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The Impact of Foreign Players on Liga MX

 

With the opening matches of the 2020/21 Liga MX season scheduled for this weekend, Stats Perform has taken the opportunity to take a closer look at the impact of foreign players on the competition during the past 10 years.

 

By: Federico Camblor

Following the cancellation of the 2020 Clausura in April, with seven matches still to play in the regular season, Mexican fans can finally look forward to the return of Liga MX this week.

Over the course of the past decade, the Mexican top flight has seen a growing number of players from abroad having a major influence on the fortunes of some of the country’s leading clubs, particularly when it comes to putting the ball into the back of the net.  Since the start of the 2011 Apertura, nearly six out of ten goals scored in Liga MX have been scored by foreign players.

As we look ahead to the return of on-field action, we dig into the numbers to highlight some of the standout players who have had a major impact since moving to Mexico, in addition to highlighting what to expect from the 2020/21 Liga MX campaign.

The Mexicans Standing Alone in the Scoring Charts

Since the start of the 2011 Apertura, Liga MX stalwart Oribe Peralta has scored more goals in the competition than any other player. However he is the only Mexican player in the league’s top ten.

Amongst the top ten scorers, he ranks seventh in relation to goals scored per game.

Despite scoring more goals than any other player, Peralta has never won the ‘Campeón de Goleo’, which is awarded to the top goalscorer in any Apertura or Clausura season, during this period. Only one Mexican player, Alan Pulido, has finished as one of the competition’s leading scorers since 2011 Apertura.

These numbers can be partially explained by the number of players from abroad who are now gracing Liga MX. Since that start of that 2011 Apertura season, 1649 players have made at least one top-flight appearance, with only 57% of them hailing from Mexico.

These numbers carry even more significance when you consider that Chivas, one of the biggest teams in the country, have a policy of fielding only Mexican players. The three teams who have fielded the highest proportion of foreign players, Juárez, Tijuana and Atlético San Luis, were all founded during the 21st Century and are relative newcomers to top flight Mexican football, having all made their Liga MX bow during the last 10 years.

Liga MX’s Record Breaking Frenchman

In the past, foreign players of the stature of Bebeto, Eusebio, Ronaldinho, Emilio Butragueño, Iván Zamorano, Claudio López, Bernd Schuster and Pep Guardiola have all graced the Mexican top flight.

Both Schuster and Guardiola came over from Europe when they were in their mid-to-late 30s, as they approached the latter stages of their career. However in the past decade we have seen a marked increase in the number of elite players, still at the peak of their powers, travelling across the Atlantic to play their club football in Mexico. André-Pierre Gignac, Keisuke Honda and Jérémy Ménez are just three examples of players who have made the move, having left Marseille, Milan and Antalyaspor respectively.

Undoubtedly, of all the overseas places to grace Liga MX during the past decade, the greatest success story is Gignac. The Frenchman signed for Tigres five years ago and has already become the club’s all-time top scorer, netting 126 goals in all competitions.

Since Gignac joined in June 2015, the club has gone on to win four league titles: Apertura 2015, Apertura 2016, Apertura 2017 and Clausura 2019, increasing their historical title count to seven.

The Frenchman’s average number of goals per game, 0.6, is also the highest amongst the league’s top ten goalscorers from July 2011 to the present day.

As well as converting chances, Gignac has also provided 27 assists since joining Tigres, meaning he has either netted or assisted once every 122 minutes during his Liga MX career.

Gignac’s most prolific season came during the 2017 Clausura when he scored 14 times, with none of his goals coming from the penalty spot. The quality of his finishing is highlighted by the way he surpassed his expected goals output by over five, the highest differential of any player in the league that campaign.

The Emerging Uruguayan Starlet

Before the 2020 Clausura was suspended, two players hailing from Uruguay had enjoyed a hand in more goals than any other players in the competition: established international Jonathan Rodríguez and emerging prospect Leonardo Fernández.

Of these two, it was the 21-year-old attacking midfielder, who spent the campaign on-loan at Toluca from Tigres, who caught the eye. Excluding penalties, he scored seven goals, which was more than double his xG output.

As highlighted by his shot map below, he had a tendency to shoot from distance but only scored twice from outside the box. As his career develops, it will be interesting to see if his shooting tendencies change or whether he will continue to try his luck from long range going into the new campaign.

After showing his potential on loan in Los Diablos Rojos, Tigres have elected to keep Fernandez in their squad for 2020/21. If he can break into the first team and develop an understanding with Gignac, Tigres could possess once of the most dangerous forward lines in Liga MX this season.

The Keepers Tasked With Keeping the Foreign Stars at Bay

Whilst players from abroad were responsible for the most goals scored during the 2020 Clausura, it was a different story at the other end of the field, with a number of the stand-out goalkeepers hailing from Mexico.

Based on our expected goals on shots on target model (xGOT), where we can predict how many goals the average goalkeeper would be expected to concede, given the quality of the shot location (xG) and the end goalmouth location of the shot, América’s veteran stopper Guillermo Ochoa prevented the nearly five goals during Clausura 2020.

After nearly a decade in Europe, Ochoa returned to Liga MX last August and during ten Clausura appearances, the 35-year-old conceded 11 goals from 57 shots on target faced, worth a combined xGOT of 15.7.

Fellow veteran Alfredo Talavera also ranked highly for goals prevented during the curtailed campaign, with Alfredo Saldívar, who recently moved to Toluca, making it three Mexican stoppers in the league’s top five.

Will Goals Reign Supreme on Resumption?

Although Ochoa, Talavera and Saldívar helped prevent a number of goals for their clubs, the stats suggest that fans can look forward to plenty of goalmouth action once the competition resumes.

Based on total games played since 2015, Liga MX has averaged over 2.7 goals per game. Of all the major leagues in Central and South America, only the Chilean First Division has seen a higher goals average.

Liga MX also compares favourably with the big-five European leagues, with its goal average similar to that seen in the English Premier League and higher than both LaLiga and Ligue 1.

With the European leagues being back in action for well over a month now, and the MLS is Back Tournament approaching its knockout stages, Mexican fans have had to wait a little longer to see the stars of Liga MX back in action.

Let’s hope that Gignac, Fernández and the rest of the league’s key performers, from both home and abroad, can reward their patience with some standout performances in the weeks ahead.