Liga MX Statistical Standouts: The Teams, Players and Trends to Watch
Four months after a ball was last kicked, Liga MX returns on Thursday for the first half of the 2020-21 season, which will carry the name of the Torneo Guard1anes in honour of the effort and sacrifice of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico. Here are some teams, players and trends that stand out in the data as ones to keep an eye on.
This article is also available in Spanish.
Over and Under-Performing Teams
2019-20 Apertura champions Monterrey performed terribly in the Clausura prior to its premature end in March. They had lost five and drawn five and were yet to record a victory. But the underlying numbers suggest there was little to be unduly concerned about. Antonio Mohamed’s team found themselves in the rather unique situation of combining the league’s best non-penalty expected goal (xG) difference with its worst non-penalty goal difference.
Over time, those kinds of things tend to even themselves out, and that is just as true the other way around. Over the full course of the 2019-20 season, no team outperformed their xG difference to the extent that Necaxa did, but even they started to drift back towards their underlying numbers during the Clausura.
That should be of concern to teams like Puebla and Pumas. Both were in the playoff hunt during the aborted Clausura but had some of the league’s worst underlying numbers.
León: The Throughball Masters
On an outright basis, León had the best attack in Liga MX last season, and their expected goals tally was also up there with the league’s best. Yet their attack functioned very differently to those of the other high-scoring teams. They took a below league-average number of shots, but their average chance quality was far and away the best in the division.
A look at their shot map provides us with a good idea as to why. See all those triangles? Those are shots from throughballs.
Let’s separate them out.
That is a lot of throughball shots -- 11 more than any other side, and almost twice as many on a proportional basis. Over 20% of León’s xG and goals came from them. Throughballs produce some of the highest quality chances in the game, and León create a ton of them.
On an individual basis, the league’s top two throughball providers and four of the top five play for Léon: Luis Montes, Joel Campbell, Fernando Navarro and Pedro Aquino. You’ll also find Ángel Mena and Leonardo Ramos inside the top 15.
So if you like yourself a good throughball, León are clearly the team to watch. On the opposite end of the scale, Chivas were the only team not to score a single goal from a throughball last season.
Last week, we had a look at the most lopsided attacks across the major European leagues, and the same general trends we saw there hold in Liga MX. Teams take a marginally higher percentage of their shots, generate a marginally higher percentage of their xG and score a marginally higher percentage of their goals from the left than the right. As in the major European leagues, shots from the centre account for around 75% of the goals.
In the 2019-20 season, Puebla were the team with the biggest swing to one side in terms of the proportion of shots from the left and right that were taken from each side. They took 59.42% of those shots from the left:
In terms of goals, no team were as lopsided as Necaxa, who scored nearly a quarter of their goals from the right, but only 5.66% from the left.
This graphic shows how each team’s proportion of defensive actions, including StatsBomb’s exclusive pressure data, to opposition passes compares with the league average in each of six vertical zones. The red tones indicate that the team completed an above-average proportion of defensive actions in that zone.
Through this, we can identify groupings of teams with similar defensive styles. If you like proactive teams that defend high up the pitch then Monterrey, Pumas or Santos Laguna might be to your liking. If teams who primarily defend in their own defensive third are your thing then Chivas, Juárez or Toluca might be the ticket. If you’re looking for ones who are pretty much averagely proactive all across the pitch there is always León or Tigres.
There is a style for every taste.
Talented Young Forwards
There were five young forwards, aged 21 or under, who saw at least 900 minutes of action over the course of the truncated 2019-20 season. In order of their combined expected goals and expected goals assisted contribution per 90 minutes, lowest to highest: Diego Abella (Puebla), Germán Berterame (San Luis), José Macías (León/Chivas), Adrián Lozano (Santos Laguna) and Federico Viñas (América).
The top two, Lozano and Viñas, have quite different profiles. Lozano is a creator who also posts up solid shot volume; Viñas is an out and out, penalty box centre-forward.
Viñas over-performed his xG tally through the 2019-20 season, converting him into the highest scorer, on a per 90 basis, in the league amongst all players who played at least 900 minutes. But even his xG figure was the second best in the league on that basis.
Macías is an interesting case. He put up solid numbers at León in the first half of the season (his goal tally was significantly inflated by the five penalties he converted) but then really kicked things up a notch upon returning to his parent club Chivas in January. The question now is if he can maintain that output over a larger sample size.
One and Two-Footed Players
One of the unique features of the StatsBomb data set is that we record the foot with which each pass is played. Over a period of time that allows us to look at which players are the most and least two-footed.
During the 2019-20 season, the Pachuca central defender Óscar Murillo was the the most two-footed player in Liga MX. He attempted 49% of his passes with his left foot and 51% with his right.
Leonardo Ramos of León and Puebla’s Abella were next up.
But who was the least ambidextrous player? Jaime Gómez of Querétaro, who attempted 97% of his passes with his right foot. His teammate Ayron del Valle and León’s Miguel Herrera (now of Pachuca) showed similar skews to their favoured feet.
More Stats of Interest
If dribblers are your thing, Querétaro were the team to watch last season. Jeison Lucumí and Fabián Castillo were the top two in Liga MX in terms of both attempted and completed dribbles.
Fernando Gorriarán had the dubious honour of taking the highest number of shots without scoring (46) in Liga MX last season, but the Santos Laguna midfielder was also one of the most defensively active players in the league. Only Luis Quiñones of Tigres and León’s Aquino got through more combined interceptions, pressures and tackles than the Uruguayan on a possession-adjusted basis.
Rodrigo Noya didn’t react well to being pressed last season. The pass completion rate of the Nexaca central defender dropped from 81% in all situations to 57% when he was put under pressure -- a drop of 26 percentage points than was the highest in the league amongst all outfield players who attempted at least 20 passes per 90.
Finally, it was quite clear which teams did the best job of generating chances and goals from set pieces in the 2019-20 season. Cruz Azul, Monterrey, Pumas and Santos Laguna filled the top four places in terms of both set piece xG and set piece goals.