After a long two week recess, the Mexican Primera finally returns to action this weekend as the first round of the Liguilla playoffs kicks off on Saturday night. The first round will be played over the course of the next week, with the opening legs this Saturday and Sunday and the respective return legs a week later. Below are brief breakdowns of the four first round match-ups, along with game schedules and television broadcast information.
Who do you see advancing past the first round? Let us know your picks for the Liguilla semifinals.
#1 Chivas Guadalajara vs. #8 Queretaro Gallos Blancos
This most discussed player in this match-up is someone who won't even be taking the field. Chivas goalkeeper Luis Michel will miss both first round matches (along with the first match of the semifinals if Chivas advances) due to his scuffle with Pachuca defender Javier Munoz Mustafa during the final game of the regular season. The loss of Michel is a huge blow to Chivas, as his play in goal is a primary contributor to the team's impressive defensive play over the past year. Without Michel backing them up, Hector Reynoso, Jonny Magallon and the rest of the Chivas backline will have to significantly raise their level of play. For Queretaro to keep the infamous "Superlider Curse" alive, they will need a strong showing from leading scorer Carlos Bueno. They will also have to contain Chivas striker Erick "Cubo" Torres, who ended the year on a tear with five goals in five games to end the Apertura season.
Pros: Superlider Curse; Bueno's boot; Queretaro Legend Bofo
Cons: First ever Liguilla appearance
Pros: Cubo scoring form
Cons: Superlider Curse; no Luis Michel
#2 Cruz Azul vs. #7 Monarcas Morelia
The last time these two teams met in the postseason -- in the Clausura 2011 semifinals -- things ended with an ugly on the field brawl. That series also ended with Morelia advancing to the Liguilla finals. Cruz Azul would love to get some revenge this time out, but first they will need to find some consistent scoring. With this season’s constant struggles on offense, Cruz Azul's success has been thanks mainly to their impressive defensive play. A deep playoff run, though, will require more productive action up front. For Morelia's part, they look to maintain their excellent late season form that ended in a final week push into the Liguilla. The Monarcas haven’t dropped a match since October 1st, and with an excellent record at home this season present a tough match-up for the higher-seeded Cruz Azul.
Monarcas Morelia (7-5-5)
Pros: Positive momentum
Cons: Home form
Cruz Azul (8-5-4)
Pros: Ability to defend
Cons: Ability to score
#3 UANL Tigres vs. #6 Pachuca
The challenge for any Tigres opponent this season has been finding away to break through the league's best defense. Led in the back by players such as Hugo Ayala and Juninho, Tigres conceded just thirteen goals in seventeen matches this season. One of their seven shutouts of the Apertura was a 5-0 win over their first round opponents, Pachuca. This robust defense, along with an always imposing homefield advantage at Estadio Universitaro, makes Tigres one of the favorites for this year's title. Pachuca will hang their hopes for the upset on a red-hot Enrique Esqueda. Ending the season with two goals scored in each of his last two matches, Esqueda looks to continue that form through the Liguilla first round. Keeping that scoring streak alive won't be easy, but if Esqueda can break through for an early goal at home in the first leg, he'll give the Tuzos a fighting chance at pulling the upset.
Pros: Home form, Esqueda resurgence
Cons: Road form; memories of 5-0
UNAL Tigres (7-7-3)
Pros: Defense wins championships; fanatical supporters
Cons: 3 goals in last 5 matches
#4 Santos Laguna vs. #5 Jaguares Chiapas
As soon as the Liguilla match-ups were finalized two weeks ago, neutral observers circled this first round series in eager anticipation. With the top two scoring offenses in the league, Santos Laguna and Jaguares Chiapas promise a highly entertaining opening round series. Santos have resurrected themselves over the second half of the season under new manager Benjamin Galindo, and feature a dynamic attack led by Oribe Peralta. Jaguares bring an equally imposing offense to the table, with the Colombian duo Jackson Martinez and Luis Gabriel Rey leading the way up front. With such talented attacking offenses on both sides, the pressure will firmly be on the two defenses. Unfortunately, both teams will be looking to mitigate some untimely personnel issues on the backline. Santos will be without Santiago Hoyos, while Jaguares will be without key central defender Miguel Martinez.
Jaguares Chiapas (7-5-5)
Pros: Colombian strikers
Cons: No semifinal appearances; no Miguel Martinez
Santos Laguna (8-3-6)
Pros: Ability to score; Oribe Peralta
Cons: No Hoyos