The Liga MX quarterfinals continue tonight with two more first-leg matches including a much-anticipated “Clásico Tapatío.”
The double-header opens with the Guadalajara Derby as the Chivas travel across town to tangle with bitter rivals Atlas with the Zorros looking to spoil the unexpected resurgence enjoyed this season by “El Rebaño Sagrado.”
After that tantalizing clash, Liga MX fans will get to watch No. 7 Tigres host No. 4 Toluca as the visiting Diablos Rojos begin their trek to return to the Finals after last season’s disappointment.
On Wednesday night, No. 1 seed Monterrey and 12th-seeded Santos Laguna played to a scoreless draw while No. 2 América cruised past No. 11 Atlético de San Luis by a 3-1 scoreline.
Atlas aims to rain on Chivas’ parade
Long the mistreated step-child of Guadalajara, Atlas has enjoyed bragging rights since October 2021 as the Zorros were en route to the first of their back-to-back Liga MX crowns.
Atlas has not lost to the Chivas since April 2021 and though they don’t have a stellar record against their city rivals (2 wins, 4 ties), “los rojinegros” can point to the Clausura 2022 quarterfinals – a 3-2 aggregate triumph for the Zorros – and to their recent playoff success.
Meanwhile, Guadalajara has only gotten past the quarterfinals once in the past five seasons and missed out on the playoffs entirely the five seasons before that.
Heading into the Clausura 2023, the Chivas hired Real Madrid legend Fernando Hierro to run the front office and his selection of Serbian Veljko Paunovic to coach the team has proven to be inspired.
In fact, Guadalajara tied the franchise record for most points in a short season (34). The Goats are genuine Liga MX title contenders a year ahead of schedule, finishing in third place and claiming a first-round playoff bye.
But failing to get past Atlas would be a crushing blow to Chivas Nation. The Jalisco antagonists played to a thrilling 3-3 draw on April Fool’s Day (Matchday 13) and the Zorros have refused to lose since then, rescuing what once seemed like a lost season.
First-year coach Benjamín Mora guided his men to a 4-2-0 finish that saw Atlas climb into the playoff picture and surge into the No. 9 seed. The Zorros then edged past No. 8 Cruz Azul on Wildcard Weekend to claim a spot in the “Liguilla.”
Always an entertaining clash, the “Clásico Tapatío” will occur in the postseason for the sixth time and Atlas holds a slim 3-5-2 advantage from those five previous series but Guadalajara advanced from three of the five playoff meetings.
Expect this one to be a 180-minute war. Keep an eye on Atlas forward Julián Quiñones (No. 33) and Guadalajara’s dynamic duo of Alexis Vega (No. 10) and Víctor Guzmán (No. 5).
Toluca hopes to weather the storm at ‘El Volcán’
The Diablos Rojos, last year’s losing finalists, travel to Monterrey to take on the underachieving Tigres.
The Northern Giants boast one of the biggest payrolls in Liga MX but lollygagged their way to a seventh-place finish. Their season was complicated by the departure of new coach Diego Cocca who was lured away from “los auriazules” by the offer to coach El Tri.
Substitute coach Marco Antonio Ruiz lasted nine weeks before being canned after a four-game losing streak (including a 3-2 loss to tonight’s opponent, Toluca) capped off by a 2-1 home loss to cellar-dwelling Mazatlán FC.
In came former Tigres goalie Roberto Siboldi who has enjoyed success in Liga MX (he led Santos Laguna to the Clausura 2018 championship) has been tasked with guiding the Tigres ship on another deep playoff run.
If last week’s Wildcard Weekend performance is any indication (a lackluster 1-0 win over 10th-seeded Puebla), this will be a brief postseason appearance.
Fourth-seeded Toluca is a much more dangerous team than Puebla, with Maxi Araujo, Jean Meneses and Leo Fernández (a former Tigre) leading the third most-productive offense in Liga MX (34 goals).
With All-Star goalie Tiago Volpi back-stopping the defense, “los choriceros” also boast the second-best goal differential (plus-15) in the league.
Tigres must find some consistency on offense and figure out a way to win tonight because going into “La Bombonera” on Sunday at high noon needing a win against Toluca is likely too much to ask from this aging “felinos” roster.
Elsewhere in Liga MX
Two teams that failed to come near the playoffs – last-place Mazatlán FC and 17th-place Necaxa – appear to have decided upon new coaches.
The upstart Cañoneros have hired Spaniard Ismael Rescalvo while the Rayos are on the verge of tapping Venezuelan Rafael Dudamel. The new coaches will have trouble adapting to Liga MX unless their bosses invest in significant roster improvement.