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 By Tom Marshall

Herrera's return to America, Honda's impact among Apertura 2017 talking points

It's been a hectic summer for the Mexican national team, which on Thursday will play its 15th game in the last 54 days, but as the Gold Cup reaches its crescendo, Liga MX's Apertura is set to get going, with the opening games on Friday. 

Here are ten talking points heading into the season: 

Top two title challengers hail from the north 

If you were to put down money on a team to win the Apertura 2017, you'd go with one of Nuevo Leon rivals Monterrey or Tigres.

Tigres will be rejuvenated by the break and full preseason and although the loss of recent Argentina international Guido Pizarro will be felt, the signings of Enner Valencia, Mateus Uribe and, potentially, Chilean international Gary Medel will make up for it. 

Over at Monterrey, incoming Aviles Hurtado, as well as the exit of polemic Edwin Cardona, promises much. The trio of Hurtado, Dorlan Pabon and Rogelio Funes Mori will provide an explosive counter-attacking forward unit in line with the type coach Antonio Mohamed has previously had success with.

Holders Chivas may struggle

Chivas have retained Matias Almeyda, but not much else has gone right for them this summer. The injury to striker Alan Pulido is a severe blow and the club has not made a single signing. 

But that doesn't mean Chivas won't be a team to watch out for. Youngsters from the club's youth system will get opportunities and Almeyda is on record as saying his ideal is to produce a team exclusively made up of players from the youth system. 

9/9 rule coming in 

Liga MX has turned the 10/8 rule to a 9/9 one. That means nine players in each match day squad will have to be homegrown -- read Mexican in the vast majority of cases. 

The rule -- introduced one year ago -- is a controversial one. Players and Mexico national team coach Juan Carlos Osorio have come out against it, arguing that young Mexicans aren't getting enough opportunities. 

But regardless of the rules, the clubs themselves decide which players to sign and field. And it is a huge irony that many have invested heavily in youth systems only to not trust the talent coming through, although clubs like Chivas, Pachuca and Santos Laguna are exceptions. 

Can Japanese star Honda impact Liga MX?

It is rare for a player from Asia to sign for a Liga MX side and Keisuke Honda is no ordinary signing. In Japan, former AC Milan forward Honda is a bona fide star and Pachuca signing him will bring new eyes on the league.

Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda
Keisuke Honda has scored 36 times for the Japanese national team and will look to restore his name after a poor spell at Milan.

The big question, however, is how Honda can adapt. Pachuca will hope Honda can replicate what France striker Andre-Pierre Gignac has done at Tigres and if he can get anywhere near that, it'll be a significant boost to the league as a whole.

It helps that Honda is joining a club with genuine title aspirations. 

Liga MX to get serious about GK chant? 

A clause replicating FIFA's indications about suspending the game for discriminatory behavior has been garnering attention in Mexico. Liga MX sent out a statement saying it has actually been in place since the 2014-15 season, but in the face of increased global scrutiny about the goalkeeper chant used by Mexico fans, the possibility of league games being suspended is there. 

In reality, almost all Liga MX games would end up being suspended if the officials acted and they are unlikely to rock the boat. 

Rodriguez, Bou, Valencia pick of new signings

Aside from Honda, there have been a number of big signings in Liga MX this summer. Club America bringing in Argentine international Guido Rodriguez from Tijuana fills a hole in that team and may just turn out to be the smartest piece of business this transfer window. 

Of the incomers from abroad, Enner Valencia already knows Liga MX and will improve Tigres up front, while Tijuana's new Argentine Gustavo Bou has the potential to fight for the scoring title.

How will Jemez do at Cruz Azul?

It's the second season for Spaniard Paco Jemez at Cruz Azul and after a debut campaign full of criticism and pressure, La Maquina will need to make the playoffs this time around. 

Young striker Felipe Mora arrives after leading the scoring chart in Chile's Clausura 2017 and should provide the solution to some abysmal finishing from the Mexico City team last time out. 

Herrera back at Club America

Miguel Herrera is known as one of the biggest characters in Mexican football.
Miguel Herrera won a title with America in 2013 and will look to restore Las Aguilas to glory.

When you bring in Miguel "Piojo" Herrera, you are not just bringing in a coach. You get a personality, an entertainer and someone who will garner attention. Mesh that with Club America and it should be a lot of fun to see how Las Aguilas and Herrera get on this Apertura. 

The club has been remarkably consistent of late in reaching the playoffs and Herrera will be charged with getting America back ahead of Chivas in terms of the number of all-time titles. Both currently sit on 12. 

The relegation candidates 

One team is set for the drop next May, with Mexico's relegation system worked out on an average points-per-game ratio over the last six seasons. Newcomers Lobos BUAP have a limited budget and will be favorite to go down, with Veracruz, Atlas, Queretaro, Cruz Azul, Puebla, Santos Laguna and Necaxa all looking over their shoulders. 

More upheaval on the horizon? 

Things can change quickly in Liga MX and there are some issues that may become clearer during the Apertura. The prospect of an independent players' union led by Atlas' Rafa Marquez is ongoing, while a change of the relegation system is a possibility, as well as the much talked about potential MLS/Liga MX cup competition. Stay tuned. 

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.


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