Week 13 in the Liga MX brought yet another win for the resurgent Guadalajara club, saw the race for the playoff spots become even tighter, and left one of Mexico’s most famous institutions on the brink of relegation.
Relegation battlers having the last laugh
Back at the start of the campaign, very few people would have predicted that Chivas and Veracruz would occupy the top two spots in the 2015 Clausura with just four weeks of the remaining.
In January, Chivas and Veracruz were widely thought to be two of the four sides most likely to face the drop. Chivas only avoided starting the season in last place in the Tabla de Descenso thanks to a 2-1 win away at Morelia on the final weekend of the Apertura season, while Veracruz had permanently lingered in and around the last few places in the table since their return to the top flight in the summer of 2013.
It is a huge surprise, therefore, to see Chivas in first and Veracruz in second with 24 and 23 points respectively. Even more remarkably, Chivas now have the joint best defence in the league with just nine conceded (they conceded 20 last season), and Veracruz have the joint second-best defence (11 conceded).
Huge praise must go to Chivas’ current manager – the former national team boss Jose Manuel ‘Chepo’ de la Torre. He and the club he now manages were as ridiculed as each other 18 months ago when he took Mexico to the brink of missing out on last summer’s World Cup. However, since his arrival at Chivas he and the club’s president Nestor de la Torre (Chepo’s brother) have instigated a plan for revive the floundering giant, and it’s working.
Puebla on the brink
Puebla and Leones Negros made up the other half of this season’s relegation battlers. While Chivas and Veracruz have surpassed all expectations, Puebla and Leones Negros have stayed true to form and struggled to put together a strong sequence of results.
It meant they were both well adrift at the foot of the Tabla de Descenso by the time they went head to head this weekend. The score ended 1-1, but only after a hugely unfortunate own goal by Puebla’s Luis Rey in the 87th minute denied the visitors what would have been a vitally important three points.
With just four games to go it now looks as though Puebla will be the side to face the drop, a harsh situation considering they haven’t actually finished last in any of the last six seasons while Morelia have been dreadful for 12 months. Veracruz and Chivas will both be mathematically safe with three more points, while Leones Negros more volatile coefficient means a few more points for them would leave Puebla at a point of no return.
Playoff rat race
The short season format may have its critics, but it is impossible to deny the excitement it brings at this time of the season. Every year it seems the side bunch up in a brutal winner takes all battle for the top eight places, and this season is no different.
It’s looking like the top five of Chivas, Veracruz, Tijuana, America, and Cruz Azul are certain of a post season place, but the last three places are very much up for grabs.
There are now only three points separating Toluca in sixth from Chiapas in sixteenth – and some of the sides on the cusp on the top eight have the best form in the league; Queretaro in 11th have won their last three games and four of their last five, Pumas (13th) have also won four of their last five, and Monterrey (12th) have won three and drawn one of their last five.
If any team can string together some good form in the last four weeks, they can almost certainly bag themselves a place in the Liguilla.