Headlining the upcoming Liga MX weekend, two marquee crosstown rivalry games will kick-off this Saturday: The Clasico Regio in Monterrey and Clasico Joven in Mexico City.
Beginning with Monterrey vs. Tigres in the Clasico Regio, expect an abundance of fanfare in a packed Estadio BBVA Bancomer that will host some of the most passionate supporters in Mexican soccer. On the pitch, big spending from both sides has made the rivalry a talent-heavy spectacle that is set to feature many of the top marquee players in the league.
Later on Saturday, in Mexico City's Clasico Joven, Club America vs. Cruz Azul represents a captivating battle between two of the traditional sides in Liga MX. While Club America looms large with more titles (13) than any other team in the country, the formerly "cursed" Cruz Azul won their first league crown since 1997 when they lifted the 2021 Clausura trophy.
With bragging rights up for grabs (as well as possible playoff positioning), here's where all four teams stand ahead of Saturday's highly-anticipated rivalry matches.
Standing: 2nd place, 6W-2D-1L
How their season has gone: Once frustrating to watch with their indecisive moments in the final third, Monterrey are now playing with a newfound confidence as they've scored 20 goals in their first nine matches of the 2022 Apertura. Their secret? Bringing back former manager Victor Manuel Vucetich, who previously led the team to two Liga MX titles and three CONCACAF Champions League trophies during his first stint with the organization in 2009-13.
A decade later, Vucetich, at times referred to as "King Midas" for his previous successes, continues to have a bit of his magical managerial touch after being brought back this spring. Three days before hosting Tigres in the Clasico Regio, Monterrey extended their undefeated streak to eight games after earning a 1-1 Week 9 draw with first place Toluca.
Who they have relied on: The case could be made for Arturo "Ponchito" Gonzalez as the Liga MX MVP, so far. Aside from his playmaking through five assists, the 27-year-old Mexican midfielder has also chipped in with four goals to his name. Elsewhere, others such as forward Rodrigo Aguirre and attacking midfielder Maxi Meza are influential pieces of Monterrey's attacking puzzle.
If fully fit after suffering a small knock against Toluca, striker Rogelio Funes Mori is someone who is due for a game-changing appearance. Since starting the Apertura with four goals in four games, he has gone quiet in his previous five matches. A stunning goal against Toluca this week, unluckily ruled offside, could be a sign of things to come.
Who needs to step up: At the risk of bothering an untold number of Mexico national team fans who want to move past him, Rodolfo Pizarro is an easy answer here. Quickly losing relevance with El Tri and typically far too quiet for his club side, the midfielder could benefit greatly from a headline-stealing performance. Even with a few fairly lackluster games under his belt, Pizarro has earned plenty of appearances in recent weeks for Monterrey, likely meaning he'll at least have a cameo this Saturday.
If Pizarro improves, then he could be seen as a replacement on Mexico's World Cup squad for the injured Jesus Corona, who is now expected to miss the trip to Qatar.
Standing: 3rd place, 6W-0D-2L
How their season has gone: It hasn't been a bad first half of the season for manager Miguel "Piojo" Herrera. Despite shooting themselves in the foot constantly with six red cards in their last seven games, Tigres have somehow secured six wins during that run.
Well-balanced with plenty of depth across the squad, Herrera's backline will be even more resilient going forward with the addition of defender Samir Caetano from Watford last week. That said, it's probably unlikely the Brazilian will feature this weekend.
Either way, Tigres' roster will have the noteworthy advantage of not having a mid-week game before Saturday's match.
Who they have relied on: Unsurprisingly, club legend Andre-Pierre Gignac has once again led the frontline with his three goals and two assists in eight appearances. Mexican midfielder Sebastian Cordova has quietly had a good start to the season, as has goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman. Fullback Javier Aquino has been active, on either flank, and is a vital source of countless build-up passes in the opposition's half of the pitch.
The central defensive partnership between Diego Reyes and Igor Lichnovsky doesn't immediately stand out, but has provided stability. Assuming Herrera doesn't try to catch Monterrey off-guard with unexpected changes -- which is perhaps asking too much of the occasionally spontaneous and impulsive coach -- both players should be reliable options in front of Guzman.
