Toluca, Paco Jemez and Necaxa: 10 Liga MX storylines to watch in 2017

After a short winter break, Mexico's top flight returns this Friday with the start of the 2017 Clausura.

Here are 10 storylines to keep an eye on when the tournament begins on Jan. 6:

1. Will Sambueza lead Toluca to centennial success?

Los Diablos Rojos are clearly aiming for a memorable year.

Late last month, Toluca made headlines after announcing that Rubens Sambueza would be joining the roster. The Liga MX star, who had been a key player for Club America since 2012, will now don a Diablos Rojos jersey during the team's 100-year anniversary.

Along with a renovated Estadio Nemesio Diez that is nearly finished and ready for the Clausura, Toluca fans have plenty to be excited about over the next few months.

2. What effect will the Copa Libertadores absence have?

No Liga MX clubs will be fighting for a Libertadores title in 2017.

Due to scheduling conflicts with the new format of the South American tournament, Mexican teams will only have a CONCACAF Champions League title to chase outside of the country.

Once an intriguing competition to watch on the side of regular league play, many fans are now left wondering if the lack of Libertadores matches will make the upcoming year feel less exciting than usual. However, there is also the strong possibility that a new tournament with Major League Soccer could eventually fill the void.

3. Will Marchesin help America win a title?

Agustin Marchesin, who arguably became the best goalkeeper in Liga MX with Santos Laguna, will feature between the posts for Club America this year.

Following the transfers of Moises Munoz and Hugo Gonzalez off Las Aguilas' roster, the 28-year-old Argentine is now the undisputed starting option in net for America. With his incredible reflexes, Marchesin could be the driving force behind a championship in the Clausura.

4. Who will be relegated?

Morelia, Veracruz and Chiapas are unwillingly leading the relegation race.

Although others like Puebla and Cruz Azul have the potential to sneak into the mix, at the moment, one of the three aforementioned clubs almost have a spot in the Ascenso.

Unfortunately for Morelia, Los Canarios are currently the squad that is most likely to go down. Thanks to poor runs during the past five campaigns, Morelia will need to gain as many points as possible in the next competition.

5. Is Jemez what the doctor ordered for Cruz Azul?

In late November, Cruz Azul announced that Francisco "Paco" Jemez Martin would be taking charge of the roster.

The 46-year-old, who has spent his entire managerial career coaching in Spain, will be a welcome source of new ideas for a Mexico City side that has looked fairly uninteresting during the past couple of years.

The big question now is if Jemez's tactics will be enough to help Cruz Azul gain a league title for the first time since 1997.

6. Is Pizarro the missing piece in Chivas' puzzle?

Much has been made about Chivas' newfound energy under the management of Matias Almeyda.

Los Rojiblancos have thrived with Almeyda's attractive attacks, but the coach has yet to win a Liga MX championship.

Rodolfo Pizarro, who was brought into the roster last month, could be the difference-maker for a squad that has appeared just one or two noteworthy players away from a title. The young midfielder is easily one of the footballers to watch next season.

7. Can Monterrey avoid another uninspiring tournament?

Los Rayados, who have one of the most talented squads in Mexico, somehow failed to make the playoffs in the 2016 Apertura. With names like Carlos Sanchez and Rogelio Funes Mori on the roster, Monterrey manager Antonio Mohamed stumbled into a ninth-place finish last season -- just one spot outside of the Liguilla.

Looking ahead, newcomers like Gonzalez and Jesus Molina will need to reinvigorate the club that recently failed to reach expectations.

8. Which fresh faces will emerge as new options for El Tri?

Next summer, Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio will have his hands full with the Confederations Cup and Gold Cup. With two competitions in a short amount of time, the boss will rely on a back-up roster for the Gold Cup in July.

This means that options like Edson Alvarez, Cesar Montes, Gibran Lajud and Erick Aguirre -- just to name a few -- will have a short amount of time to make cases for themselves before the summer. Who knows, we might even see another unknown Liga MX debutant make his way into the conversation.

9. Can Sosa and Necaxa once again punch above their weight?

Last season, Los Rayos had little trouble immediately finding success in their first tournament back in the Liga MX. With Alfonso "Poncho" Sosa leading the way, Necaxa not only evaded early relegation problems, it also finished the Apertura with a spot in the Liguilla semifinals.

The bar has now been raised for the squad and with several key players still on the roster after the winter, it would not be surprising to see the team recreate its noteworthy run from the end of 2016.

10. Which club will benefit the most from improvements over the winter?

While America, Chivas and Toluca have all been mentioned earlier, others like Atlas, Leon and Santos Laguna are also deserving of some recognition.

Atlas, who looked like one of the least threatening Liga MX sides during 2016, is suddenly a playoff contender after adding Matias Alustiza and Fidel Martinez to its squad. Leon was fairly quiet over the winter, but the return of Carlos "Gullit" Pena and the arrival of goalkeeper Antonio Rodriguez should not be overlooked.

As for Los Guerreros, it will be fascinating to see if names like Julio Furch, Osvaldo Martinez and Jonathan Orozco are able to enliven the 16th-placed team from the Apertura.