Tom Marshall: Title contenders show their force in Liga MX

Weekend fixtures in the Liga MX saw the wheat separated from the chaff, with the top six teams all winning.
With the Liga MX season entering its final couple of weeks and the playoff places running out, the teams likely to be challenging for the Clausura title are kicking into gear.

Tigres have been top of the league since the very start of the season, and swept away suggestions that their home form is their weakness with a 3-1 victory inspired by an unlikely golazo early on from the rested Carlos Salcido.

On paper, Tigres have to be favorites for the title, with the Monterrey side only having lost once in the league since last October – a difficult away game against Pumas earlier this month.

The spine of the team is the same as that which won the Apertura 2011, with the addition of Emanuel Villa and Jose “Gringo” Torres, both of whom have proved excellent offseason additions.

The main concern for the Monterrey side is the injury to Hugo Ayala that will rule him out for the rest of the season. Ayala has been a rock at the heart of the Tigres’ defense, which is known for being the most watertight in Mexico over recent years under Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti.

Second-placed Atlas is showing a determined streak and was clinical, if not entirely exciting, in Saturday’s 1-0 derby victory over struggling Chivas.

Whether it has the quality to go deep in the playoffs may well be in doubt, although the recent form of Isaac Brizuela and Matias Vuoso, combined with the settling of Rodrigo Millar in Mexico and the experience that Leandro Cufre brings does give Rojinegros cause for hope.

Behind Atlas comes America, which overcame Mexico City rival Pumas 1-0 on Saturday. The win meant the Aguilas have now defeated all their major rivals – Chivas, Cruz Azul, Pumas – in the same season for the first time in 15 years.

The fact that Christian Benitez scored the goal on Saturday bodes well. He has the ability to drive America to the title, but the clear sense of tension that seems to be prevailing around him at present makes it difficult to predict exactly which face America will show in any given game.

Santos Laguna has been steadily improving all season and the defensive revolution at the club has been impressive. Santos now has the best defensive record in all the league with just 10 goals conceded in 15 games. Friday’s 1-0 victory over Monterrey was a clinical example of the new-look Santos.

Maybe it’s not the same swashbuckling style that fans became used to, but the Guerreros are an outfit with a nice balance of experience and youth and have plenty of players that know exactly what it is to win a title.

The top four teams are already qualified for the playoffs, but behind them there are a few sides standing out and finding form at the right time.

Morelia sits in fifth position and is undefeated in eight league matches. Perhaps the biggest single factor for the Michoacan-club is that Chilean striker Hector Mancilla is finding his stride at the perfect time.

But the real form team in the whole league at present is Cruz Azul, which has been rejuvenated and seems to have found a new sense of determination since the Copa MX win on April 10. The trophy seems to have lifted a monkey off the club’s back. The talent of the players certainly isn’t in doubt and the vibe surrounding the club at present is certainly positive and showed in last weekend’s 5-0 win over Tijuana and Sunday’s 2-0 victory at Toluca.

Despite the loss in the Azteca on Saturday, Pumas played well and were unlucky with the sending off of Martin Bravo. They have improved as the season has progressed under Antonio Torres Servin.

Of the other challengers, Monterrey is likely more concerned with the CONCACAF Champions League, and champion Tijuana with the Copa Libertadores, which could leave the door open for an erratic Pachuca side.

Queretaro – currently in eighth place – is focused with pulling off a near miracle to survive relegation, but if it does reach the playoffs and loses its relegation battle, the Gallos Blancos are not allowed to take part in the postseason due to league rules.

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