Liga MX goals & thoughts: Atlas ascending after Clasico win, top teams stumble

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Goal looks back on the penultimate round of the regular season, which saw Los Zorros top their Guadalajara rival and Monterrey slip against Lobos BUAP

It's been a wild season, but after Jornada 16, it looks like there could be an orderly finish.

This weekend saw separation take place. Outside of Monterrey's surprising defeat (point four), top teams were able to get results while teams that probably don't belong in the playoffs found themselves out of contention. That even includes Tijuana, which won but has a very difficult path ahead.

We'll begin with the Clasico Tapatio, then look around the rest of the league as the playoff picture becomes much clearer headed into the international break:


Atlas attack awakes in derby


atlas apertura 2017 pumas festejo alustiza

For a team fighting relegation, Atlas suddenly has a lot to play for. Los Zorros' attack functioned well at Estadio Chivas, and Profe Cruz's side was able to hand their rival a 2-1 defeat in the Clasico Tapatio. That also means that if Atlas can top Pachuca on the final matchday, their season almost certainly will continue on into the playoffs (something super weird could happen with goal difference to knock them out, but it's highly unlikely). It's the latest step in a mini-run that has seen Atlas run off four contests unbeaten.

"I'm really proud of my players. They're some great professionals," Cruz said after the game. "We have to celebrate with moderation because there's a very difficult game against Pachuca coming up."

Chivas had the possession advantage, but Atlas put more shots on goal as Milton Caraglio scored once from open play and once from the spot in the victory.  

Caraglio will go down as the hero, but this was the best performance in an Atlas shirt from Christian Tabo on the outside and Bryan Garnica, who set up Caraglio's opener. Contributions from those players could be huge for Atlas if they're going to make the playoffs and have any chance to knock off likely opponent Monterrey. Rafa Marquez's return to the field gives more of a morale boost than a sporting one, but if Cruz's attack begins to produce fruit, there could be upsets in the cards.  


America having issues at the Azteca


Mateus Uribe Club America Jose Guerrero Puebla

Club America dropped points at home for the second consecutive match, calling into question just how much of a fortress the Estadio Azteca actually is for Las Aguilas. After being stunned by Nacho Ambriz's Necaxa last time at home, America had a lead against Puebla and was on the way to three points until Felix Milcota's header gave Puebla a share of the spoils.

 

"We haven't done things well. We haven't passed the ball well, we've created few chances. The team hasn't showed what we've been looking for," America coach Miguel Herrera said. "We've regressed in the idea of being a team that fights. You can have a bad day, but the attitude can't be there. The other team shouldn't beat you in attitude. We've got to speak strongly with the players to get them back."

Teams go through slumps, but the sudden downturn at home is strange. America has 11 points from seven home matches this tournament, giving it the league's seventh-best home mark, but in addition to the last two league results, America also needed penalties to top Queretaro in the quarterfinals of the Copa MX. America has scored more than half of its league goals on the road this season. Winning the title isn't easy, but winning it without triumphing in your home legs is nearly impossible. It's a situation the Aguilas must rectify if they're going to content.


Monterrey pays for mentality


Cesar Montes Monterrey Eduardo Tercero Lobos BUAP

Monterrey's players and coaches can say whatever they want, but they went into the weekend visit to Lobos BUAP thinking they were going to cruise. Even if they didn't have that mentality at first, scoring in the second minute when a clearance literally deflects off your player and in is a pretty good indication that it's going to be your day. Except - it wasn't.

Lobos came back and won the contest thanks to a beautiful goal from Diego Jimenez (that has landed him in the Goal of the Week section) and a second from Julian Quinones was enough for the newly promoted team to pull the shocking upset. It's just the second loss for Monterrey this season, both of which have come to the league's Puebla-based teams. Lobos sit 11th, while Puebla are 14th. Meanwhile, Rayados have had no issue dispatching America last week. 

Coach Antonio Mohamed rested goalkeeper Hugo Gonzalez, forwards Dorlan Pabon and Rogelio Funes Mori, and didn't start midifelder Jonathan Gonzalez. He was also without the suspended Neri Cardozo, and shuffled personnel in his five-man back line.

So reason for panic in la Sultana del Norte? Hardly. With its make-up match against Santos Laguna during the November international break and what should be a thrilling final-day Clasico Regio, Monterrey still could set a team record for most points in a short tournament with 39. When it took 36 points in the 2016 Clausura, the club fell short of the title. Since clinching the playoff berth, Monterrey's focus has been on the future rather than the present. It's unlikely a second defeat changes anything for Antonio Mohamed's side.  


Leon misses Mejia as Tijuana keeps hope alive


Alexander Mejia Leon

After going behind in the first half, a Tijuana side coached by an interim manager after Eduardo Coudet's departure early last week was able to top Leon 2-1 and keep its slim playoff hopes alive. Not only do Xolos have a tough final match with a trip to Toluca, they also need Atlas, Necaxa and Cruz Azul all to lose and then Xolos would need to better two of those three team's goal differences. Anyway, it's a long shot, but credit to Tijuana for battling until the end.

Leon manager Gustavo Diaz will be eager to have defensive midfielder Alexander Mejia back for the playoff chase. The Colombian was suspended for Friday's match, and his absence was felt. In the second half, Leon had very little link between the back line and the attackers and Xolos were able to pass without difficulty outside the box before creating chances. Fernando Navarro clearly wasn't in a position where he felt comfortable, and getting Mejia back will boost Leon ahead of its Liguilla run. 


Setting up for a Cruz Azul moment?


Felipe Mora Cruz Azul

Cruz Azul turned in a phenomenal first half Friday against Morelia, controlling the game and scoring twice against Monarcas' usually staunch defense. Felipe Mora's double was enough for Cruz Azul to get a 2-1 victory over Monarcas. Before the weekend, Morelia had allowed the second-fewest goals in the league. La Maquina really should've scored more, but Monarcas goalkeeper Sebastian Sosa made six saves to keep his side in the game.

 

"Today's victory is very important," Cruz Azul manager Paco Jemez said after the match. "The big teams know how to win when they must, and today we did it."

They'll need another win on the final matchday and some help from other teams. I don't even want to say it. I don't want to write it into happening, but things are very much set up for a horrendous Cruz Azul moment. Cruz Azul may be set to cruzazulear. While still in the playoff hunt and hosting listless Veracruz in the final matchday of the season, the team doesn't currently control its own destiny. Both Necaxa and Atlas have the same number of points but a better goal difference than Paco Jemez's side. Having the path cleared by one of those teams on the final day only for the team to not top Los Tiburones Rojos would be maximum Cruz Azul and probably be the end of the Jemez era. I'm not rooting for it to happen, Cruz Azul fans, I'm just saying it definitely could.

The win in Morelia snapped an eight-year winless streak for Cruz Azul. Maybe this really is the year for Cruz Azul to break curses and move into the new era.


Goal of the Week


Chivas' Rodolfo Pizarro stunned the goalkeper from outside the box,  Leon's Juan Cornejo closed off a nice team move with a smooth finish but the winner this week is Lobos BUAP's Diego Jimenez hitting this on the half volley to himself to bring his team level with Monterrey.

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