Tom Marshall: Liga MX playoff contenders

As the Apertura winds to a close, several teams look like strong contenders to win the Mexican title.
Only four rounds of matches remain in the Liga MX regular season and the league is taking shape as it breaks for World Cup qualifiers.

At the top, America is reigning supreme following its 2-0 victory in the Super Clasico against Chivas on Saturday. Las Aguilas are six points clear of second-placed Leon and even have a game in hand.

America is clearly the favorite at this stage, due to the quality and confidence running through the side, as well as the healthy knack it has at present of finding ways to win soccer matches. The Mexico City club is almost a football version of boxer Floyd Mayweather, weighing up the opponent, keeping it at a distance and striking with nonchalant ease when the opportunity arises.

It all bodes well for title number 12, but this is a playoff series and other teams are also in form.

Perhaps the best example of that is Leon, which overcame Puebla 3-1 on Saturday in spite of only having 10 men for most of the game.

Rafa Marquez fell into his bad ways when he picked up the red card, but Uruguayan Gustavo Matosas has crafted a well-balanced side full of quality.

Leon has matured since bursting into the first division just over a year ago, is defensively sturdier and should be able to maintain a strong playoff run.

Over at Toluca, the 7-1 win over Atlante last weekend really got people sitting up and taking notice, although Saturday’s 2-1 victory in the Estadio Universitario against Tigres was equally as impressive in many ways.

Jose Cardozo has adapted Toluca’s style, which is flexible between two and three center backs, and mixes physical attacking presences like Wilson Thiago and Pablo Valazquez with flair players such as Isaac Brizuela, Raul Nava and the evergreen Sinha.

In fourth, Santos Laguna is being slowly molded in Pedro Caixinha’s image and with the experience the players have of going deep into playoffs and winning tournaments, Los Guerreros are major contenders.

After slipping up against Monterrey and Santos Laguna, Morelia picked up a vital 2-1 victory Friday against Chiapas.

The Michoacan side started the season with a bang and the attacking trio of Aldo Leao, Jefferson Montero and Hector Mancilla can cause trouble for any team.

Cruz Azul’s campaign feels like it has been a little stop-start, but considering the way La Maquina ended last season in tears after losing to America on penalties in the final of the Clausura, it has done well to keep things ticking over.

All the above teams are at least seven points ahead of ninth-placed Tijuana and should be safe in their playoff positions.

Below them, seventh-placed Chiapas have been one of the surprises of the season and are four points in front of Xolos, while Queretaro – another surprise – is three ahead in eighth.

As the last few weeks of the season wind down, that’s where the battle for the final playoff spots is likely to be, with Tijuana, Puebla, Veracruz and Tigres all still retaining hopes of making the postseason.

The race to be the top scorer in the Liga MX is also on and closer than it has been in recent seasons.

Toluca’s Velazquez is on his own with nine goals, but Santos’ Oribe Peralta, Veracruz’s Angel Reyna and Hector Mancilla are all snapping at his heels on eight goals.

Below them, Raul Jimenez of America, Tijuana’s Fidel Martinez and Chiapas’ Carlos Ochoa are on seven goals, with Leon’s Mauro Boselli and Matias Alustiza on six.