Liga MX: Three things ahead of Week 12

Atlas takes an 8-game unbeaten streak into Estadio Azteca to face Cruz Azul who has won 9 straight games. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Atlas takes an 8-game unbeaten streak into Estadio Azteca to face Cruz Azul who has won 9 straight games. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images) /

In mid-January, if you had told me that this weekend’s Cruz Azul-Atlas match could be the most attractive Liga MX game of the season, I’d have laughed you out of the cantina.

If you then insisted that last season’s finalists would be in the bottom half of the table, I might have shoved you off your barstool.

And if you’d followed that up by telling me that no coach would be fired through 11 weeks of action, well … I might have asked the cantinero to call you an Uber.

But if that had happened, I’d now be asking you for help filling out my March Madness brackets.

One of these streaks gotta end

Cruz Azul started the Guardianes 2021 with two losses while Atlas opened with three straight losses and did not even earn their first win until Feb. 15.

On Jan. 17, the Cementeros were in 17th place, one spot ahead of Atlas. But since a Matchday 2 loss to Puebla, Cruz Azul’s season has been nothing but W’s. Nine straight wins.

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The Zorros, however, would remain on the bottom of the Liga MX table until a Matchday 6 win over Pachuca. Since its 0-0-3 start, Atlas has gone 5-3-0 (yes, the Zorros benefited from a forfeit imposed on América for a pre-game “clerical error” but that’s beside the point) and currently sits in 6th place with 18 points.

Coach Diego Cocca and “los Rojinegros” visit Estadio Azteca Saturday night hoping to end Cruz Azul’s win streak. A win for the league-leading Cementeros would end the Zorros’ 8-game unbeaten run whereas a draw or an Atlas win puts a halt to Cruz Azul’s 9-game winning streak.

A record for Liga MX owners

Mexican soccer clubs are often flogged for lack of patience and their propensity for firing coaches. It sometimes seems like Liga MX clubhouses feature a revolving door.

Last season, 12 coaches were canned, 11 were sacked during the Apertura 2019. This season, not a single coach was pink-slipped through 11 games, but that didn’t last long.

Hours after playing to a 1-1 tie at home against the Pumas, FC Juárez fired coach Luis Fernando Tena who had taken the job during the winter break. The Bravos were in 17 th place with a 2-3-5 record and a –12 goal differential. Incidentally, Tena was fired by the Chivas last season after only three games.

Hours later, Necaxa showed José Guadalupe Cruz the door after the Rayos lost badly at León. “El Profe” took the reins at Necaxa midway through last season and led them to a wildcard berth but the club has managed just a single win this season (1-4-6) and is in last place.

Mexico launched its first professional fútbol league back in 1943 and never in its history had no coach been fired through 11 weeks.

Ironically, Necaxa hosts the Bravos on Friday night. Although both teams will likely rely on interim managers for the Battle in the Cellar, ESPN is reporting that “Memo” Vázquez is likely to return to the Necaxa dugout while former Rayos manager Alfonso Sosa is close to accepting the Bravos post.

Talk about a hangover

On Dec. 13, No. 1 seed León defeated No. 2 seed UNAM to claim its 8th Liga MX title. The two finalists had reached the postseason with one loss each before battling their way to the championship series with impressive performances.

Less than a month later, the Guardianes 2021 kicked off and neither the Esmeraldas nor the Pumas appeared ready for the new season. Pundits and fans alike figured it would just be a matter of games before the clubs regained their footing, though most expected UNAM to struggle a bit after selling off top striker Carlos González.

Four weeks in, León had already lost more games than they had last season and the downward trend continued. Heading into Matchday 11, the Esmeraldas were 2-2-6 and in 16th place.

In Mexico City, the Pumas were equally wretched. After a Matchday 2 win over Mazatlán FC, UNAM went 5 games without scoring and were a stunning 1-2-5 after a Matchday 8 loss to the Chivas.

If the Pumas can’t find a spark on offense (they are the lowest-scoring team in Liga MX with 6 goals through 11 games), they risk not even making the 12-team playoff field this season.

For León, the story is considerably different. On Monday, captain Luis Montes was back in the starting line-up after missing three games and the Esmeraldas attack was suddenly back in rhythm (let’s keep in mind that they were playing Necaxa) and the win lifted them into 14th place, only 1 point out of a playoff spot.

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If “El Chapo” stays healthy, there’s no doubt “La Fiera” can claim a wildcard berth and nobody will relish the idea of playing León in the playoffs.