The Liguilla playoffs for the Mexican Primera's 2011 Clausura start Wednesday night, and the late game, in particular, is a fantastic matchup. All four ties should be closely contested, as the Liguilla always is in Mexico, but there are a couple of ties that demand attention more than the other two, as the top two seeds both face very strong opposition. C.D. Guadalajara, better known as Chivas takes on UANL Tigres tonight in the late game, right after Cruz Azul takes on Atlante. On Thursday night, CF Monterrey hosts Pumas UNAM and Club America hosts Monarcas Morelia.
Ties in the Mexican Liguilla are home and away aggregate ties. The return legs take place on Saturday and Sunday this week. In the first round, there is no extra time; if the score is tied after 180 minutes, the higher seeded team advances.
Chivas Guadalajara Vs. UANL Tigres
Wednesday, 8 pm ET
Chivas had plenty of opportunities to capture the third seed in Liguilla, but a dip in form has seen them fall all the way down to eighth. However, they have been without defender Jonny Magallon since the Super Clasico, and his return should upgrade their defense considerably. Between him, Marco Fabian's wonder goals, and Erick Torres's great play up front, Chivas have all the tools to pull off an upset of the No. 1 overall seed.
Tigres missed Liguilla last tournament, and as a result, they went crazy in the transfer market this January and gave their roster a complete makeover. Their moves have paid dividends, as new additions Hector Mancilla and Danilinho have been great for the club. Additionally, their defense is the best in Mexico, and they're the first team to allow nine goals or less in a tournament in its current format. While Chivas have all the tools for an upset, it would be a reasonably large one.
Cruz Azul Vs. Atlante
Wednesday, 10 pm ET
Injuries and generally poor play have ravaged Cruz Azul in the latter part of the Clausura, as they went from competing with Pumas at the top of Group 3 to not even getting an automatic Liguilla place as Morelia passed them in the table. They have improved their defense from the previous two tournaments and they have some serious firepower in Cristian Gimenez and Emmanuel Villa, but injuries to Hugo Drougett and their captain Gerardo Torrado are likely to slow them down considerably.
Atlante have been serious over-achievers in this tournament, but their run has still been very impressive so far. Their starting defense is very solid and quite underrated, but they are lacking depth and could be crippled by one injury. Christian Bermudez has been Atlante's best player this season, scoring nine goals while creating for his teammates. If the side from Cancun are going to pull an upset, the attacking midfielder is going to have to be at his best.
CF Monterrey Vs. Pumas UNAM
Thursday, 8 pm ET
After sitting outside of Liguilla places for most of the season, Monterrey have played themselves into the playoffs, thanks to a ridiculous stoppage time winner by Walter Ayovi last weekend against Chivas. However, thanks to their long run in CONCACAF Champions League which resulted in a lot of fixture congestion, they've got some serious fitness problems. Both Luis Ernesto Perez and Aldo de Nigris look likely to miss out due to injury, and on an unrelated note, Jesus Zavala is unavailable for the first leg due to yellow card accumulation.
This should allow Israel Castro, Pumas' great holding midfield player, to dominate the first leg. Interestingly, due to injuries and suspensions, Monterrey will feel like they can win away if they can manage a draw at home. Pumas are a tough team to contain, though, as they are not reliant on one particular attacker. They have a variety of guys that they can play up top, so they'll always have a couple of fit players in good form up front. Their defense is also extremely talented, and they will prove tough for Monterrey to break down.
Club America Vs. Monarcas Morelia
Thursday, 10 pm ET
After a heartbreaking loss on Tuesday night against Santos FC in Copa Libertadores, they might have trouble getting themselves up for a Liguilla match against Morelia just two days later. Though their finishing against Santos was poor, they could have scored six goals easily, and their performances in their last two matches against Santos and Pumas have been admirable. They've definitely got Morelia beat when it comes to raw talent, but their fixture congestion might be their undoing.
Coming into Liguilla as the third seed, Morelia are serious overachievers, much like Atlante. it's tough to pinpoint what has made them so good in this tournament, but their results don't lie. Though Miguel Sabah has experienced a drop-off in form, Elias Hernandez has picked up the slack, and he's had the best tournament of his career in the Primera. Adrian Aldrete is also a solid young talent, but otherwise, this is a team that is more about the sum of its parts than individuals. Supposedly, according to all kinds of old journalistic cliches, these are the kinds of teams that win championships.