Liga MX: Clasico doubleheader takes stage with America-Chivas, Monterrey-Tigres

Week 11 of the 2023 Clausura is now in the books. Looking back at the latest action in the top flight of Mexican men's soccer, here are three talking points and a few additional observations from the Liga MX weekend.

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Club America, Monterrey claim key wins before Clasico weekend

Anything can happen in the intense nature of a rivalry match, but just days ahead of the Clasico Nacional (Club America vs. Chivas on Mar. 18) and the Clasico Regio (Tigres vs. Monterrey on Mar. 18), there are two teams that will be heading in with more morale.

Let's start with Club America, who were decisive in last Saturday's 2-0 away win over Tigres. One week after losing 3-0 to defending champions Pachuca, manager Fernando Ortiz significantly rotated his defensive setup that saw the return of Sebastian Caceres and Emilio Lara into the backline of the XI, and in net, up-and-coming goalkeeper Luis Malagon was given his first-ever start for America.

Although goalscorers for the Mexico City side like Jonathan "Cabecita" Rodriguez and Leonardo Suarez were the stars of the victory, the team's defensive efforts were impressive in the shutout.

The result over Tigres could also serve as a blueprint against a Chivas side that was held to a 1-0 loss by a highly defensive Puebla XI last Friday. Ortiz's side should aim to once again sit back when needed and focus on dangerous counters. Despite the fact that Chivas have had the better season so far with one point more than Club America, they've shown that they can run into issues with teams that are more cautious.

Tigres' loss was especially good news for Monterrey. Los Rayados, currently with a seven-point lead in first place after defeating Pachuca 2-1 on Sunday, can comfortably coast into thhe weekend while Tigres will be scrambling through a busy schedule. Los Felinos will need to fly out to Florida for their second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League clash with Orlando City SC this Wednesday before flying back to prepare for Monterrey.

Pumas continue tumble down the standings

It may have been a narrow 1-0 loss to Cruz Azul on Saturday, but Pumas have no excuses for the defeat that has pushed them outside of the playoff zone and into 14th in the standings.

Usually doing enough to at least create a few dangerous attacking chances per game, the scoreless loss was a worrying sign for a Pumas side that has typically utilized its attack to paper over their alarming defensive cracks that have been prevalent in 2023. In spite of their latest defeat by just one opportunity that found the back of the net, over the last six games alone, no Liga MX club has allowed more goals than the 15 that Pumas have given up.

Frustrations have followed, and through the latest six-game run in which Pumas have gone 1W-0D-5L, a total of three direct reds have also emerged. In a short season format that packs in two Liga MX tournaments into one year, a poor run of form over six games can quickly transition a "big four" club like Pumas from playoff hopefuls into a full-on crisis team.

For new Pumas coach Rafael Puente Jr., who was hired in October of 2022, there are no doubts that he's now on the hot seat. Over the weekend and amid rumors about a possible firing, sources told ESPN Mexico stated that his future is "hanging by a thread" with the club. The report also claimed that there was a mood of anger and frustration in the Pumas locker room after the latest defeat.

With that in mind, Puente now likely faces a must-win scenario at home this Sunday against Pachuca. If Pumas are unable to claim three points against the current title-holders during Week 12, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if a managerial change is then made.

Leon and Larcamon make quiet progress

They're not scoring as often as they should, but that likely won't matter to Leon manager Nicolas Larcamon and his roster. After a back-and-forth match against Atlas that totaled 40 combined shots from both sides, Leon sneaked past their opponents on Saturday with a 1-0 away victory and a maintained spot at seventh in the standings.

Undefeated in the last six games, which extends to seven if you count the CCL, Larcamon has gradually transformed Leon into a mirror image of his former Puebla squad that were gutsy and scrappy in a 5-man backline setup. It can be annoying at times to watch, especially when you consider the long list of desperate and off-target shots that they take, but Larcamon's tackle-heavy squad is now competitive in every match with their success in aerial duels and shutouts in net.

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Expectations are much higher for Leon -- let's not forget that they were the 2020 Apertura champions and were finalists in the 2019 Clausura and 2021 Apertura -- but few complaints will be made if Larcamon continues to consistently rack up points as dark horses for the playoffs.

He's also shown early on that he can balance out both the Liga MX regular season and with the CCL. With a 1-0 advantage over Panama's Tauro FC, Larcamon and his side will be in a good spot to advance this Thursday as they host the second leg of the matchup.

Additional observations

- Elsewhere in Week 11: Atletico San Luis moved back into the playoff zone with a 2-0 win over Queretaro, Toluca thrashed 10-man Mazatlan in a 4-1 victory, two goals from Javier Correa helped lead Santos Laguna to a 3-2 win against Club Tijuana, and a 68th minute equalizer from Tomas Molina secured a 1-1 draw for FC Juarez with Necaxa.

- Last Thursday, Queretaro announced that they will reopen the Estadio Corregidora to the public on March 19. The decision arrived after the end of a year-long ban that was given due to supporters rioting in the venue last spring.

- The full schedule and bracket for the 2023 Leagues Cup was officially unveiled last week. Expanded to every MLS and Liga MX club for the very first time, both leagues will pause their seasons for the summer tournament.

- Upcoming second legs for Liga MX teams in the CCL round of 16: Atlas vs Olimpia (Mar. 14), Orlando City vs Tigres (Mar. 15), Leon vs Tauro (Mar. 16), Pachuca vs Motagua (Mar. 16).