Rivals out to thwart Rayados repeat
© AFP

Monterrey coach Victor Manuel Vucetich is not known as 'King Midas' for nothing. At the end of last year the man with the golden touch won his fifth league title and his second with Los Rayados. With the Clausura 2011 set to begin tomorrow, Vucetich is now looking to become the first coach to secure back-to-back championships since 2004.

Previewing the new season, FIFA.com assesses his chances of taking Monterrey to the summit again and the hopes of the rest of the field.

The champions
Since taking charge of the reigning champions, Vucetich has turned them into a fearsomely effective unit, steering them to the title twice and to the top of the regular-season standings once in the last three campaigns.

Having made no changes in personnel since claiming the Apertura 2010, Los Rayados look to be as strong as ever. Goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco is one of Mexico's rising talents, while veterans Duilio Davino and Jose Maria Basanta have dovetailed to perfection with promising youngster Hiram Mier in defence.

In midfield internationals Luis Perez, Osvaldo Martinez, Walter Ayovi and Neri Cardozo should all figure prominently once more, and star striker Humberto Suazo will doubtless pose a threat up front, where he has forged a formidable partnership with the ever-improving Aldo de Nigris.

The other contenders
Mexican title races are usually close-run affairs and this one promises to be no different. Runners-up in the last two seasons, Santos Laguna head the pack of teams most likely to depose Monterrey, closely followed by big names Cruz Azul, America and Toluca and a clutch of less fabled sides looking to spring a surprise.

Hoping to land the crown for the first time since 2008, Ruben Omar Romano’s charges came up agonisingly short in the Bicentenario 2010 and again in the recently concluded Apertura. His squad looks well equipped to mount yet another compelling bid, however, with Oswaldo Sanchez between the posts, and Felipe Baloy, Juan Pablo Rodriguez and last season’s leading scorer Christian Benitez forming a powerful spine.

America should also be in the hunt, especially now that their star asset, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, has resisted the temptation to move to Europe, for the next six months at least. Meanwhile Cruz Azul have designs on finally ending their trophy curse, one that has seen their long-suffering fans go without success since 1997.

Among the other teams also in with a shout are a new-look Toluca, now without Jose Manuel de la Torre in charge. Pumas will look to build on the momentum that took them to the semi-finals last time out, and Guadalajara have high hopes that their seemingly inexhaustible supply of home-reared talent can take them into the play-offs after two failed attempts. And among the dark horses, Monarcas Morelia, Jaguars and Tigres all have the ability to launch an unexpected challenge.

Did you know?
One side will suffer relegation to the Liga de Ascenso, Mexico’s second tier, at the end of this season. Necaxa, Queretaro, Atlas and Atlante occupy the bottom four places in the percentages table, although all the teams up to San Luis in tenth are in danger of the dreaded drop.

Star signings
Once again Cruz Azul were the most active participants in the close-season transfer market. Aside from drafting in Hugo Droguett, Isaac Romo and Marcelo Palau, Los Cementeros also recruited Chilean defender Waldo Ponce from Spain’s Racing Santander. Not to be outdone, Tigres snapped up another Chile international in Hector Mancilla, who has twice finished top scorer in Mexico, and also added USA midfielder Jonathan Bornstein and the richly talented Brazilian Danilinho to their line-up.

Strangely, big guns America chose not to invest heavily, bringing in only the experienced Uruguayan Nicolas Olivera. Once again, Pumas and Guadalajara made no signings, in stark contrast to the main relegation candidates, with Necaxa drafting in ten new players, Queretaro and Puebla nine, Atlante eight, and Atlas seven.

Players to watch
Humberto Suazo and Christian Benitez, the headline acts of the recent Apertura, are sure to feature once more this term, along with fellow mainstays Guillermo Ochoa, Cristian Gimenez, Ariel Montenegro and Hector Mancilla. Perhaps enjoying a lower profile but no less effective for that are Aldo de Nigris, Jackson Martinez, Elias Hernandez and Angel Reyna.

The stat
6 - The number of teams who have appointed new coaches for the season ahead, none of whom managed to qualify for the play-offs in the Apertura 2010. The outfits in question are Queretaro, Estudiantes, Atlante, Atlas, Puebla and Toluca.

What they said
“Our objective is the same as it’s always been: to win the league again. To achieve that goal we’re banking on the professional approach of the players and quality they all possess. We have an extremely well-balanced squad and we have what it takes to meet the challenge ahead,” Victor Manuel Vucetich, Monterrey coach.