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Liga MX Apertura Quarterfinals: Surprises and goals highlight start of the Liguilla

Santos Laguna v Monterrey - Playoffs Torneo Apertura 2019 Liga MX Photo by Manuel Guadarrama/Getty Images

Here are some of the main takeaways from the Quarterfinals of the 2019 Liga MX Apertura, as Necaxa/Monterrey and Club América/Monarcas Morelia are set to clash in the Semifinals.

León end the year in heartbreaking fashion

Club León earned 74 points through the course of the calendar year and finished 2019 with no trophy to show for it. On Saturday, Ignacio Ambriz’s men were knocked out in the Quarterfinals by a surprising Monarcas Morelia team in another disappointing end to La Fiera’s campaign.

You can’t help but feel sorry for León. Last season they broke all sorts of Liga MX records before eventually succumbing to a defensive Tigres team. This season they came within seconds of advancing to the Semifinals over Morelia, but a controversial VAR decision meant León’s title hopes were dashed in the last moment of the game. The decision in question came after León’s series-winning goal was disallowed for an apparent push on a Monarcas defender, a decision that in truth was unproportionally harsh.

But credit hast to go to Monarcas Morelia. They have had a heck of a season under Pablo Guede, and it took guts for them to come back at home to rescue a 3-3 draw and then come from two goals down to win the series in León. They’ve got all the momentum now, and they will undoubtedly be a tough team to beat in the Semifinals.

Necaxa prevail over Querétaro

The Gallos Blancos gave Necaxa a run for their money, but ultimately, Guillermo Vazquez’s men were able to take care of business in Querétaro to go through to the final four of the 2019 Liga MX Apertura Liguilla. Necaxa won the First Leg convincingly, and though Queretaro came within a goal of taking control of the series in the Second Leg, a red card to Luis Romo and a second half barrage from Los Rayos meant the dream for Victor Manuel Vucetich and his pupils come to a premature end.

You gotta give to to Guillermo Vazquez Jr. His work with Necaxa cannot be undervalued. Los Rayos were never going to be the popular pick in this Liguilla, but the growth Necaxa has shown through every one of its lines since Vazquez’s arrival speaks a lot of the quality of manager they have at the helm. Even young Mexican players like Cristian “Chicote” Calderon and Jesus Angulo have found their way to the senior Mexico National Team under the tutelage of Vazquez.

Vazquez already knows a thing or two about winning the Liga MX title (he previously won it with Pumas UNAM back in 2011) and now finds himself just two games away from another Liga MX Final. Coupled with his success at Cruz Azul (still the closest to coming to break La Máquina’s Liga MX title drought), perhaps it is time we start putting Vazquez in the upper echelon of Mexican managers.

Superlider out as Monterrey shock Santos Laguna

Do you believe in curses? Call it what you want, but on Sunday, first seeded Santos Laguna saw their championship aspirations vanish as eighth place Rayados shocked los Guerreros to a 6-3 aggregate victory.

The reality is this was hardly a surprise. Not because curses really exist (do they?), but because Monterrey had been red-hot entering this Liguilla. Under Antonio “Turco” Mohamed, los Rayados experienced a notable rise in quality, and from the start, this was the team to avoid the instant they sealed their place in the Liguilla by beating Atlas in Week 19.

Most of the damage here came in the First Leg, where Rayados scored five against Santos at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer. Santos tried to muster up a response in the Second Leg, but it was always going to be tough against the always tactical Mohamed.

If you are a Santos fan, this is s hard pill to swallow. The Guerreros were clearly the best team during the regular season, but the Playoff system is hardly forgiving. All it took was one game for Monterrey give Santos a proper Liguilla lesson, and as a result, they’ll be watching the rest of the tournament from home.

Club América take advantage of sloppy Tigres

On the lead-up to this series, there was a video floating around the internet of Miguel Herrera instructing his players on what to do in set-piece situations. Evidently, Herrera knew what he was doing because on Sunday, Club América struck twice on set-pieces to help them come back from a goal down in the series and eliminate Tigres by an aggregate score of 5-4.

You gotta love the intensity Club América showed in the Second Leg, but it was also a sloppy defensive performance from the defending champs. We all expected Tigres to batten down the hatches and sit back, but in truth, they were never able to replicate the same defensive success they showed in the First Leg. Moreover, the injury to Hugo Ayala proved costly for Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti’s men, as Carlos Salcedo was simply woeful coming on as a replacement in the first half.

Obviously, none of this is fault of América, who handled business the way they typically do in Liguillas. This is a team that no matter how average they can be playing, they always find a way to win. After all, they have 13 league titles to their name, and they are one step closer to another.

The Quarterfinals saw plenty of entertainment and surprises

Two things stick out from these Quarterfinals. The first is that for only the second time in Liga MX history, the top four seeded teams were eliminated in the first round of the Liguilla by the bottom four seeds. It sounds crazy, but fifth place Necaxa is now the highest seeded team in the tournament after Santos Laguna, Club León, Tigres and Querétaro were all eliminated.

The other thing here is that there was no shortage of goals through the first eight games of the Liguilla. In fact, the Quarterfinals phase set a record for most goals scored ever with 35. That is an average of 4.3 goals per match. There was no shortage of entertainment in the Quarterfinals, and by the looks of it, the Semifinals are shaping up to be the same way.