Tom Marshall: Great matchups abound as Liga MX playoffs set

Two derbies steal the show in the Liguilla quarterfinals, but the other two matchups shouldn't lack for drama either.
The last round of games in the Liga MX regular season lacked a certain spark with almost all the playoff spots already wrapped up and Queretaro needing a miracle to avoid relegation. But the way those results fell led to a set of quarterfinal matches that are the most mouthwatering in recent years.

America versus Pumas at any time is one of Mexico’s most attractive games, but the rivalry between the Mexico City giants will be even more intense knowing that the whole season will depend on the result. Neither side – two of Mexico’s ‘big four’ - will be satisfied with a quarterfinal exit and America could make changes in the coaching staff if the result doesn’t go its way.

“I think it’s going to be an important game and good to watch,” America midfielder Jesus Molina told the press on Sunday. “It’s a clasico and at the end of the day, fans are the winners.”

America is already promising to go on the front foot and take the game to Pumas in the Ciudad Universitaria in search of an away victory.

“This team isn’t about playing for a draw, or seeing how the game goes,” said America’s Juan Carlos Medina. “We depend on ourselves for what the institution means and we’re going to represent it in the way it deserves.”

The game earlier in the season finished 1-0 to America, but was an open affair with Pumas having plenty of opportunities to get on the board.

Both games are likely to sell out, meaning 160,000 people will be in attendance over the two legs. Expect a huge security presence, with ongoing problems between fans of the two clubs. In sum, it will be a real event, not just another game.

The same can be said of Tigres against Monterrey, which will halt an entire city. Tigres witnessed Monterrey win its third consecutive CONCACAF Champions League title last week and suffered a 1-0 home loss when the two met two weeks ago.

The build up is already underway, with Tigres goalkeeper Enrique Palos pulling no punches in stating his desire to knock Rayados out.

“It’s good it turned out this way, we’re thinking of winning the game and knocking them out,” he is quoted as saying in Medio Tiempo. “There are pending issues, we’re going to do everything to win the game for our fans.”

And while the two derbies may steal the limelight, the game between Morelia and Cruz Azul pits the Liga MX’s two in-form teams.

Morelia is undefeated in 12 games and has won all of its last four games. The attacking quartet of Aldo Leao, Joao Rojas, Jefferson Montero and Hector Mancilla has clicked and represents one of the most dynamic and lethal offensive units in the Liga MX.

Cruz Azul comes into the game off the back of battering Monterrey 5-1 and five consecutive Liga MX victories. The Copa MX victory has given Memo Vazquez and his players some breathing space and a boost of confidence. It could just be the tie of the round.

Finally, Atlas takes on Santos Laguna in a match-up that won’t generate as much interest, but is intriguing in its own right, as it pits the teams that finished the season with the best defensive records. They also shared the best home record.

Atlas is without a title since 1951 and this is the club’s first playoff appearance in six years. Rojinegros fans were expecting a tight, tense fight against relegation, but the season has been successful beyond anyone’s expectations. However, the club’s form in recent weeks has dipped, even if the return of Omar Bravo for the Liguilla should be a welcome boost.

Santos Laguna is well experienced in two-leg ties and goes into the game as the favorite. The big question mark for the Guerreros is how losing the CONCACAF Champions League final in dramatic circumstances will affect them.

Liga MX Clausura 2013 Stats

First place: Tigres

Runner-up: America

Last place: Atlante

Relegated: Queretaro

Most goals: Cruz Azul (35 goals for)

Least goals: Leon (14 goals for)

Best defense: Atlas, Santos (13 goals conceded)

Worst defense: Atlante (33 goals conceded)

Top goalscorer: Christian Benitez (12 goals)

Runner-up goalscorer: Hector Mancilla (11 goals)

Best home record: Atlas, Santos (19 points)

Best away record: Tigres (7 wins, 1 loss)

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