no club has retained the title since Pumas achieved the feat a decade ago, after all – ensures the chase to depose León and grasp glory with both hands will provide its usual twists and turns along the way.

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