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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Cruz Azul, Chiapas dark horse Liguilla contenders; high-flying Lozano returns

Cruz Azul is currently in 14th place, but Paco Jemez's swashbuckling side could sneak into the Liguilla spots.

After watching the Mexico national team fly through the international break with six points from a possible six, domestic league action is back! Liga MX is in full swing and with the regular season more than halfway complete, we asked our experts Tom Marshall, Nayib Moran and Cesar Hernandez for their Liguilla dark horse and relegation picks and, of course, what you can't miss in Week 12!

Surprise Liguilla contender

Cruz Azul

I'm not sure if a team with Cruz Azul's budget and transfer spending can or should be called a dark horse, but La Maquina is out of the playoff places in 14th position with seven matches left in the Clausura. A bit more luck in front of goal and Paco Jemez's swashbuckling side will be in the postseason. -- Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup)

Chiapas

If Chiapas was able to get wins over Toluca, Tigres, Chivas and Club America, there's no reason to doubt its form heading into the closing stages of the regular season. Goalkeeper Moises Munoz has been one of the best in the Clausura and could be an important leader as Chiapas works its way toward an unexpected playoff appearance. -- Nayib Moran (@nayibmoran)

Queretaro

New manager Jaime "Jimmy" Lozano has reinvigorated Los Gallos Blancos. Queretaro has taken charge in recent Liga MX matches and with the highly-talented Tiago Volpi in net, the squad -- currently sixth in the table -- will make a surprising run to the playoffs. -- Cesar Hernandez (@cesarhfutbol)

Tiago Volpi has been superb in goal for sixth-placed Queretaro, with three clean sheets so far during the 2017 Clausura.

Only one relegation favorite ...

Veracruz

Prior to the international break, Los Tiburones Rojos lost five consecutive Liga MX games, failed to score in 457 minutes of play and saw their coach Carlos Reinoso step down due to ill health. The result was Veracruz slipping four points below Morelia at the foot of the relegation table. The bloated 39-player squad was hastily and haphazardly put together over the winter and bizarrely included 21 foreigners, despite a mere 10 being allowed in each matchday squad. That kind of poor planning has its consequences. -- Marshall

Juan Antonio Luna took over the Veracruz coaching job during the international break, but that doesn't deter from the fact that Los Tiburones Rojos have been a sinking ship since the start of the Clausura. During the offseason, the club made many personnel changes and at the moment it has 20 foreign footballers, making it incapable of finding a strong enough starting XI to compete with the league's best. -- Moran

A spot in the Copa MX might bring some scheduling problems for Morelia, but I can't see the team doing any worse than Veracruz. Los Tiburones Rojos are floundering with five losses in a row and currently sit at the bottom of the relegation table. -- Hernandez 

What you can't miss this weekend

High-flying Lozano's return for Pachuca against Puebla

Hirving Lozano will be a huge boost for Pachuca during a busy week domestically and in CONCACAF competition.

Hirving "Chucky" Lozano is unlikely to be in Liga MX much longer and is back from the horrible-looking injury he suffered earlier this month to face La Franja on Saturday. And how Pachuca needs him. While he was out, Los Tuzos lost on the road against both FC Dallas and Queretaro and clearly lacked the outlet he provides on the wing. A win against a weak Puebla will set Lozano and Pachuca up nicely for their biggest game of the season so far on Tuesday against FC Dallas in the return leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal. -- Marshall

Toluca overcoming obstacles in centennial year

As difficult as the past few weeks have been for Toluca, with player suspensions and hard losses to Chivas and Puebla, Los Diablos Rojos are still alive and well-placed in the playoff race. Their strong start to the season has them in great position as the Liguilla looms. Players like Fernando Uribe, Pablo Barrientos, Jesus Mendez and Erbin Trejo will be vital in the coming weeks and on Sunday, Toluca must win over Necaxa, a team that's nowhere near its great form from last campaign. -- Moran

Can Leon bounce back for late Liguilla spot?

Will Leon bounce back and earn a late spot in the Liguilla? Saturday night's match against Tigres will provide a perfect opportunity for Los Panzas Verdes to initiate another late run to the top eight. As for Tigres, the current champions will also look to pick up some points in order to make a late playoff run of their own. -- Hernandez

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