The Liguilla is here, and with that comes the most thrilling part of the season. Here is a brief preview on the four quarterfinal matchups.
1. Xolos de Tijuana vs. 8. Monarcas Morelia
It’s hard to believe but Xolos de Tijuana is only the first ever team to finish top of the league in consecutive seasons since the Apertura/Clausura format was implemented. Much of the credit for this season’s success has to go to manager Miguel Herrera. Tijuana lost arguably two of their most valuable players during the offseason(Dayro Moreno and Gabriel Hauche), and Herrera still found a way to coach his team to the first place.
And yet, many here will be pulling for Monarcas Morelia to achieve the upset. Morelia are coming on the back of an incredulous result against Monterrey. To paint the picture, Morelia needed to win or be relegated. With the score tied at 1-1 and with only seconds remaining, Raul Ruidiaz became an instant hero in Michoacan by scoring the goal that not only meant relegation salvation but their ticket to the “Fiesta Grande”. Now Morelia have the chance to add to their magnificent story by taking down the “superlideres”.
2. Monterrey vs. 7. Tigres UANL
And so, Monterrey and Tigres meet again in a Liguilla. If under normal circumstances a Clasico Regiomontano already assumes colossal proportions, a Clasico Regiomontanto in a Liguilla is 10x that. Both teams last met in a Liguilla last year in this same instance, with Rayados earning a narrow 4-3 victory. Now, Monterrey will look to do the same and snatch the league title away from their biggest rival.
Given the nature of Monterrey’s squad, it only makes sense that it is league title or bust. Previously, inconsistency was a key feature for the Rayados, but this season, coach Antonio “Turco” Mohamed looks to have readied his troops.
But just as it is foolish to ignore Monterrey’s talent, it would be foolish to ignore Tigres. They are after all the defending Liga MX champions, and reports of their demise were greatly exaggerated. Despite a slow start and middle part of the season, the felinos went on to win four of their last five league games and look to be peaking at the right time. Not to mention, Andre-Pierre Gignac scored three in his last outing and is set to play another major role in the Liguilla.
3. Chivas vs 6. Atlas
There must be something about Matias Almeyda that means Clasicos in quarterfinals. After crashing out in the last two Liguillas to rivals Club America, Chivas now get to face crosstown rivals Atlas in a quarterfinal edition of the Clasico Tapatio.
You suspect that for Chivas this is one of their best chances of winning the title in a long time. The futbol in Guadalajara has always been entertaining under Matias Almeyda, and their Copa MX triumph earlier in the season was proof that this team has what it takes to make a championship run. The problem is that they enter this Liguilla in a bit of a slump. Chivas finished the regular season without a single league win in their last five matches, and injuries and fatigue have played a huge factor in that.
This, of course, is music to Atlas’ ears. The Rojnegros have been this season’s surprise package, and have just one defeat in their last seven league matches. The big question is whether they can maintain their momentum through the course of 180 minutes of Clasico Tapatio futbol. It goes without saying, Clasicos are different type of games, and when you face a team like Chivas, the weight of their history and titles marks presence on the pitch.
4. Toluca vs 5. Santos Laguna
There is nothing Toluca fans would like more than to celebrate the club’s centenary season by winning the title. The Diablos Rojos already have 10 league titles in their trophy cabinet, and they will look to quietly add another this season.
Like Chivas, however, Toluca have been served a warning in the past few weeks, as the team went without a win in their last five league matches, including three defeats.
Against Santos Laguna, Toluca will be facing one of the best coached teams in all of Liga MX. Just as pleasing as it must be for Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre to have qualified to the Liguilla in his first full season in charge of the club is the way the team went about getting there. The players have fully bought into Chepo’s style of play, and make no mistake, this team has all the necessary tools to be lifting the trophy at the end of the season.