Cruz Azul finishes top as Liga MX playoffs are finalized

With the Clausura playoffs set, there are a number of intriguing matchups to follow in Liga MX.
Cruz Azul remained top of the table as the Clausura 2014 regular season came to an end on Sunday, with Santos, America, Pachuca, Tijuana and Leon claiming the five slots that were still up for grabs in the Liga MX playoffs.

Wins for Chiapas and Monterrey were not enough for them to force their way into la Liguilla, while defeats for Morelia, Atlas, Queretaro and Chivas ensured that they all missed out as well.

As competitive and unpredictable as ever, this season has thrown up an intriguing set of fixtures featuring three of Mexico’s traditional big four clubs, plus recent champions Leon and Tijuana.

Cruz Azul vs. Leon

Late goals from Rogelio Chavez and Mauro Formica proved enough for Cruz Azul to overcome Pumas on Saturday and end the regular season in first place.

Will the curse of the Superlider strike again or can Cruz Azul build on last week’s CONCACAF Champions League triumph and go on to claim a ninth league title, its first since 1997?

Luis Fernando Tena would probably have felt more confident of his side’s chances had Chivas crept into la Liguilla at Leon’s expense on Sunday. But Chivas’ loss to Monterrey means Cruz Azul will face 2013 Apertura champion Leon, whose 2-1 win over Tijuana on Friday eventually proved enough to seal the final berth in the playoffs.

Although recent performances have been underwhelming, Leon’s midweek exit from the Copa Libertadores means its domestic form will no longer suffer as a result of the distractions of continental cup football.

With the experience of Rafa Marquez and the offensive threat of Carlos Peña and Luis Montes, Leon has the potential to hurt Tena’s side, and it will undoubtedly prove a more dangerous opponent than the lightweight Guadalajara side that Cruz Azul might have hoped to face.

Toluca vs. Tijuana

Once Cruz Azul sealed the top spot the night before, Toluca knew there was nothing at stake in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with America as a second-place finish was already guaranteed.

The Diablos Rojos will now face Tijuana, which could have gone third and secured a more favorable draw in the playoffs were it not for Friday’s rare home defeat to Leon.

Still, Xolos will go into the tie with confidence, having beaten Toluca 3-1 at the Estadio Caliente just three weeks ago. Tijuana also boasts a superior head-to-head record, with four wins and just one defeat from the eight games contested by the two sides.

Pumas vs. Pachuca

Pachuca set the tone for an exciting weekend with a stunning comeback against Queretaro on Friday night.

Leading 3-0 up until the 75th minute, Gallos Blancos looked certain to earn the victory they needed to keep their playoff hopes alive. But the troubled home side capitulated as Los Tuzos pulled off the most unlikely of recoveries with Enrique Esqueda and Dario Carreño each netting twice in an unbelievable final 15 minutes.

Pachuca will now face Pumas, who finished ahead of Santos and America on goal difference, despite that defeat to Cruz Azul.

The last game between the two was a goalless draw in early March. Neither side is in great form but Pumas will enjoy the advantage of playing the decisive second leg at home.

Santos vs. America

Santos had the chance to leapfrog Pumas into third place on Saturday but could only manage a 2-2 draw with lowly Veracruz. That result, coupled with America’s tie with Toluca, meant both clubs finished on 25 points with a goal difference of plus four.

Santos’ superior scoring record (the Torreon side has netted a league-high 33 goals this season; America has only scored 21) proved the only difference between them, ensuring the former has the advantage of playing the second leg at home.

Last week’s Copa Libertadores defeat means Santos – like Leon – is now free to concentrate fully on the playoffs.

Santos may also enjoy a psychological advantage over America, having triumphed in the last three matchups, and pulling off an impressive comeback in coming from 2-0 down to win 4-2 at the Estadio Azteca in March.