The Liga MX semi-finals are officially set! The quarter-final round of the Liga MX playoffs is now over, leaving four teams in contention for the 2022 Clausura title. In case you missed any recent action, here are four talking points from the quarterfinals and some thoughts ahead of this week’s two-legged semifinals.
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Club America rides a hot series into the semifinals
About two months ago, 4th seeded Club America was bottom of the Liga MX table. Today they are the comeback story of the season. After an unbeaten run in the last 10 games, Las Aguilas have now qualified for the semi-finals under interim coach Fernando Ortiz.
It’s an amazing revival, but after beating fifth-placed Puebla 4-3 on aggregate in the quarter-finals, much of the talk about the team revolved around the decisions made in Club America’s most recent result on Saturday.
After a 1-1 draw in the first leg last Wednesday, second-leg referee Fernando Guerrero was criticized by the media and fans for overlooking a possible red card for Club America’s Alejandro Zendejas and allowing the Mexico City team to take a penalty during the game 3-2 victory over Puebla.
After Puebla goalkeeper Antony Silva allegedly stepped off his line on a first penalty attempt he saved, a goal from Club Americas Diego Valdes conceded on a second occasion. Taking to social media, Silva asked those in charge not to “destroy” the game with these decisions and included images of his foot on the line in the first penalty.
However, in the images provided, Valdes has yet to have any contact with the ball and looking at the replays of the moment it looks like Silva veered slightly off his line, underscoring that the decision to retake the penalty was probably the right one was. As for the possible red for Zendejas, Club America might have gotten lucky in the ruthless challenge of FC Dallas Academy product who would go on to score their third goal of the game.
Right or wrong from Guerrero, all refereeing decisions in the upcoming semi-final series between Club America and No. 1 Pachuca will now come under scrutiny. With that in mind, Club America will still have plenty of momentum under Ortiz and will be a tougher challenge for a Pachuca side that didn’t quite impress in their own quarterfinal series.
Atlas hold Chivas, stay on title repeat course
Just like Club America, a similar rejuvenation seemed to be brewing over in Guadalajara with #6 seed Chivas. With interim manager Ricardo Cadena at the helm Los Rojiblancos sprinted into the quarter-finals with five straight wins, including a dominant 4-1 win over Pumas in the Liguilla play-in round.
That momentum came to an abrupt end last week when they faced current champions and crosstown rivals Atlas. In Thursday’s first leg at Chivas’ Estadio Akron, 21-year-old Atlas midfielder Jeremy Marquez led the third-seeded side to a 2-1 away win by two goals. In Sunday’s second leg, things went from bad to worse for Chivas in the first half, including an injury to first-choice goalkeeper Miguel “Wacho” Jimenez, two shots in the wood and a goal from Atlas’ Anibal Chala just before half-time.
There was a glimmer of hope for Chivas after Marquez received a 70th-minute red from Atlas, but the higher-seeded tiebreaker meant they needed to score at least three goals in the second half. A lone goal from Chivas’ Jose Juan Macias that would end the game 1-1 was far from enough to level the aggregate, which ended 3-2 with Atlas ahead.
Next up is Atlas in the hunt for back-to-back titles: a semi-final series against No. 2-seeded Tigres. Atlas are without the suspended Marquez in the first leg and, crucially despite their semi-final place, without a goal or assist from their opening two, Julian Quiñones and Julio Furch, in their last three games.
Tigers survive the Battle of Cruz Azul
The Liga MX regular-season second-best team will also have some questions about Tigre’s heads.
Against 8th-seeded Cruz Azul, Tigres had the most nervous and anxious finish of the eventual semifinalists, pushing through to the next round with a 1-1 aggregate score and escaping as the higher seed.
In Thursday’s away game, Tigres’ 1-0 win was a bittersweet one that saw not only manager Miguel “Piojo” Herrera but also winger Nico “Diente” Lopez have a direct card. During Sunday’s second leg, the Reds’ roster would continue with another for left-back Javier Aquino just before half-time. Cruz Azul coach Juan Reynoso, who hid the ball from a throw-in just short of Tigres, was also shown red.
Cruz Azul didn’t have a coach, but at least they had a one-man lead in the second half and a 1-0 lead (1-1 on aggregate) after Christian Tabo scored in the 19th minute. Both teams traded several shots in the last 45 minutes but after goalkeepers Nahuel Guzman and Sebastian Jurado appeared in the net it was Tigres who finally secured a ticket to the semi-finals by finishing better than Cruz Azul in the league table.
“It’s a shame it didn’t happen overall, but if you all do an analysis, we certainly had the ball possession and attacking stats,” said Cruz Azul assistant coach Jaime Serna after the game.
Indeed, thanks to some numbers from TruMedia/StatsPerform, it was Tigres who finished with more shots (21) and a higher xG of 1.56 compared to Cruz Azul’s 0.72. In possession, Cruz Azul finished better with 58.1%.
Regardless of those stats, which look more favorable for Tigres, they haven’t been able to find the back of the net and will likely need to score more than just one goal in two games if they hope to surpass Atlas in the semis.
Pachuca shows why they are a top team
There was a lot to like about league leader Pachuca heading into the playoffs. Not only as the joint top scorer of the regular season, but also as the joint best defense when it came to goals allowed, Los Tuzos They were expected to zoom past San Luis, the No. 8.
Although Pachuca would win 5-4 on aggregate, San Luis made the series surprisingly tight and caused problems for the favorites with their direct play. After leveling 2-2 after Wednesday’s away game, Pachuca’s occasional weaknesses in defense continued in Saturday’s home game, which ended in a narrow 3-2 win.
“The most important thing is to correct [our problems]to strengthen the things we do well,” said Pachuca coach Guillermo Almada after the game. “Especially to restore our defensive security.”
The good news for the first-seeded team in the regular season – aside from the higher seeded being the first tiebreaker in the quarterfinals and semifinals – is that star striker Nicolas Ibañez appears to be able to cover any possible cracks.
The 27-year-old Argentinian has been in excellent form with four goals in his last two playoff games. It’s also worth noting that the last time Pachuca met Club America, it took Ibañez just 28 minutes at the Estadio Azteca to eventually secure a 3-1 away win. Club America are a very different side to the ones who lacked motivation earlier in the year but the striker should once again make the difference.