Chiapas and Puebla could cause upsets in Liga MX Liguilla
America, Tigres, Toluca and Pumas are justifiably receiving plenty of attention. The four aforementioned teams are the current favorites to win the Apertura title and have easily been the focus of many Liguilla conversations. While many fans await the semifinal match-ups that would include the four giants, a couple of outsiders like Chiapas and Puebla are preparing to upset playoff predictions.
When one thinks of "Apertura champions," Chiapas and Puebla aren't the first names that immediately come to mind. An early exit in quarterfinals seems more appropriate for the two clubs who have been fairly inconsistent for most of the regular season.
Yet, there is something about these two teams that makes them unexpected challengers and unpredictable dark horses in the race for the title. Let's take a look and explore the two clubs that have a chance to shake up the playoffs.
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Which Puebla team will appear during the postseason? There's the confident and impressive Puebla seen during the past few months that has been able to gain noteworthy wins against America, Pumas, Toluca, Tigres and Leon. Yet, there's also the uglier side of Puebla that has collected worrisome losses against Dorados, Santos Laguna and Morelia.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly how Los Camoteros will play this week, but one thing is for sure, the group has been able to compete with the best in Liga MX. After a commendable end to the regular season, Puebla emerged as one of the top defensive sides in the league. In 17 matches, they allowed just 20 goals.
If Puebla comes out flying with the leadership from striker Luis Gabriel Rey and midfielder Christian Bermudez, the club could find a way to not only defeat Toluca once again, but also make an impressive run for the title.
The chances of making this run have also been recently boosted by the renovation of the team's Estadio Cuauhtemoc. Puebla has been able to thrive in club's temporary home of the Estadio Universitario BUAP, but should be able to easily transition back to the comforts of its old stadium, which has a new look.
If Los Camoteros can improve their form away from home, which is arguably one of the worst in the league, an unexpected triumph against Toluca could be the first step to fighting for a title. Toluca might have to be wary of the Puebla roster that has been able to defeat Los Diablos Rojos in the last meeting between the two, sustain multiple excellent defensive performances, and also been able to step up in some of the team's biggest matches of the season.
Despite finishing an impressive fourth place in the league table, Los Jaguares were a bit unlucky to be given a match-up against the fifth-place Tigres for the quarterfinals. Were it not for the Copa Libertadores competition that overlapped with the beginning of the season, Tigres could have easily had a couple more favorable results that would have given the team a deserved spot at second or third place.
Due to this, Chiapas are the higher seed in the series, but are not considered the favorites against the star-studded Tigres. With an attack that showcases the talents of Jurgen Damm, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Javier Aquino, it's easy to see why the club from Monterrey is currently the statistical favorite to win the title.
However, Los Auriazules must remain cautious against Chiapas. Los Jaguares are heading into the playoffs with four wins in a row and only one loss since Sept. 12. The victories weren't exactly walks in the park either. The first win in the current streak was a shocking 3-2 away victory last month against the current first-place team, Pumas.
Chiapas strikers Aviles Hurtado and Silvio Romero have carried the club throughout the season and now have a big opportunity to maintain the rhythm gained from the recent positive results.
At times, success in the Liguilla ultimately stems from the momentum that is built up right before the start of the competition. Although Tigres have the much more talented roster, Chiapas could keep up their current pace and surprise the home side on Wednesday.
Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.