The Liga MX Clausura has completed play and this week is the first round of the playoffs. Each round is played on a home and away basis with the winner on aggregate advancing to the next round. The higher-ranking team gets home field advantage in the second leg. Here is how the quarter finals look.
Club Leon (1) vs Club Tijuana (8)
Leon Title Probability: 16%
Tijuana Title Probability: 5%
Few if any bettors in the market projected Leon to have the season that they did. A total of 41 goals for and just 14 against and Leon has the best offence and defence.
Led by Angel Mena and Juan Macias upfront, Leon is deadly in attack and suffocates opposing defences with consistent pressure. If there is an opponent that could surprise Leon early however, it is Tijuana.
Xolos have one of the most experienced sides in Liga MX with an average age on their starting XI of 26 years old.
Their home field advantage plays a big factor too. Estadio Caliente is one of the more difficult places to play due to the artificial turf, which caused a similarly efficient attack of Monterrey fits earlier in the season.
Back in January on Matchday 3, Tijuana won away at Leon 0-1. The combo of Bou, Nahuelphan in central attack supplemented by Bolaños and Angulo on the wings could be enough for Tijuana to take the first leg and put Leon on their back foot in the return leg this weekend.
Cruz Azul (4) vs Club America (5)
Cruz Azul Title Probability: 12%
Club America Title Probability: 17%
The headline series of the playoffs is sure the bulk of the attention. Cruz Azul enters Liguilla in better form than any side avoiding defeat in twelve straight matches.
Their defence has been elite too. At just 0.85 expected goals against per match. La Maquina finished the regular season with one of the lowest expected goals against per match tallies in history.
Club America looks like a much different side with Nico Castillo returning from injury late in the season, but their attacking style leaves many questions against Cruz Azul.
While Manuel Herrera is able to have his lineup generate many shots (16 per match), almost all of his play is vertical up the middle. Cruz Azul has the benefit of Igor Lichnovsky and Pablo Aguilar in central defence, who completely shut down the America attack in their meeting earlier in April.
Herrera is going to have to find a different way to attack Cruz Azul if Las Aguilas are going to have success. Bettors are likely to find value backing the draws in both legs.
U.A.N.L. Tigres (2) vs Pachuca (7)
Tigres Title Probability: 22%
Pachuca Title Probability: 8%
Tigres are the title favourite, and for good reason. Even with constant lineup manipulation and experimentation done by manager Ricardo Ferretti, one thing has remained consistent – possession and pressure.
The trio of Vargas, Valencia and Gignac is a mess to defend, and the constant press style allows Tigres to play with three on the backline.
Pachuca to the surprise of many was able to generate more than 1.80 expected goals per match and led the league in chances created. Edwin Cardona has moved into a creative role and the midfield four are able to pick apart defences.
The matchup becomes interesting as Tigres have the ability to pressure the elite defences in the league. Pachuca conceded 26 goals and is arguably the worst defence in the playoffs.
However, if they can hold the ball in midfield, Tigres may get disconnected between their back line and forwards. Home away splits play a big part with Pachuca not winning away or losing at home in the Clausura.
Tigres won the Clausura matchup 3-0, and bettors can expect plenty of goals in these two matches.
Monterrey (3) vs Necaxa (6)
Monterrey Title Probability: 15%
Necaxa Title Probability: 5%
In my articles this season, I have been very critical of Necaxa, pointing out how dependant they have been on Brian Fernandez and how fortunate they have been in winning matches.
At just 1.39 expected goals for per match, Necaxa overachieved their expectancy by nine goals this season – more than any side in Liguilla. Of the 32 goals scored, more than one third (12) came from Fernandez.
The forward also generated the second most chances in Liga MX. Things are set to turn for Necaxa now, with Fernandez signing in the MLS and leaving the team prior to the opening match against Monterrey. Guillermo Vazquez is going to have to come up with a plan to make up for the loss of Fernandez, and I am not sure Rodrigo Contreras is the answer.
Monterrey is extremely physical and presses very high. They prefer to play off possession, and with Necaxa likely to play extremely defensive, the attack for Monterrey might miss a few steps early. With CONCACAF Champions League out of the way, Diego Alonso does not have to worry about shifting lineups and can utilize his best XI to pick apart Necaxa.
This is the biggest mismatch of the quarter finals and bettors will find value with Monterrey and their team total goals over.