Tom Marshall: How teams stand a third of the way through the Liga MX Clausura

A look at which Liga MX teams look title bound, which look like bottom feeders, and everything else in between.
With a third of the Clausura season gone, it seems an appropriate time to take a step back and analyze which teams are showing championship form, and which need to rapidly improve if this isn’t going to be a tournament to forget.

At the top of the Liga MX, Tigres bolstered its squad with players like Tito Villa, Danilinho and American Jose Torres over the winter break and 16 points from six games tells you all you need to know about how that has worked out.

Sunday’s 4-1 road win against Toluca could’ve easily been 8-1 with better finishing, emphasizing that there is more to come from the Monterrey side, which must be considered a favorite for the title at this point.

Just one point behind is Club America, which showed in Saturday night’s 2-1 victory at Tijuana – achieved playing the majority of the game with nine men – that the squad has a tenacity and resolve about it to match the obvious quality.

The very fact Christian Benitez didn’t sulk when he was dragged off after 39 minutes highlights the new-found harmony at Las Aguilas. A lot of the credit must go to coach Miguel Herrera.

Xolos may have lost the game, but they have started the season well and having to force the game against the entrenched America didn’t suit their usual counter-attacking style.

The test for the reigning champions is yet to come, however, with play in the Copa Libertadores starting next week.

Atlas, the other Rojinegros in the Liga MX, has reached dizzy heights and is the surprise package of the tournament.

The Guadalajara team’s solid, experienced defense, coupled with hard work and a little luck, has seen Atlas move seven points above Queretaro in the relegation battle and take a giant step to secure its place in the top division next season.

Ironically, former Chivas player Omar Bravo has been the driving force behind the improvement.

Tucked in behind Atlas is Cruz Azul. Few doubt the quality of the squad, or that the club will make the playoffs. The doubt is whether the Mexico City club can break that apparent curse of being the “eternal runner-up,” as rival fans often joke, and win its first title since 1997.

Further down, Pachuca is slowly recovering from the turbulence caused by Hugo Sanchez’s brief reign as coach.

On paper, the combination of Angel Reyna, Daniel Luduena and Hector Herrera can cause damage to any team, but Pachuca needs to improve on five goals from six games to be considered serious a challenger.

Manuel Lapuente has been managing Liga MX clubs since the 1970s and has been using all his acquired experience this season at Puebla, which sits in sixth place. The team is much harder to defeat under Lapuente and that has been shown in the points column.

At Santos Laguna, on the other hand, incoming Portuguese manager Pedro Caixinha had no experience in Mexico. Partly because of that, there have been signs of adaptation pains, but the loss of Luduena as playmaker has also left a large hole yet to be filled.

Just outside the playoff spots is Morelia, which regularly makes the postseason, but rarely does damage. The attacking quartet of Joao Rojas, Jefferson Montero, Aldo Leao and Hector Mancilla is arguably the best in the league, but there is work to be done defensively and Federico Vilar is increasingly looking like a liability in goal.

Rounding off the top 10 is Chivas. The victory away against Monterrey on Saturday was huge, giving the team its first three points of 2013. With new coach Benjamin Galindo now possessing a full contingent of players, Guadalajara has no excuse not to make the playoffs.

Monterrey has the ability to improve at any moment, but negativity is currently seeping out of the northern club. Victor Manuel Vucetich’s position may not be as secure as in the past and an improvement in the next few weeks will be vital for the Rayados.

In Mexico City, Pumas hasn’t quite looked right since Memo Vazquez left as coach and that is no different this season, although the spirit shown in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Cruz Azul was a positive.

It would be easy to blame Leon’s slump on the introduction of Rafa Marquez and Nery Castillo into the team, but the truth is that clubs seem to have worked out how to play Leon.

The attacking style is easy on the eye and admirable, but there is a reason teams tend to keep things tighter in Mexico.

The other major letdown has been Toluca, last season’s runner-up. Enrique Meza has been honest in his criticism of his players, but a big week with the Diablos Rojos traveling to face Boca Juniors on Wednesday followed by a game against America in the Estadio Azteca on Saturday seems to have come at a bad time.

Queretaro, Atlante, San Luis and Jaguares are all also in need of swift improvement to salvage something from the season, although they’ve not shown signs that they are capable of that so far.

Follow TOM MARSHALL on  or shoot him an email