Talking Points: When the dust settles which eight teams will qualify for the Liguilla?
Liga MX's 2017 Apertura is now firmly in the home stretch, with each club having between five and seven games remaining before the Liguilla tournament.
With eight playoff positions up for grabs and a logjam of clubs in close competition, the final few spots figure to come down to the final day of the season. Liga MX is annually one of the closely contested leagues in the world and with just a few weeks to go a lot can still happen.
With that being said, for this week's talking point we asked our Liga MX correspondents: Which eight teams will qualify for the Liguilla?
Liguilla predictions: Monterrey, Tigres, Club America, Leon, Toluca, Cruz Azul, Necaxa, Tijuana.
You can split these into categories. Monterrey (24 points), Toluca (22 from 12 games), America (20), Tigres (19 from 10 games) and Leon (19) are all close to officially clinching a postseason berth. If 25 points almost always qualifies teams for the Liguilla, then it would take a spectacular downturn in form for any of the above not to be involved.
That leaves three spots up for grabs. Cruz Azul should be able to pull through from 18 points. Paco Jemez's team has only lost once this season and is showing character, but La Maquina is infamous for blowing advantageous situations.
The rest is a free-for-all.
Necaxa -- boosted by the September signing of Mati Fernandez -- has been a surprise package this 2017 Apertura under Nacho Ambriz. The fact that Los Rayos have conceded just nine goals so far and have only lost two games bodes well for their chances, especially with goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero in top form.
As for the last spot, you'd expect Club Tijuana to make it, given its attacking prowess, but Morelia continues to surpass expectations. Lobos BUAP is probably too inconsistent to make a push, while Atlas and Veracruz maybe don't have the quality.
Pachuca is the wild card, however. Los Tuzos are a playoff quality team struggling to click. With the FIFA Club World Cup on the horizon in December, they may have left themselves just too much to do.
Liguilla predictions: Monterrey, Club America, Leon, Tigres, Cruz Azul, Tijuana, Morelia, Toluca
Earlier this week Chivas' manager, Matias Almeyda, smiled during a press conference when he explained that it was hard to tell who will win this 2017 Apertura. He went on to say, "Our season isn't over," and then asked, "What happens if Chivas enter the Liguilla and win the title again?" Almeyda hasn't lost hope, but the numbers are negative heading into the latter part of the regular season.
Almeyda is right, though, determining who the frontrunner to win the league isn't as simple as it looks. Of course, the easy bet would be Monterrey, but two bad games in the Liguilla against one of the other seven teams could quickly end unbeaten Monterrey's title dreams. Tigres might not be coasting at the moment, but it's a team that understands exactly what's at stake once the Liguilla starts; Andre-Pierre Gignac has made it a tradition of his to light it up once the playoffs come along.
Teams like Cruz Azul and Morelia could be the dark horses, while Miguel "Piojo" Herrera is working on taking Las Aguilas to reach, at the very least, the semis. It would be a great personal feat for Herrera to reach back-to-back semis with two different clubs like Xolos and America.
Liguilla predictions: Monterrey, Tigres, Club America, Toluca, Leon, Tijuana, Cruz Azul, Chivas
Hope springs eternal, they say. And it would seem that for Chivas fans, hope is the only thing they have left at this point in the season. The benevolent Liga MX schedule and competition format means the team can potentially rack up 18 more points this season, which would give them 27 at the end of the regular season and pretty much guarantee them a spot in the postseason. Though it's safe to say the scenario pictured is unlikely, we've seen stranger things happen in Mexico's top flight.
Besides, can we truly expect perennial also-rans like Necaxa and Morelia to hold their current spots? It seems unfair to single Morelia out, a team with bona fide stars such as Raul Ruidiaz and a low-key Manager of the Year candidate in Roberto Hernandez, but Monarcas are most focused this year on staying in the first division, not postseason glory. Let's look at the teams right below Morelia, currently placed eighth: Tijuana, Lobos BUAP, Atlas, Pachuca, Veracruz, Santos and then Chivas. Would you truly fancy any of the teams, perhaps other than Tijuana to make a run at the Liguilla at this point? Probably not.
On the flip side, it might seem tempting to say the bottom drops out on Cruz Azul and the Cementeros miss the postseason again, prompting yet another rebuild, and (perhaps) the ouster of Paco Jemez as their manager. The Mexico City side has a tough test ahead when they face local rivals Club America this weekend, giving us a clearer picture of what this team is capable of in the future. However, even if they were to drop this weekend's match, the Azules will face off against Queretaro, Lobos, Tigres, Morelia and Veracruz in their final five fixtures. Four of those games look pretty winnable.
If I had to guess as to who makes the postseason ultimately, the top four remains virtually unchanged, with Necaxa and Morelia dropping out of their current spots and giving way to Tijuana... and Chivas.