After a weekend of upsets, the Liga MX quarterfinals – aka “la Liguilla” – kicks off tonight with some unlikely match-ups.
In Wednesday night’s first contest, top-seeded Monterrey visits a Santos Laguna squad that finished 13th in the standings. That’s right. 13th!
The Guerreros qualified for the 12th and final wildcard because Querétaro – the 10th-place finisher – was ineligible for the playoffs since the club came in dead last in the Relegation Standings.
For those in the dark, the Liga MX Relegation Standings is a calculation derived from the three most recent seasons and the three worst teams in these standings must pay a hefty fine to remain in the top tier.
Top Liga MX favorites in action Wednesday
The No. 1 seed Rayados actually lost to Santos Laguna – and at home! – on Matchday 15, but that came a week after Monterrey saw its 12-game unbeaten streak come to an end at the hands (and feet) of América.
Most Liga MX observers chalk up the April 16 upset as a Rayados let-down after the setback Víctor Manuel Vucetich’s men had suffered in the big showdown game at Estadio Azteca.
A simple look at the records would suggest that Monterrey should be – and is – a huge favorite to swat aside the Guerreros. But of course, games aren’t won on paper. They are won on the pitch.
The Rayados finished atop the Liga MX standings with a 13-1-3 record and their 40-point haul was more than twice as much as Santos (19 points from a 5-4-8 record).
The Guerreros gave up more goals than any other team in Liga MX (37) which contributed to an ugly minus-14 goal differential. But those statistics did not help defending Liga MX champion Pachuca who were stunned by the No. 12 seeds in a penalty shootout.
Regardless, the smart money will remain on Monterrey who should be well-rested after 10 days off even though Carlos Acevedo – El Tri’s goalie of the future – is expected back from a shoulder injury.
Aguilas begin chase for 14th Liga MX title
San Luis struggled to produce goals all season (the club’s 16 goals were tied for fewest in the league) but took advantage of defensive errors to put three shots behind Rodolfo Cota who led Liga MX with 9 shutouts.
Don’t expect América to be so generous tonight. The bigger issue is whether Atleti can stand up to the waves of attacking opportunities that the Aguilas create.
“Los Azulcremas” led Liga MX with 36 goals and MVP front-runner Henry Martín is poised to put a stamp on the Clausura 2023 as “La Temporada de la Bomba.” Martín not only led the league in scoring (14 goals) but he was second in assists (5).
Stopping Henry is not enough, however, especially when you have Jonathan Rodríguez, Diego Valdés, Alejandro Zendejas and Alvaro Fidalgo running at you. (Reports suggest Zendejas might open the game on the bench, but he will be available.)
With Luis Malagón settling in between the pipes for América after taking the job from Oscar Jiménez and Israel Reyes and Sebastián Cáceres becoming a solid tandem in central defense, this series could be quite one-sided.
It will be interesting to see what Atlético de San Luis coach André Jardine has drawn up in tonight’s home game. I’d expect a packed-in defense that looks to release the team’s speedy wingers Jhon Murillo and Vitinho with long passes.
No doubt, the plan will be to keep it close and choppy (if ref Fernando Guerrero allows it) and frustrate the Aguilas so that the Tuneros have a prayer of a chance at Estadio Azteca on Saturday.
The Liga MX quarterfinals continue Thursday with two more first-leg matches. The double-header begins with a Clásico Tapatío (No. 3 Guadalajara at No. 9 Atlas) and concludes with an attractive contest at “El Volcán” where we’ll see No. 4 Toluca paying a visit to #7 Tigres.