Top seeds Tijuana, Monterrey and Chivas in danger of early Liguilla exits
There are four games down and four to go before the semifinals of the Liga MX playoffs. Following big wins for Tigres and Toluca on Wednesday, and a couple of close clashes on Thursday night, each club now has just 90 more minutes to fight for a spot in the next round of the Liguilla.
Here are five things to watch during the second legs of the quarterfinals.
1. Monterrey's Clasico Regio response at home
After losing 4-1 to Tigres in the first leg, Los Rayados will need at least three goals against the title-holders on Saturday. To say that this will be difficult is an understatement.
This year, Tigres have yet to allow three goals in a match. In fact, manager Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti has gone 36 games in a row without allowing more than two goals to be scored on his side. And if Tigres manage to score one themselves on Saturday night, Monterrey would then need at least four.
However, if there's one team that has at least a small chance of pulling off a historic comeback against Tigres, it's Monterrey. They have plenty of stars of their own and, at a packed Estadio BBVA Bancomer, the home side will be keen on entertaining the supporters.
Monterrey have to push forward against a very talented Tigres side, so that should make the clash between the two crosstown rivals a must-watch.
2. Toluca to seal a place in the semifinals
If Monterrey's chances are slim, Santos Laguna's are even smaller.
Los Guerreros also stumbled in a 4-1 loss on Wednesday, but the big difference between their defeat and Monterrey's is the fact that Santos lost at home. With four away goals scored by Toluca, Santos will need at least four of their own this weekend.
Realistically, Toluca's ticket to the next round is all but guaranteed. Manager Hernan Cristante only needs to close up shop in the second leg, and with a highly experienced roster at his disposal, it's unlikely that his team will falter.
There's still a long way to go until the championship, but for now Los Diablos Rojos should be one step closer to earning a title in the organization's 100-year anniversary.
3. Conclusion to a tense Clasico Tapatio
Can Chivas overcome their problems in the attack? Following the 1-0 loss to Atlas on Thursday, Los Rojiblancos have now scored just two goals in their past six Liga MX matches. Granted, the team has had to deal with injury problems, but manager Matias Almeyda must find a way to get the attack to click in the second leg at home.
As for their Guadalajara rivals, Atlas might stick with a similar gameplan seen in their initial encounter. Recognizing that Chivas are struggling in attack, a defensive-minded approach is likely the most practical solution for Los Zorros.
Either way, the atmosphere is going to be incredible at the Estadio Chivas. Bragging rights are up for grabs and, with only a narrow advantage for Atlas, the battle for a spot in the semifinals is far from over.
4. Xolos hoping to avoid another early exit
Things are beginning to look eerily similar for Tijuana. Last season, Xolos entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed but were immediately knocked out in the first round. This year, the team is close to recreating that exact scenario. After once again entering the Liguilla as the No. 1 seed, Tijuana lost 1-0 to Morelia on Thursday night.
Xolos haven't been knocked out yet, but without a crucial away goal, manager Miguel "Piojo" Herrera needs to find a way to kickstart his team.
A major factor here for either side is the fitness of Morelia striker Raul Ruidiaz. The Peruvian was substituted after suffering a knee injury and if Morelia's leading goal scorer is unavailable for Sunday, Xolos will have a much higher chance of succeeding this weekend.
5. Top-of-the-table teams missing out on the semis
There's still plenty of time for change in the quarterfinals, but as it stands, the three top clubs from the 2017 Clausura are on the outside looking in.
Tijuana, Monterrey and Chivas all failed to find a victory during the first legs. Although each squad still has a chance to redeem itself this weekend, it wouldn't be surprising to see at least two get knocked out in the first round.
Liga MX continues to provide unexpected results.
Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.