Three weeks. That's all that remains of the Liga MX Clausura before we move into the playoff round.
In addition to teams fighting to finish in the top eight and earn a spot in the Liguilla, there's also a relegation battle on. Veracruz currently is set to go down, but Jaguares and Morelia both sit essentially one point ahead. These final three weeks will be critical for avoiding the drop, but much of the talk this week focuses on teams doing significantly better.
Let's dig into the chatter and highlight some of the best storylines ahead of the 15th round of the Liga MX Clausura:
It's a big weekend for ... Monterrey rivals
Monterrey and Tigres meet Saturday night at the Estadio BBVA in the 115th Clasico Regio. The crosstown rivals will, as they always do, fight for supremacy of a city passionate about the sport. But there's more at stake for each team than simply cross-town bragging rights.
Tigres are still fighting to get into the playoffs, with the reigning champion currently ninth – one point outside the playoff positions. Monterrey, meanwhile, is looking to avenge its previous defeat at the Estadio BBVA. Rayados have run off 17 matches undefeated at home in league play since May's playoff loss to Tigres (though Monterrey went through in the quarterfinal on aggregate) and have won their last five games.
Guido Pizarro, the hard-nosed Argentine who holds down the midfield for Tigres and generated controversy with a profane quote directed toward Monterrey last season, is questionable because of a broken nose suffered in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final. That could see Lucas Zelarayan move into a starting role or Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez coming up from right back if Luis Advincula is back to full fitness.
Don't miss ... Tijuana vs. Toluca
Is there anything Aviles Hurtado can't do? The Colombian attacking midfielder moved into a tie for the lead in the Golden Boot race with a goal in a 2-1 win over Chiapas last weekend that extended Xolos' unbeaten run to five matches.
But visiting the Estadio Caliente is Toluca, which comes in as the leader with 26 points. Tijuana is just one behind and would love to take control and make sure sure the second legs of any playoff series are in Tijuana. While the Caliente is historically a fortress for Xolos, they've been uncharacteristically average there recently, winning just one of their last five home matches and losing twice in that spell. The team will be eager to show this snap is just a fluke.
"This tournament has been very even, anybody can beat anybody," Tijuana forward Juan Martin Lucero said in a news conference this week. "You have to play the games and see after. We're trying to be concentrated, solid at the back and efficient up top, like we did well last week. If we're concentrated and do what we have to do, I think we're going to win.
"Here in front of our fans we need to get the three points."
Toluca saw off a charge from Monterrey with former Tijuana midfielder Gabriel Hauche scoring to secure a 1-1 draw and likely needs three points to stay on top of the table, with Xolos and Chivas just one point behind and Monterrey and America one point behind them.
Keep an eye on ... Atlas' undefeated run
It was easy enough to leave Atlas for dead a few weeks ago. Really, you could be forgiven for doing it now. But Los Zorros have life and control their destiny.
This isn't a great team, but Jose Cruz has managed to get results out of his squad even with the team's most important player, Rafa Marquez, sidelined after surgery to correct a herniated disc. With Ghana import Clifford Aboagye and Javier Salas doing passable Marquez imitations in the midfield and Matias Alustiza once again putting the ball in the back of the net - the Argentine has five goals in his last seven matches - the team has clawed its way into the playoff places.
Now defending a four-match undefeated spell and also having avoided a loss in its last four matches at the Estadio Jalisco, Atlas knows it needs to close out strong to get into the playoffs. The timing may be right to face this weekend's opponent, Pachuca, which likely will rest some of its strongest players ahead of the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final.
But the visiting Tuzos also are uncertain about their postseason position, sitting in the eighth and final place with Atlas just one spot above them thanks to a superior goal difference. It's a game that both teams could look back on next month as the difference between finishing above the line or below it.
Quote of the Week
"For me all matches are important. It's happened to me in the past against Monterrey, America or Atlante. All matches are important, even more so now because we don't have any margin for error." - Santos Laguna midfielder Osvaldo Martinez
Former America midfielder Martiez downplayed a meeting against his old team, but there has to be some part of him that wants to show coach Ricardo La Volpe exactly what he let go in the winter. Of course, while Las Aguilas have missed Martinez's dynamic attacking play at times this season, the results are coming and the defense has kept a clean sheet in its last four league matches.