Clarity in an Unclear World

With the completion of week fourteen in the Liga MX, just three weeks remain in the regular season. The Liguilla is beginning to take shape. The cream has risen to the top and the other stuff is left below feeling bitter and angry. With three remaining matches for the majority of the league there's a wide range of mathematical possibilities for the table's final resting place. However, a realistic look at the current standings reveals a fairly clear picture of where this thing is headed.       

Competing for a Trophy:

Club America is the only club that has mathematically clinched a Liguilla spot, and it would take a calamity of epic proportions to keep Atlas out of the playoffs. It's also safe to include Toluca and Tigres in postseason play. Toluca has a rough schedule down the stretch (@Tijuana, America, @Tigres) but will likely only need a point or two to guarantee a spot. The same could be said for Tigres. The current form of both clubs suggests a collapse is unlikely. The Rayados of Monterrey should be counted as playoff locks at this point as well. There's nothing quite as reassuring as a game in hand when that game in hand is a home match with Chivas.

This means that there are realistically only three spots truly up for grabs. Let's first look at who will not be competing for them ...

Not This Time: 

Veracruz and Puebla could still technically reach the postseason. This just won't be happening. Chivas have heavier things to worry about than simply missing out on another Liguilla. The Leones Negros put in a respectable showing for their first season in the top division. They will be fighting to get that descenso percentage above the "point per partido" and taking solace in not being Morelia. The Monarcas need this season to end.

On the cusp: 

This leaves eight clubs with a chance to grab one of those final three spots. Some are on the cusp on grabbing a playoff spot, while others are headed to something a bit more dismal. A study of the three remaining fixtures provides some insight in to how this mess will likely end.  

Chiapas (21 pts.) On the cusp of ... legitimacy

Chiapas sit in decent position to qualify for postseason play. However, they don't face the easiest schedule the rest of the way. Home matches with fellow bubble teams Cruz Azul and Queretaro will likely be tightly contested and a trip to the Tec in Monterrey probably won't be. Jaguares have an underrated homefield advantage; they will need every bit of that advantage to find their way in to the Liguilla. The upcoming match with Cruz Azul will be critical for each team. If either find a way to get the three points, it will more than likely put one team in and keep the other out.

Pachuca (21 pts.) On the cusp of ... consistency

Pachuca has followed their title season with an erratic one. A mediocre road record has been matched by their mediocre home record. One week Pachuca look like world beaters and the next they look like the beaten. Luckily, for the Tuzos the remaining schedule is favorable. Matches with Puebla and Veracruz should yield six points for Pachuca. This will be more than enough to lock down a playoff spot.

Cruz Azul (19 pts.) On the cusp of ... turmoil

Cruz Azul has followed their Superlider season and Concacaf Champions league title campaign with one of disappointment and concern. Other than in their demolition of Club America, Cruz Azul has looked consistently mid-table. This is where they now sit and will likely sit when all is said and done. The remaining schedule is not necessarily frightening for La Maquina. However, a look at their scoring woes indicates that there are likely draws on the horizon. Additionally, Cruz Azul finds itself in the company of the woeful Morelia and the road-incapacitated Tijuana as the only teams unable to secure a road win this season. Cruz Azul need just that and are unlikely to get them. On the plus side, Cruz Azul should have more time to prepare to get embarrassed in the Club World Cup.

Queretaro (18 pts.) On the cusp of ... a narrow miss 

Queretaro sit on 18 points with one home match remaining. Seeing as that match is with Morelia, we could go ahead and move the Gallos to 21 points. However, their two road matches have them going to the Volcan and Chiapas. I could see a clear scenerio where that week 17 match with Chiapas could be a de facto play-in game. I also envision them playing themselves out. Sorry, Dinho.

Leon (18 pts.) On the cusp of ... shenanigans 

If this were any other team sitting on eighteen points with their remaining schedule (Atlas, Puebla, @Tijuana), I'd be inclined to dismiss them without another thought. However, we know how this team and the Liguilla in general operates. It wouldn't be shocking to see Leon rip off three straight wins and cruise in to the playoffs with a full head of steam. Yet, I still would bet on the other side. I believe this time Leon will be coming up just short with the Xolos spoiling their chances in week 17.

Santos (18 pts.) On the cusp of ... a shock run 

Now, here is the team about to pull it off. I normally wouldn't place much trust in Santos or their manager in big spots. However, the schedule is sitting quite nicely for the team down the stretch. Road matches with the Leones Negros and Puebla are both winnable and a home battle with the erratic Pachuca could mean an additional three points. I believe Santos will be making the improbable run to the Liguilla and probable opening round trouncing at the hands of a stronger side.

Tijuana (17 pts.) On the cusp of ... monotony

Home for Toluca. At Atlas. Home for Leon.

Ouch. Sorry, Xolos. Not this time.

UNAM (17 pts.) On the cusp of ... normalcy

Pumas don't have the toughest road down the stretch (Veracruz, @Cruz Azul, Monterrey), but they probably just have too many teams ahead of them at the moment. Pumas will likely make it interesting, but I don't think postseason play is in the cards this time around. When considering the recent past for Pumas, this season still shouldn't be looked at as a failure.

And so...

If everything plays out to form (and why wouldn't it), here are your eight Liguilla clubs:









** photo used under creative commons license from Javier Morales



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