The greatest thing about having a Liguilla is that you might end up with some fascinating ties in the quarterfinals. This season is no different.
Here is your preview for the 2016 Liga MX Apertura Quarterfinals.
1. Club Tijuana vs 8. Club Leon
Xolos de Tijuana couldn’t possibly have got a tougher opponent to play given where they finished in the league table. Miguel Herrera’s side have demonstrated to be far and wide the best team in this tournament, but all the momentum is with the “Panzas Verdes” right now. Under new manager Javier Torrente, Leon finished the season unbeaten in their last ten league games, earning 22 points out of 30 possible. That’s all the more impressive considering the team was sitting bottom of the league table after seven weeks.
Moreover, their performances so far have touched upon everything Leon fans wanted to see from their new coach after Juan Antonio Pizzi’s departure to the Chile national team. Torrente used to be Marcelo Bielsa's assistant, and the Leon manager has certainly taken a page or two from his former boss's playbook.
Tijuana, however, have been difficult to stop all season. The one caveat is they finished the season with two straight defeats, but when you have Dayro Moreno, Gabriel Hauche, and Aviles Hurtado waiting to explode on the attack, you can see why there is reason to be bullish about Miguel Herrera’s team.
2. Pachuca vs 7. Necaxa
If other recently promoted teams have had much to sort out, Necaxa have got so much right. Just six months ago, the Hidrorayos were playing in Ascenso MX, Mexico’s second tier. Now, they are presented with a genuinely historic opportunity to knock out the current reigning champions.
As an overachieving outsider, Necaxa’s superb regular season came courtesy of their effective counterattacking style, with coach Alfonso Sosa leaning heavily on the brilliance of Edson Puch. A poor man’s Alexis Sanchez, sure, but Puch helped out with a total of nine goals and two assists this season.
Speaking of overachieving outsiders, it is safe to say that label no longer applies to Los Tuzos. A common fixture now in the Liguilla, not only are Pachuca the best offense in the league with 36 goals scored, but they have made a fortress out of the Estadio Hidalgo, where they haven’t lost a Liga MX game since the 2015 Liga MX Apertura.
Their talented attackers, you suspect, will once again come to define Pachuca’s Liguilla. Hirving Lozano, Jonathan Urretaviscaya, and Franco Jara are all coming off good seasons, and to count off the champions to repeat would be a big mistake.
3. Tigres vs 6. Pumas UNAM
It almost goes without saying that Tigres and Pumas are two teams difficult to ignore. Both teams have won a combined four league titles in the last seven years and are back in search for more.
Pumas owe more than a little to first-year coach Juan Francisco Palencia. After the departures of Ismael Sosa and Luis Quinones, who coincidentally now play for Tigres, Palencia has transformed the small-budgeted Universitarios into a top-eight side.
Small budgets? Lack of experience? Tigres have no such problems. Liga MX fans have come to know what to expect from Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti and his team. Even if Andre-Pierre Gignac's individual loss of form has been evident for some time, Tigres have shown time and time again they are more than a couple of big-name players.
Sturdy in defense, conceding a league-low 13 goals, as they often have been under Tuca in the Liguilla, Tigres will no doubt be one of the favorites to lift the trophy. It is up to Palencia and Pumas to find a way to upset the northern giants.
4. Chivas vs 5. Club America
So on the season of Club America's 100th year of existence, we are treated to another Clasico Nacional. Make no mistake, for both sides this game assumes colossal proportions, but for Las Aguilas, in particular, to lose to Chivas for a third time in their centenary season would be disastrous.
On this occasion, they arrive unbeaten in their last eight league games under new manager Ricardo Antonio La Volpe. They also have history on their side. On the past six occasions that the sides have met in the Liguilla, America has won five, including last season’s tournament.
But while America have seen improvement under their new coach, Matias Almeyda and his young Chivas side have added another six months of experience under their belt. America were already served warnings in Week 7 and in the Copa MX semifinal, and beyond bragging rights for years to come, a win here would be a strong statement that Chivas are ready to contend for the title.