Three more weeks remain in Liga MX before the playoffs begin. Some teams have four games left on the calendar but for most there will be this weekend, next weekend and the weekend after the international break to secure a Liguilla spot.
It's going to be an enthralling conclusion to the Apertura's regular season before the grand fiesta begins. Who will be on the guest list? Let's take a look at what these matches will tell us about the final eight:
Match of the Week ... Monterrey vs. America
While many of the league's teams are sweating about extending their season, all eyes will be drawn to the top of the table with No. 1 Monterrey hosting No. 2 America this weekend at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer. Monterrey's last league defeat there was in May, and Rayados bounced back from a stunning defeat to Puebla with a 1-0 win over Pumas last weekend. America, meanwhile, struggled to a 1-0 defeat against Necaxa in its final contest of the busy three-match week teams had after the international break.
Oribe Peralta and Darwin Quintero were rested in that contest but America will rely on them to test a Monterrey back line that has been quietly excellent. "We're strong," America manager Miguel Herrera said. "We analyzed the match against Necaxa, in which we lacked concentration."
Monterrey is a strange team in that it dominates teams without appearing to dominate them. The side runs little and moves the ball infrequently. When Rayados do take off or connect a dangerous pass, they are nearly impossible to stop. America must limit the chances it provides if it has any hope of snapping the home side's six-match home winning streak.
The task could be easier if Monterrey is without Rogelio Funes Mori, who has missed training this week because of a knock to his calf he took in the midweek cup contest. Still, between Aviles Hurtado, Dorlan Pabon and Carlos Sanchez there will be a challenge for America to head home not having conceded.
It's a big weekend for ... Edgar Mendez
Cruz Azul got off to an undefeated start to the tournament but now the faithful are fearing that they're on track for another disappointment. If La Maquina miss the Liguilla, it will extend the club's miserable streak to seven consecutive tournaments without a postseason berth.
The frustration is building, with the team sitting in the eighth and final Liguilla place after last week's embarrassing 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Lobos BUAP. This week, Cruz Azul is back home in Mexico City to take on Tigres. It's not the opponent coach Paco Jemez will want to see, but the club's players are still confident they can return the team to its former greatness.
"Greatness isn't lost. I have no doubt about this. What has been achieved in 53 years, the titles won in Mexico and the international titles are there," goalkeeper Jesus Corona said. "We're going through a drought, and we're the ones responsible for that. We're going to keep working, looking for the team that can win championships. It's by fighting we'll be able to return Cruz Azul to the golden years."
A good step would be getting into the postseason, but a win against Tigres this weekend won't come easily. Saturday's visitors have won four of their last five and allowed just one goal over that spell. That's why Edgar Mendez needs to step up for Cruz Azul. He's currently tied with Felipe Mora for the lead in goals but the scoring hasn't been there lately. Cruz Azul's last three goals came from the penalty spot, with a 4-1 win over then-last-place Pumas the last time the team scored from open play. A breakthrough against Tigres is needed to get momentum heading back in the right direction ahead of a trip to Morelia and a visit from Veracruz to close out the regular season and for the club to have any chance to continue it into the playoffs.
Keep an eye on ... Liguilla hopefuls on the road
Three playoff hopefuls on the outside looking in take to the road this weekend in need of a result. Atlas, sitting ninth with 19 points and one fewer match played than its rivals after the postponed contest against Tigres, is in the best shape and heads to Queretaro. That's another boost for Jose Cruz's team with the Gallos Blancos reeling and adapting to life under a new coach after Jaime "Jimmy" Lozano was fired.
Behind Atlas in the table is slumping Tijuana, which travels to face Chivas. It's been an easy road trip for most teams, with the reigning champion yet to find a victory at home this tournament. Xolos need to find the back of the net after struggling to generate attack in their previous matches.
Pachuca is the reigning CONCACAF Champions League winner but might get some unwanted extra time to get ready for the Club World Cup. They have a Sunday night showdown against a resurgent Santos Laguna team that now has a working attack but is still giving up too many goals to make a shocking push into contention for the top eight. Victor Guzman, Keisuke Honda and Edson Puch need to find their rhythm in Torreon for Tuzos to have any shot at leapfrogging Atlas and Tijuana and contend for a place.
The consolation for these clubs is that they're not out of it. Teams in worse situations have, improbably, made the Liguilla in recent tournaments.
Quote of the Week
"It makes you feel bad because he's someone who gives it all every day. On the field, we're performing, and we've failed him. It hurts us because he's someone who has given everything for us. Matias is someone who has made a difference in our lives and it's painful not have been able to match that up with results this tournament," - Jair Pereira, Chivas center back
With Chivas' league campaign over but the cup campaign continuing, Pereira spent much of his time at Thursday's news conference speaking about Chivas coach Matias Almeyda. It's been a poor tournament for Chivas, with Pereira's injuries coming into play in the back line's struggles. That doesn't seem to have fallen on Almeyda, though, who is still being linked with jobs in various parts of the world. Pereira said he wouldn't be surprised if Almeyda does leave Chivas in the near future, but that the team has enjoyed getting to know the coach and would be worse off without him.