Manuel Veth –
After taking a closer look at the Liga MX relegation battle earlier this week it is time to look further up the table to examine the race for the Liguilla. As previously mentioned on this page Liga MX is unique as it not only splits the season into an Apertura (opening stage), and Clausura (closing stage), but also uses playoffs, known as Liguilla in Mexico, to determine the championship in Liga MX.
Toluca (26 points), Tijuana (25 points), Chivas (25 points), Monterrey (24 points), and América (24 points) all have secured their places in the Liguilla—with just three games to go América are five points ahead of Tigres, who currently occupy ninth place. This means the top five teams are safe when it comes to the qualification to the playoffs.
Behind the top five, however, the race is very tight. Santo Laguna (21 points) occupy sixth spot, and they are closely followed by Atlas, and Pachuca (both on 20 points). Right behind those two teams are Tigres with 19 points. Tigres in fact have picked up the pace since they eliminated the Vancouver Whitecaps in the semi-final of the CONCACAF Champions League earlier this month.
Tigres have switched their focus on reaching the Liguilla
Reaching the Champions League final, and securing their first international title has been one of the main ambitions of the deepest, and most expensive squad in the Americas. The first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final took place on Tuesday, and Pachuca and Tigres drew each other 1-1, which means that the final remains tight when the two teams play out the second leg in Pachuca next week.
Meanwhile in the Liga MX standings, Tigres are also the main rival for Pachuca to reach the Liguilla. With Tigres just one point behind Pachuca, and with the form returning to Tigres it now appears that the Monterrey-based club could make a late push for the playoffs.
Tigres, however, are not the only side looking to make a late push for the playoffs. Los Auriazules are closely followed in the standings by Monarcas from Morelia, and Mexico City based Club Universidad Nacional, better known as Pumas.
Los Pumas were very much the hipster team early in the Clausura. Guided by enigmatic heavy metal loving head coach Francisco Palencia, and led on the pitch by goal scoring sensation Nicolás Castillo, Pumas played some of the most attractive football on the continent.
But the wheels seem to have come off Los Pumas as the club won just one out of their last five matches—a 3-0 victory against relegation candidates Chiapas. It all kicked off when Pumas lost 3-2 to city rivals Club América on March 19. América took a two goal lead early in that match, but Pumas battled back to equalize the score, only to see the hard fought point evaporate when América took the lead once again.
What followed was a bounce back against Chiapas, but then a defeat to Toluca, and a draw to Atlas made them drop down the table. Finally a 4-0 defeat to Tigres last weekend has gotten Pumas in an uncomfortable position in the playoff race.
Morelia are in-between the playoffs and relegation
In fact Pumas have dropped behind Morelia, who started the Clausura last in the relegation table. Roberto Hernández was brought in on an interim basis to fight off relegation, and with just three games remaining he may not only achieve that goal, but could guide Morelia into the Liguilla.
In fact with just three games remaining, and Morelia being separated by just one point from Veracruz in the relegation standings the Monarcas might have to aim to reach the playoffs in order to fight off relegation. This could give the club the decisive psychological edge in the playoff race.
Two points behind Morelia, and Pumas, are León, who are currently in the 12th spot. With just three games to play the four point gap to eighth placed Pachuca might just be too much for León to overcome. The schedule could, however, help León as they face Puebla this weekend, and then have a difficult away game in Guadalajara. Chivas, however, might be already qualified for the Liguilla at that point, and could therefore chose to rest players. León then host Cruz Azul, who have had an abysmal season, on matchday 17.
The last club in the playoff race is Querétaro FC. Los Gallos Blancos are currently in 13th spot five points behind Pachuca. Given the unpredictable nature of Liga MX five points could certainly be overcome in the last three games. But Querétaro’s last three matches against relegation candidate Chiapas, top team Toluca, and Tigres suggests that they will not collect enough points to challenge for a Liguilla spot this season.
The short half seasons in Liga MX have already guaranteed plenty of goals, and excitement. With the race for the playoffs almost over we will find out shortly who will qualify for the Liguilla, which will bring even more excitement to what is likely the most fascinating football league on the planet at the moment.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.