Pabon the key for Monterrey while Lobos is vital for Toluca
After 17 weeks of league play, the 2014 Apertura playoffs are set to begin. Thursday sees Monterrey meet Atlas and Chiapas take on Toluca -- here are five things to watch for:
1. Dorlan Pabon
Of Monterrey's 23 goals scored during the regular season, 11 came from Pabon. Along with his goals, the striker also collected five assists as well, meaning that only seven of his side's goals came about without his help. Thus, a good performance from the Colombian striker will be vital in their match against Atlas on Thursday.
Despite his great numbers, though, Pabon struggled to find the back of the net at the end of the season, a run of form that coincided with the same exact time that Monterrey couldn't secure wins.
Pabon should be able to have a huge impact but must be careful with his behavior on the pitch. The striker also leads his team in yellow cards for the season.
2. Monterrey's defense
During their last six matches in the Apertura, Monterrey's defense conceded 13 goals. Even Morelia, who finished the season in last place and with a minus-18 goal differential, allowed fewer goals during their last six games.
Los Rayados must especially be cautious with the Atlas attack that will likely utilize Arturo "Poncho" Gonzalez, who has emerged as one of the standout young players in the league.
3. Pablo Velazquez
In his last four games, Velazquez had one assist and three goals for Toluca. The striker finished the regular season as one of the league's best attackers and could be the difference-maker for Toluca when they take on Chiapas.
When Pablo does well, so does his side. Since joining the club back in 2013, Los Diablos Rojos have only lost one league game when the 27 year-old either scores or assists a goal.
4. Lucas Lobos
Speaking of assists, Lucas Lobos must also be given credit for his contributions for Toluca. The midfielder finished the Apertura regular season as the joint leader with six in total.
After his transfer from Tigres earlier this year, Lobos had difficulties transitioning but eventually became one of the squad's more important players. Even though he doesn't appear to be playing at his best, the midfielder is still somehow producing impressive numbers.
Considering the fact that, at 33, Lobos is near the end of his career, it will be interesting to see how the veteran plays during the Liguilla.
5. Chiapas' homefield advantage
Chiapas are the only Liga MX club to finish the regular season without a loss at home which means that, although Toluca appear to be the better squad on paper, it will be a daunting task for them to secure points in a venue that has only seen six goals from the opposition in eight games.
Furthermore, one must also consider the fact that Toluca averaged just one goal a game during their away games in the Apertura.
Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.