Liga MX preview: The five most intriguing storylines heading into the 2020 Clausura

Rogelio Funes Mori Monterrey
Julio Cesar Aguilar
Can Monterrey repeat? Is Chivas' transformation enough to get back in the title race? Goal looks at those topics and more ahead of Friday's kickoff

Liga MX is back this weekend, a dozen days after Monterrey topped America in penalty kicks to win the league title.

Neither finalist will be in action this weekend, with those teams given a brief reprieve. Veracruz won't be playing either, after the league's owners voted to remove the Tiburones Rojos because of a number of regulatory issues - chief amongst them not paying their players.

The rest of the league will be in action, though, with Santos Laguna's trip to meet Club Tijuana and Cruz Azul hosting Atlas at the Estadio Azteca headlining the Jornada 1 slate.

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Before getting too deep into week one, here are five of the biggest things to keep an eye on this season:

Hope in Guadalajara

Víctor Guzmán Antonio Briseño Venados vs Chivas

Chivas have struggled for the better part of the last decade, with a brief interlude for a Matias Almeyda-inspired double. The historic club, which fields only Mexican players, may be back on the right track after a busy offseason that saw new sporting director Ricardo Pelaez freshen things up with several exciting signings

El Tri forward Jose Juan Macias is back at the club after spending the last two tournaments with Leon. Victor Guzman arrived from Pachuca. Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez joined from Santos Laguna with winger Uriel Antuna arriving after a strong season on loan with the LA Galaxy. And at the back Cristian Calderon, Jose Maduena and Alexis Pena all shore up a unit that has struggled.

For fans of one of Mexico's most popular teams, it's refreshing to once again see the club spending like it's one of the league's powers. It may not be enough to bring another title to the Estadio Akron, but the expectation is to at least get back into the playoffs. If not, a new man will take Luis Fernando Tena's seat and see if he can't get the club over the line.

It's not just Chivas fans feeling good in Guadalajara. Atlas, which still plays in the historic Estadio Jalisco, was an active player in the winter market. Defender German Conti arrived from Benfica, attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta came in from D.C. United and heralded Chilean forward Ignacio Jeraldino signed with Atlas amid interest from several other Mexican teams. They also signed fullback Jose Abella from fellow Grupo Orlegi club Santos Laguna.

Those moves should help the Zorros' young core, with rising stars such as Ismael Govea, Jairo Torres, Jesus Angulo and goalkeeper Jose Hernandez all showing potential but needing more talent and experience around them to make a return to the Liguilla.

Grandes try to strike back

Federico Vinas Giovani dos Santos Club America

In addition to the aforementioned Chivas, Pumas and Cruz Azul both have struggled recently - a rare swoon for three of the four traditional 'grandes' - historically the most successful and best-supported clubs.

Pumas are betting on players familiar with Liga MX, signing former Monterrey defender Johan Vazquez, ex-America and Toluca midfielder Leonel Lopez and even bringing in Sebastian Saucedo from Real Salt Lake, though the California native also spent time with Veracruz. The moves aren't blockbusters, and it's a lot of faith for the club to put into a team that fell four points shy of the final postseason berth last time around.

Cruz Azul has been linked with a number of strong transfer targets but is yet to reel in a truly big fish. Defender Luis Romo and goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado both show promise for the future, but the present may be a more difficult proposition.

The most successful grande of late, Club America, also has to feel a bit like it's reeling. After it put one hand on the Liga MX trophy only to see it wrested away by Monterrey, Las Aguilas have to figure out how to get back to the final and win it this time around. While Guido Rodriguez may stay until the summer, his imminent exit from the club will create a void that will be difficult to fill. America also needs better contributions from attacking players like Nicolas Castillo and Giovani dos Santos, who was injured for much of the Apertura, if it's going to be in the title mix again.

That said, America's position looks like a privileged one when compared with the struggles of the other 'grandes'. 

Rayados ready to retain title

Monterrey lifted the trophy on Dec. 30, so it's perhaps no surprise it hasn't been active in the winter transfer market. There have been rumors about bringing in an established center back with Jose Maria Basanta's retirement. There also was the sale of Johan Vazquez to Pumas and Jonathan Urretaviscaya to Penarol, but otherwise Rayados mostly are rolling into the new season with the same group.

The confidence has to be high, however. Rayados are coming off a month in which it lost to Club World Cup champion Liverpool by a goal, then turned around and won the Liga MX title. Its midfield is full of promising Mexico internationals, the attack has Rogelio Funes Mori and Vincent Janssen both in form and the defense is a good mix of veteran savvy and rising talents.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but not only are Rayados a talented squad, they're also not in any other competitions this semester (unlike, see below, rivals Tigres). If Antonio Mohamed can keep the 'Mohamed magic' going he found in his return to the club, he could add more trophies to the case.

How will Tigres maintain two-tournament balance?

Tuca Ferretti Tigres 2019

Tigres never have won an international title. They've been close, making the Concacaf Champions League final three times but losing all three and also losing the 2015 Copa Libertadores final to River Plate. This is a team whose ambition is to be one of the best in the Americas, and at times they look like it. Yet, when it has come to international play, they're often falling just short.

That seems to bother Tigres' fans and directors. It does not seem to bother Tigres' coach, the legendary Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti.

He said this week that he puts more priority on winning Liga MX than the Concacaf Champions League, only for club president Miguel Angel Garza to come out and say that's not exactly where the priority lies.

"Ricardo's answer is his thought, but the goal of the institution is to go for two tournaments and he should have that clear, as should the players," Garza said.

Either way, there are questions about whether Tigres can even win one of the tournaments. Their roster is packed with talent, but an aging squad will need better injury luck than it had last tournament and also better performances from some of the younger members of the team, including Carlos Salcedo and Diego Reyes.

Where's the surprise team?

Every tournament sees a team in the playoffs nobody expected to be there. This year, both Necaxa and Morelia pushed into the semifinals while more historic clubs watched at home. Who will be the underdog making a run in the Clausura?

It feels unlikely either Necaxa or Morelia will repeat. Both have been raided by other teams, though Morelia brought in veteran Chilean national team player Jorge Valdivia, who could help.

Pachuca is one candidate, but new manager Paulo Pezzolano will have to prove himself in his first job outside Uruguay. Tijuana has history but also has a new manager and hasn't been able to lock down some of its winter transfer targets. 

Queretaro has continuity in the technical area, with Victor Vucetich staying on board. But there has been huge turnover in the squad with Ake Loba, Luis Romo and Javier Guemez among those making moves away from the Gallos Blancos this winter.

Santos Laguna is a team that should have a good tournament, but at this point can't be considered much of an underdog.

Toluca should be stronger this tournament after finishing ahead of just three teams in the Clausura, but it may be too soon for the Red Devils to make a jump all the way back into the postseason.

Of course, that's the fun of a new tournament. Everyone feels like they have a chance - and to some extent, they're right.