Ahead of this weekend's Liga MX action, Goal's Tom Marshall examines what narratives fans should be looking out for.Aside from Cruz Azul and Toluca pulling away at the top of the Liga MX, the race for playoff places in the Clausura 2014 is alive, with only five points separating third-placed Pumas from 14th-placed Atlas and only six rounds of matches remaining.
Here are some of the main things to watch out for this weekend:
Can America get back on track?
Las Aguilas have won just one of their last six Liga MX matches and coach Antonio Mohamed is under pressure, even if the team is in sixth position in the league.
“We are sixth and you’d think we were last,” said forward Rubens Sambueza ahead of the game in response to the negative press surrounding the club.
America has, on paper, a relative easy game in the Estadio Azteca on Saturday against struggling Veracruz, although Jose Luis “Chelis” Sanchez’s Tiburones Rojos have little to lose and are in desperate need of points in the relegation race.
The home side is boosted by the return of key figure Miguel Layun, while Luis Gabriel Rey is also back from injury.
Anything other than a victory would likely see America – finalists the last two seasons – out of the playoff places and – potentially – below Chivas in the table.
Can Pumas replace Bravo?
Argentine Martin Bravo took his fair share of criticism from Pumas’ detractors when the club seemed to be in the midst of a crisis just a few months ago. But since then, the striker says he has turned the page, mentally toughened up and has banged in nine goals so far this season.
The only problem now for Pumas is that Bravo – who has almost half of the team’s goal tally this season - is injured for a couple of weeks.
Against Monterrey on Sunday, Dante Lopez is likely to replace him and will need to step up to ensure this temperamental Pumas side’s bubble doesn’t burst.
At least the abysmal Monterrey – which has sleepwalked through this Clausura and is last in the Liga MX - shouldn’t pose too many problems, unless it decides to suddenly wake up.
Just how good is Pachuca?
Los Tuzos are certainly a much-improved team this season, but it is still difficult to decipher just how good they are, despite being fourth in the league.
Last weekend’s game was a case in point. Pachuca deservedly took the lead against a strong Santos Laguna, only for Los Guerreros to storm back in the second half, after Jhon Pajoy was sent off for Los Tuzos in the 32nd.
The combination of Rodolfo Pizarro and Jurgen Damm on the right wing is a must-watch and one that someday could be replicated at international level.
A win against Chiapas on Saturday in the Estadio Hidalgo would be a big step towards the playoffs and to convincing people that Los Tuzos are ready to challenge for the title.
Atlas hosts Chivas in the Estadio Jalisco on Saturday looking to go level with them on points in the Guadalajara derby.
The buildup started two weeks ago when Atlas coach Tomas Boy claimed his team plays better soccer than their Guadalajara rivals. Chivas coach Jose Luis “Guero” Real naturally disagreed this week.
Both teams have failed to really entertain this season and expectations are low, but it is a derby and emotions will be running high.
Atlante’s chances of staying in the Liga MX are slipping away at present, and Los Potros face a tough test at home against Toluca on Sunday, although the team had been playing relatively well until last weekend’s capitulation against Pumas.
At present, Veracruz is second from bottom of the table, but only one or two victories would see it shoot up the relegation table – due to its improvement in its points per game ratio sharply increasing.
The Rojinegros of Atlas are six points ahead of Atlante, with struggling Puebla also getting sucked into the race. La Franja faces Tijuana in the border city on Friday and is one point above Atlas.
With 18 points still to play for, there is still time for twists and turns in the relegation battle, but it all depends on Atlante reacting sooner rather than later.