Mexican Primera, 2011 Clausura Preview: The Relegation Battlers

For those of you who are unaware, Mexico has a relegation system based on aggregate points, not based on who was the worst team during the current season. Argentina is the other country whose top division is well known for their points based relegation system. In La Primera, the team who has the worst average points to games ratio over the last six tournaments in the top flight. This means that teams who have just come up from the Liga de Ascenso are not penalized, and are judged only on their time in the top flight. 

Currently, it seems that all of the bottom four teams in the relegation coefficient standings have a good chance at getting relegated. The team in 14th, Jaguares, seem like a pretty safe bet to avoid the drop, despite losing Danilinho and Carlos Ochoa in the offseason. However, I'm going to drag 13th placed Estudiantes Tecos down into the relegation battle, as they were absolutely atrocious in the last tournament. If they match their point total from last tournament, or regress, which seems possible with Necaxa and Atlas improving, their coefficient would sit below 1.2 and they could conceivably be relegated.

Necaxa will be the bottom team to start the tournament, but they have also been the most aggressive in improving their side in the offseason. We'll start with them. Daniel Brailovsky, your boys have the floor.

Necaxa

Current Relegation Coefficient: 0.94

2010 Apertura Finish: 15th

A couple of seasons ago, Necaxa sold their superstar Hugo Rodallega to Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League. The move ended up hurting them considerably, as they were quickly relegated. They came right back up to the first division, but they didn't have a great time last season and find themselves as the bottom team in a relegation dogfight.

It's unfortunate, because Necaxa looked like a decent team who were going to stay up to start the season. They pulled off a lot of 1-1 draws against some very good teams and threw in the occasional win. Something like a 20 point season seemed like it was on the cards. Later in the season, Necaxa faltered as their lack of quality and depth showed. They finished on 16 points, making them the only team with a coefficient under 1. 

They have reacted in a proactive manner, though, signing a ton of new players for the Clausura campaign. The volume of solid players they have added is truly immense for a relegation fighter. Fernando Salazar and Pierre Ibarra should sure up an already respectable defense, Cristian Suarez, Sergio Blanco, and Ulises Medivil will assist an overworked Dario Gandin in attack, and Luis Alonso Sandoval and Jose Antonio Castro will add some much needed quality out wide.

Necaxa have a large hole to dig themselves out of, but their large volume of quality winter signings should help them to some points this season. Will it be enough? Only time will tell.

Queretaro

Current Relegation Coefficient: 1.14

2010 Apertura Finish: 14th

Queretaro's league finish from last season might not instantly get anyone worried about relegation, but their defensive record was absolutely atrocious. Their 28 goals allowed was the second worst in the league, their ineptness at the back only outdone by Tecos. 

They have made strides in that department, signing three players to help bolster their defense. Efrain Cortes is a veteran defender with experience in South American continental competitions and well over 100 matches domestically in Colombia, and all indications are that he will be an upgrade. Juan Antonio Ocampo has arrived from Chivas de Guadalajara, but he never made an impact there and it's unknown whether or not the 21 year old can help Queretaro right away. Their last defensive signing is more of a sure thing, left back Ismael de Jesus Rodriguez. The former Monterrey and Club America fixture should provide an instant upgrade on the left.

However, there is a bigger story here, and he was already mentioned in the Necaxa section. Top scorer Sergio Blanco has not only left Queretaro, but gone to their biggest relegation rivals. The man who has been brought in to replace him is Uruguayan international Carlos Bueno, who has a decent chance at replacing Blanco's output. He's untested in Mexico, but based on his experiences in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Spain, as well as at the international level, he should be able to contribute. Another new siging, Colombian forward Jairo Castillo, could also pick up some of the slack, but at 33 years old his best days are behind him.

Queretaro has also added to their midfield, bringing in a couple of two way players in Gabino Velasco and Raul Ferro. Ferro has been applying his trade in Uruguay, where he won multiple titles with Danubio. He is both the more polished and more attack minded of the two, with Velasco being a young player who is a more defensive minded midfielder.

Like Necaxa, the question is, will it be enough? Queretaro has added, but it's not certain whether the defensive additions will be good enough and if Sergio Blanco's output will be adequately replaced by Carlos Bueno.

Atlas

Current Relegation Coefficient: 1.15

2010 Apertura Finish: 18th

The days when a young Rafael Marquez led Atlas to a league final seem so far away. Mexican national team fixture Andres Guardado wore the shirt as recently as 2007 and the team had a solid 2008 Apertura tournament, but it's been mostly disappointment since then for Atlas. This team, hailing from Guadalajara, has some very vocal support despite their lack of a championship for 60 years and they have made aggressive moves in an attempt to avoid the drop.

