The Liga MX Matchday 16 schedule is backloaded with the two best games set for Sunday.
No. 5 Toluca hosts No. 4 UNAM at noon and No. 3 Santos welcomes No. 2 América at 6 pm (local time). All four teams are expected to be in the Liga MX playoffs although Cruz Azul and América are the only clubs to have mathematically clinched spots in the Liguilla.
None of the other 7 matches feature two teams certain to be in the postseason and we’ll have to wait two weeks for the final round of games since the November FIFA break begins next week. But each of those 7 games has playoff implications (even León at Guadalajara since neither is mathematically eliminated though both are virtually dead in the water).
With two games remaining, four teams are battling for the final two playoff spots with Puebla waiting in the wings hoping for somebody to stumble. And if the Camoteros (19 points) can defeat the No. 7 Tigres (23 points), the final game at Estadio Cuauhtémoc (Tijuana visits Puebla) will actually feature some drama.
As it is, the real playoff battle features the aforementioned Tigres, Pachuca (22 points and +8 goal differential), Morelia (22 points, -2) and Querétaro (22 points, -2). Querétaro and Pachuca play tonight (at Veracruz and at Atlas, respectively) so Morelia and the Tigres will know where they stand when they prepare for kickoff on Saturday night.
The Gallos Blancos know they must overcome their negative goal differential (the 4-0 road loss to Toluca on Matchday 14 was a real punch to the gut) and they find themselves in ideal circumstances – facing the league’s worst defense in Veracruz. But Querétaro has struggled to score all season and have relied too much on Camilo Sanvezzo who has 8 of his team’s 16 goals. With all things being equal, they’d have to outscore Pachuca by more than 10 goals in the last two matches to sneak into the playoffs. That seems unlikely, so they definitely need Pachuca to stumble against No. 17 Atlas or at No. 13 León on the final weekend.
Morelia is in a similar situation with a -2 goal differential, but they have the bad luck of facing staunch defenses. Tijuana has given up only 7 goals in 8 home games and the Monarcas end the regular season hosting No. 1 seed Cruz Azul, the top defense in Liga MX. Morelia’s best hope is that Cruz Azul wins big this weekend and the Santos-América match ends in a tie. That way, the Cementeros might have clinched the top seed and they could possibly rest their regulars against Morelia. Otherwise, the Monarcas only hope is for upsets.
Pachuca recognizes that it controls its own destiny. Two wins and they are in, so expect the Tuzos to be aggressive against Atlas. Then the Tuzos will pray that neither Erick Aguirre nor Víctor Guzmán suffer an injury while on national team duty next week.
Let’s not forget about the Tigres. Everyone expected the Monterrey-based powerhouse to challenge for the title, but they could actually miss the playoffs entirely. Puebla has defeated Toluca, Monterrey and Querétaro already this season and they are capable of pulling off an upset if the Tigres are not sharp. And the Tigres close with a visit to Guadalajara who will be desperate to give their home fans something to cheer about after another lost season.
So once all the drama has played out on Friday and Saturday, we can sit back and look forward to high-quality soccer on Sunday.