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Liga MX Apertura Week 19: Liguilla ready to go as Monterrey sneak in

Monterrey v Atlas - Torneo Apertura 2019 Liga MX Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images

Here are some of the main takeaways from the last week of play in the 2019 Liga MX Apertura regular season.

León clinch second place

It’s easy to forget, but just six months ago Club León was breaking all sorts of records while finishing the 2019 Clausura with the best Liga MX regular season in modern league history. Ultimately, this all led to nothing more than a defeat to Tigres in the Final and a harsh reminder of just how unforgiving the Playoff system can be, which is why this time around Ignacio Ambriz’s men have taken a completely different approach, avoiding the “curse of the superlider” altogether and calmly finishing the regular season in second after beating Xolos de Tijuana 2-1 on Friday.

Admittedly, León have not been as explosive as they were last season, but it’s not like they have to be. It’s no mystery that last season León came into the Liguilla banged up and with the pressure of having to replicate their regular season success in the Playoffs. And while injuries are part of the game (they’ll crucially be missing Andres Mosquera for this Liguilla with a knee injury), one thing they will have is experience.

When you think about it, earning 74 points through the course of the calendar year is no easy task. This team seems to have the regular season part down, and if there is any team that can do it in this Liguilla, it is definitely León.

Monterrey sneak into Liguilla

Going into this week, destiny was in Monterrey’s hands as Antonio “Turco” Mohamed’s men looked to achieve what many thought was the unthinkable a few weeks back. After a first half of the season that saw the team fall dangerously out of Liguilla positions, the Rayados board decided to go with the safe choice of bringing back a familiar face to replace the departing Diego Alonso. Well, so far so good. Not only did Mohamed’s Monterrey beat Atlas 2-0 to qualify to the Liguilla as the eighth seed, they have now gone eight straight games without a defeat, including six wins.

Monterrey’s Quarterfinal opponent will be none other than league leaders Santos Laguna, but it’s easy to forget that Monterrey still have one of the deepest squads in all of Liga MX. Moreover, for all of the successes that Mohamed has had in his time with los Rayados, the league title has been the one trophy that has always evaded him. As such, make no mistake about it, you can tell Mohamed really wants to win this one or else he wouldn’t have committed short-term for this project. The rest of the Liga MX should be warned. Monterrey and Mohamed are coming after you.

Alan Pulido earns golden boot glory

It hasn’t been an easy last two weeks for anybody in the Chivas organization. Owner and one of the opposition leaders in the fight against the Televisa-led establishment of Mexican fútbol, Jorge Vergara, passed away on November 15. Always polarizing and controversial, one thing most would agree on is Jorge Vergara always wanted the best for Mexican fútbol and his team. On Saturday, starting Chivas striker Alan Pulido played homage the best way he could, scoring twice and winning the Liga MX golden boot (shared with Necaxa’s Mauro Quiroga) in dedication to Jorge Vergara.

Group-wise, however, at the end it wasn’t meant to be. Albeit coming into this week with remote chances of making the Liguilla, the Rebaño Sagrado’s 3-1 win over Veracruz wasn’t enough to push them past Monterrey for the final Liguilla spot available. That said, Chivas fans can take solace in knowing their team improved dramatically through the course of the last few weeks. They went on to win four of their last five Liga MX matches, scoring at least twice in each one of those four wins. Coach Luis Fernando Tena can take a lot of the credit for that, and while his place in the Chivas team isn’t guaranteed for next season, you get the feeling that he has proven this team is good enough to compete next season. Eventually, questions will arise about who will stay and who will go, including Alan Pulido, but with Ricardo Pelaez now at the helm of the team’s major decision making, the signs are all there for a potential comeback season next season.

Santos Laguna confirm favoritism ahead of Liguilla

Let’s get it out of the way already. Santos Laguna were by far the best team through the course of the regular season and they will be everybody’s favorite for team to beat in this upcoming Liguilla. The appointment of Guillermo Almada as coach has ended up being a stroke of genius from the Santos Laguna ownership, while at the same time bringing fresh face to the Mexican game.

To throw some numbers out there, Santos Laguna finished in first place with 37 points, four points more than second place León. They also had the best offense with 40 goals scored, an average of more than two goals per game (León being the only other team with an average of 2+ goals per game this season). The Guerreros were also the best home team across the Apertura, going unbeaten with a record of eight wins and one draw. In fact, they were so dominant at home defensively, they only conceded six goals all season. Finally, with Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Toluca, a game in which they rested the majority of their starters, they went on to clinch their eighth straight game without a defeat in all competitions.

The big question now is how will Guillermo Almada coach in his first experience in a Liga MX Liguilla. Almada comes in from coaching in the Serie A of Ecuador, a league that employs a much different way of determining the league champion. In that regard, he has adapted quite well to the Liga MX regular season, but how will he fare in the Playoffs, especially going up first against an experienced head like Mohamed?

The league any team can win

It might sound cliched, but this really feels like a Liguilla any team can win. Santos Laguna are undeniably the favorites to win the title after the kind of season they accomplished, but there are teams with plenty of Liguilla pedigree like Club León, Club América and Monterrey. This without mentioning the defending champions Tigres. And what to make of the the three teams we tend not to talk about much? Querétaro, Necaxa, and Monarcas Morelia have all made interesting cases for themselves. Despite the absurd inconsistency of teams that Liga MX has us used to and some hiccups here and there, stylistically it’s been a refreshing 2019 Liga MX Apertura regular season. Here is to an entertaining Liguilla!