Liga MX Talking Points: Top-two battle, Liguilla final leads final weekend

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Julio Cesar Aguilar
A passionate Clasico Regio for the No. 1 spot and a nervous day for Cruz Azul set up a thrilling final day of Liga MX. Goal previews the weekend

Liguilla drama usually fills the last week of the Liga MX regular season, but this week a No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle has stolen our attention.

There still will be jostling to get into the final playoff place, as six teams fight for five spots (seven technically are in the race, but Tijuana is all but eliminated because of goal difference). Fans of Cruz Azul, Atlas and Necaxa will be the most nervous headed into the weekend.

So too will fans in Monterrey, no matter what color you wear. We start with the top-two rivalry clash before looking ahead to the other stories in Jornada 17 of the Liga MX Apertura:


Match of the Week ... Monterrey vs. Tigres


Aviles Hurtado Monterrey

This year's Clasico Regiomontano has more than usual on the line. In addition to bragging rights about which is the best team in Monterrey, the winner of Saturday's contest — if there is one — will take the top spot into the Liguilla. Of course, bragging rights could shift quickly if this weekend's winner falls out of the postseason while the other team moves onto the title —something that seems totally possible with each team looking strong in various parts of the season.

Monterrey 13/10 to beat Tigres

Monterrey was undefeated for a long stretch at the start of the year but comes into this contest in a bit of a slump after dropping results to Lobos BUAP and Santos Laguna. Monterrey manager Antonio Mohamed rested players in each of those contests but will want to have his full squad firing for the Clasico. While Monterrey has been basking in the glow of its excellent season, Tigres has been stringing together the league's longest undefeated run. Tuca Ferretti's men are undefeated in their last five with their last loss coming in Leon. Both teams have been characterized by their defense this year. Monterrey's 12 goals conceded is the fewest in the league, while Tigres have allowed just two more.

With that said, expect someone to find the back of the net. Between Tigres' possession style that has resulted in nine goals for summer addition Enner Valencia, five for Eduardo Vargas and four for Andre-Pierre Gignac and Monterrey's comfort without the ball that has seen Aviles Hurtado lead the league with 10 goals and Rogelio Funes Mori follow with six, it will be a tall task for each sides' defenders. 

One of the biggest talking points leading into the contest has been the Estadio BBVA Bancomer itself and whether Tigres fans will be allowed in. The stadium has been a fortress for Rayados, but Tigres fans will be quick to remind them that the last defeat suffered in the building was a Tigres victory in the second leg of last tournament's playoffs. Monterrey nearly didn't allow any Tigres fans into the venue before acquiescing. The atmosphere in the stadium and whether Monterrey's strong home showings continue will be something to watch.


It's a big weekend for ... Paco Jemez (and the other managers in the Liguilla race)


Paco Jemez Cruz Azul

Necaxa, Atlas and Cruz Azul all have 24 points, and it's likely only two of them will make the playoffs. Sure, it's possible Morelia, Leon and Toluca all lose above them and all three get in with victories, but the way the season has gone for the trio on the brink, results will be needed.

While all three have ambition, only Cruz Azul is one of the league's grandes — and it is La Maquina who have been without playoffs the longest. After a good start to the seasons with a long undefeated run, manager Paco Jemez now must cope with the fact that his team needs to beat Veracruz and get help from other teams in the league to achieve its goal — which also has been set out in some ways as a minimum requirement.

"It's an obligation to get into the Liguilla. It's an obligation for the club, for us," veteran Cruz Azul midfielder Chaco Gimenez told  Record. "It was one of one of the first goals we had and we're still not in. We're not taking it as a fact because Veracruz is a really tough opponent. We've got to respect the opponent, always thinking in doing what we know how to do and go out and not change what we did with Morelia."

The attack overwhelmed Morelia's usually solid defense last time out in a 2-1 victory, and while beating Veracruz is hardly the most difficult task the team will have this season, the thought of once again missing out on the postseason could weigh the team down. If Cruz Azul can't make it, Jemez will be shown the door and this once-great club will be back at square one.


Keep an eye on ... Battle of Puebla


Julian Quinones Lobos BUAP

This game may have more to do with relegation than the top of the table, but the first-ever top-division meeting between these Puebla sides should be legitimately fascinating. The weekend kicks off with this game, which will be a test of whether or not the people of Puebla even like the first team it had in the top division. Attendances have been embarrassing at the Estadio Cuauhtemoc, but if La Franja are going to draw fans to the stadium a visit from the team across town may be the way to do it.

The host side hasn't been bad lately, getting two of its three wins this season during the Enrique Meza era, nor will Lobos hang their head about their 20-point season which they achieved despite turmoil off the field. The pressure is likely on Puebla to teach the new kids on the block a lesson for what could be an interesting derby if both sides are able to stay in the first division.

"We're going to play here in our stadium, in front of our fans, we've got to take on the responsibility even if we weren't the team with more history," Puebla defender Brayan Angulo said this week. "We're always going to want to get three points, but it's true we're the team with a longer time period in this division, that has more history and we have to show that on the field as well."

It may not be that easy. Lobos has a potent attack thanks to Colombian loanee Julian Quinones, who may have had a chance at the Golden Boot had he not fallen out with the club and missed a handful of games during the tournament. Wins against Monterrey and Cruz Azul in the last three games should have the newly promoted side motivated to top its rival.

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Quote of the Week


  Jonathan Orozo Nestor Araujo

"From my heart, I'm telling you I don't know anything and right now I'm only thinking in finishing well and having a good preseason to get Santos back into the top places because the club's fans deserve it." - Nestor Araujo , Santos Laguna center back

Could America's visit to Torreon on Sunday also be the final time Guerreros fans see Nestor Araujo dressed in their colors? The Mexico international was linked with a Bundesliga move last window and is likely to be a target this offseason as well. The player himself insists that his focus is not elsewhere, though, after Santos' disappointing season.

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