Who needs to step up: Winger Luis Quiñones scored in Tigres' latest 2-0 win over Santos Laguna, but that probably won't be enough to win over supporters who have questioned the inconsistencies of the Liga MX All-Star. With the imposing depth that Tigres have, someone like Quiñones can't afford to be unreliable in such a crucial position.
In general for Tigres, Herrera's players also need to do a better job of avoiding red cards. One or two decisions for the cards have been questionable, but it remains a worrisome trend for the team that is close to averaging a suspension every game.
Standing: 5th place, 4W-1D-3L
How their season has gone: After a poor start to a Apertura season, Las Aguilas are now gaining ground with three consecutive victories. Through a combination of impactful new signings and familiar faces, manager Fernando Ortiz and his squad have finally found chemistry this month and will be sprinting into the Estadio Azteca with high morale.
They won't be taking this Clasico lightly either. After a 3-0 away win over Pachuca on Wednesday, Club America's manager had this to say about the way they are perceiving their encounter with Cruz Azul: "On Saturday, we have a final."
Who they have relied on: Since the start of Club America's rejuvenation near the midpoint of the regular season, various names come to mind. Young Mexican defender Emilio Lara has looked like he could be the next great talent from their academy. In the midfield, Alejandro Zendejas, Richard Sanchez and Diego Valdes are all worthy of recognition for their distribution and control in the heart of the XI.
Recent addition Jonathan "Cabecita" Rodriguez, who played for Cruz Azul from 2019-21 before a short stint at Al-Nassr, is also starting to click in the frontline with two goals this month.
Nonetheless, striker Henry Martin should be given immense credit as the focal point of the team's attacking efforts. The forward -- often the object of much ire from El Tri supporters -- now has five goals and two assists in just his last four games. Few players in Liga MX, if any, have the same momentum as the Mexican goalscorer. If he keeps this up, it's likely he will be bound for Qatar.
Who needs to step up: Speaking of the national team, El Tri newcomer Salvador Reyes should be desperate to make a splash this weekend. Reportedly dealing with ongoing injury issues, the 24-year-old fullback has yet to earn a start this season for Club America. He's made two second-half substitutions over the last few games, showing that he's at least healthy enough to be back on the pitch.
With others making their way past him on the depth chart for club and country, Reyes should use this high-profile match as an opportunity to steal back the spotlight.
Standing: 16th place, 2W-2D-5L
How their season has gone: Things could be better for Cruz Azul. In a reverse scenario from Club America's situation, they are on a three-game losing streak ahead of the big game. It's become clear that the team hasn't adjusted to the tactics of new manager Diego Aguirre, and after stepping into his role in late May, the coach has struggled with organizing his squad that has turned into a defensive mess.
On Wednesday, a dismal 2-1 loss at home to Club Tijuana was a big blow to Cruz Azul's playoff chances. While Club America are picking up speed, Cruz Azul are dropping like a cement stone with nine goals allowed in their previous three appearances.
Who they have relied on: At first, Cruz Azul were carried by goals from promising striker Santiago Gimenez, but he's now in the Eredivisie with Feyenoord. Looking around the roster, Jose Ignacio Rivero is worthy of a shout and is someone who tirelessly works in the midfield and defense for Cruz Azul. Midfielder Carlos Rodriguez is also a vital facilitator with the ball, but with Gimenez out of the picture, he hasn't been able to create the same connection with replacement strikers.
While the backline remains disorganized, fullback/central defender Juan Escobar has provided a handful of good individual performances for Cruz Azul. At his best, he could possibly help avoid a disaster against Club America.
Who needs to step up: Goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado has to be at the top of his game this Saturday. Although it's not entirely his fault that Los Cementeros have allowed a league-worst total of 18 goals all season, more is still expected of the 24-year-old that has had his own share of errors in net. An unfinished product, the Mexican goalkeeper has a high ceiling with his talents but also has issues with being able to provide consistently good showings.
The difference between Cruz Azul being competitive, or perhaps even gaining a surprising result, could land on the shoulders (and hands) of Jurado.