Clausura 2023: Looks like a six-team race for Top 4 playoff seeds

Monterrey has a 4-point lead atop the Liga MX table after nine games thanks to a 7-game win streak. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Monterrey has a 4-point lead atop the Liga MX table after nine games thanks to a 7-game win streak. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /
Liga MX clubs midpoint
América has had plenty of reason to celebrate this season, bulging opponents’ nets 21 times through nine games, tops in Liga MX. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /

With the first half of the Liga MX calendar behind us, we’re taking stock of what we’ve seen thus far.

In our previous column, we looked at individual performances, so here we’ll dig into the nuts and bolts of how clubs are performing and who to keep tabs on down the home stretch.

Heading into Matchday 9, Monterrey, Tigres and América appeared to be on the verge of making the Clausura 2023 a three-team race.

However, none of these Liga MX giants won over the weekend, and although the Rayados still have a comfortable 4-point lead atop the Liga MX table, there are only 2 points separating second through sixth.

And with all six of the best “Clásicos” remaining on the schedule, the battle for the four first-round playoff byes should be quite entertaining.

Aguilas giving goalies headaches

América is the top-scoring team in Liga MX again, banging home 21 goals through nine games. The Aguilas shared the Liga MX scoring title with Santos Laguna last season, each club bagging 38 goals

“Los AzulCremas” are also the lone unbeaten team (4-5-0) but they might come to lament settling for so many draws. On Saturday, the Aguilas raced out to a 2-0 lead against a one-win Atlas side only to allow the Zorros to split the points thanks to two Brian Lozano wonder goals.

Fernando Ortiz and Co. can’t rest on their laurels because they have a killer schedule left: defending Liga MX champs Pachuca, both Monterrey powerhouses, and all three of their “Clásicos” (Chivas, Pumas and Cruz Azul).

Northern giants setting the pace

Table-topping Monterrey saw its league-best 7-game win streak come to an end Monday night in León, but a late penalty (and the Esmeraldas’ profligacy throughout the match they dominated) allowed the Rayados to claim a draw.

Víctor Manuel Vucetich has his club 4 points clear of their closest pursuers with a very respectable 22 points after nine games.

Monterrey will be gearing up for the “Clásico Regiomontano” in three weeks when they take a bus across town to face Tigres who sorely miss the presence of striker André-Pierre Gignac (thigh injury). The Frenchman’s return for the Monterrey derby is uncertain

As for Tigres, their league-best defense is expecting to find support as the club’s offensive stars return to health. Although Gignac could be out a few more weeks, Nicolás López is back in training while recent acquisition Diego Lainez will likely make more of an impact as he settles into the club.

Aiming for a return to the Liga MX Finals

After a slow start to the Clausura 2023 (1-3-1), second-place Toluca has won four on the trot, outscoring opponents 12-2.

The Diablos Rojos – last season’s losing finalist – reloaded heading into the season and it took awhile for the newcomers to adapt to Ignacio Ambriz’s complicated tactics. But now right back Brian García and winger Maxi Araujo are helping lead the charge up the Liga MX table.

“Los Choriceros” have climbed into second place, and with the worst two teams in the league (Querétaro and Mazatlán FC) up next, this team could have some nice momentum heading toward the back stretch.

Holders trending downward

Pachuca got off to a decent start despite doing more subtracting than adding to its roster. The Tuzos dealt midfield wizard Víctor Guzmán to the Chivas and got nothing in return and lost regular winger Romario Ibarra to injury.

The reigning Liga MX champs were in first place as late as Matchday 5 but by then the club had sold reigning scoring king Nico Ibáñez to Tigres and offensive production was becoming an issue.

Coach Guillermo Almada deserves credit for trying to make do with Tuzos academy grad Roberto de la Rosa (unlike many Liga MX coaches who prefer South American forwards who often end up slowing the development of Mexican youngsters while not living up to their wage packets), but the 23-year-old has struggled to deliver goals.

De la Rosa’s decision-making has also left a little to be desired, so it would be no surprise if Almada soon gives late acquisition Cristian Arango a chance to win the position.

In the meantime, the Pachuca defense has also sprung some leaks (the Hidalguenses have conceded 14 goals whereas they allowed 15 goals all of last season). Young fullbacks Mauricio Isaias and Kevin Álvarez have both experienced a drop in form while 20-year-old Israel Luna has yet to make Tuzos fans forget the loss of Guzmán.

Right now, Pachuca looks more like a dangerous wildcard team rather than a threat to win another title.

Frisky Goats proclaim their intentions

Guadalajara underwent a front-office makeover before the season and pundits predicted “El Rebaño Sagrado” was on the road back to relevance.

But after new GM Fernando Hierro hired relative unknown Veljko Paunovic to be the coach, some wondered if the return to prominence would be sidetracked.

Instead, Paunovic has the Chivas playing sturdy, fundamentally sound fútbol and the aforementioned Guzmán has stepped firmly into a leadership role.

Guadalajara is playing virtually error-free soccer and the defense has been outstanding, a necessity since the club’s top two strikers – Alexis Vega and JJ Macías are out injured.

Next. Top individual performers at midpoint of season. dark

Although the Chivas seem to lack the firepower necessary to claim the club’s 13th Liga MX title, the strength of the collective performance make this team a good bet to go deep in the playoffs.