Atlas have added an incredible eight new players to their first team, some of them very high profile names for a club of their current stature. The one that jumps off the page at me is Miguel Pinto, a Chilean international goalkeeper who excelled at the 2010 Copa Libertadores for La U, Universidad de Chile. Though Jose Fransisco Canales wears the No. 1 shirt, Pinto should step in instantly and provide a huge boost to the Atlas defense.

Also boosting the defense will be Colombian Wilman Conde, formerly of the Chicago Fire. Conde was mediocre for much of last year in MLS, but that could have been due to his mind being in another place. The previous two seasons, Conde was one of Major League Soccer's top defenders. After Pinto and Conde, the other six signings were all about goals, as they should have been. Atlas only found the back of the net 18 times last season, with seven of those goals coming from Alfredo Moreno. He needed a bit of help.

Attacking midfielders Elias and Lucio Flavio are expected to provide some more creativity, while Carlo Costly and Daniel Arreola add some depth at the striker position. Emanuel Centurion will provide some width on the left hand side, while Lucas Ayala will give them a more balanced midfield option.

All in all, Atlas seem poised to avoid the drop with their signings. Pinto will save plenty of points on his own, and Lucio Flavio might prove to be the one of the most important signings in Mexico this season.

Atlante

Current Relegation Coefficient: 1.16

2010 Apertura Finish: 16th

Though they have a pretty large jump on Necaxa in the coefficients, Atlante seems to be the team out of the bottom four that is losing the arms race. They've made four decent signings, but they don't look nearly as improved as Necaxa or Atlas, and Queretaro should probably be better than them as well. Their solid 2008 Apertura is keeping them alive at this point, they were certainly worse than both Necaxa and Queretaro in the last tournament. Their signings could provide a major boost, but none of them looks like a sure thing.

The biggest name that has come to Atlante this offseason is Francisco "Kikin" Fonseca, who I assumed died sometime around 2007. Once one of the top scorers in Mexico and an emerging star on the national team, Kikin's career fell off of a cliff around the time he joined Benfica in 2006. He did next to nothing with the Portuguese club, was not called up for the 2007 Copa America, and was a disappointment for most of his time with Tigres after returning to Mexico. Atlante have taken a flier on him and it remains to be seen whether or not he can regain anything resembling his old form, now at 31 years old.

Their other signings are hardly flashy. Giancarlo Maldonado and Mario Ortiz might provide top scorer Johan Fano with some help up top, but I wouldn't count on it. Diego Ordaz should help Atlante's defense quite a bit, but I think they need a lot more than him to be competitive.

Could Atlante be the relegation favorites? I think they'll be the worst of the four teams currently listed, but they have a solid cushion on Necaxa. However, the worst is yet to come...

Estudiantes Tecos

Current Relegation Coefficient: 1.22

2010 Apertura Finish: 17th

Right now, the difference between Tecos and Necaxa is very large as far as relegation coefficients go, but based on how much Necaxa has improved and how bad Tecos is, they had to go in this category. What was I going to do, call them a Liguilla contender? This Tecos team was jaw-droppingly poor in the last tournament and have added absolutely no one. A 10 point season is realistic and 15 point season should be expected with all of the teams around them improving rapidly. Any win should be considered an upset. Any draw is a point well earned. They're not completely devoid of quality, but they're certainly the least talented team in Mexico right now.

In the last tournament, they conceded 36 goals in 17 games. That defensive record was the worst in the league and a full eight goals worse than their nearest competitor. They have done nothing to address this problem.

So, is it a serious longshot for Tecos to get relegated? Yes. But it's certainly not impossible. At the very least, they will be in incredibly deep trouble next season when their two 25 point tallies from the 2008 Apertura and 2009 Clausura disappear and they're left with a 20, 19, 15, and their point total from this tournament on their coefficient. They are heavy favorites for last place in this tournament, even if it doesn't quite get them relegated.

Predictions

Disclaimer: I have not gone through match by match. I apologize if I come up with a point total for all 18 teams that is impossible, but it should be pretty close to something that works out mathematically. 

Necaxa: 23 points

Queretaro: 19 points

Atlas: 20 points

Atlante: 15 points

Estudiantes Tecos: 12 points

Relegation Coefficients After 2011 Clausura

Necaxa: 1.147

Queretaro: 1.132

Atlas: 1.157

Atlante: 1.118

Estudiantes Tecos: 1.137

Relegated: Atlante

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