FOX Soccer Exclusive
Atlas is pulling away from relegation
Relegation from Liga MX does not occur accidentally. The system adds up the number of points compiled during the past three years, divides that amount by the number of games played and singles out one team to descend into Ascenso MX at the end of the Clausura each year.
The forgiving setup ensures there are few mistakes and few surprises. One downtrodden season does not send a Liga MX fixture into the hinterlands. It takes time to accumulate the run of poor results required to threaten top-flight status unless a side has recently made the leap from the second division.
By the time the Clausura approached in January, Atlas and Querétaro stood out as the prime relegation contenders. They entered this portion of the season on level terms at the foot of the relegation table. Simple math suggested the other stragglers – Atlante, Puebla and San Luis – looked too far afield to slip into the muck.
Both sides prepared for the protracted battle ahead over 17 matches. And then something unexpected happened: Atlas discovered how to churn out the results required to climb the table and gain a significant edge in the relegation fight.
Consider the 2-1 home victory over Atlante on Saturday night as a fairly representative display in this rather staggering revival. Atlas grabbed the lead after five minutes through a Jahir Barraza deflection and then limited Atlante from establishing much of a foothold in the game. The status quo stood until Facundo Erpen handed the visitors a lifeline with a well-taken own goal after 64 minutes. The stalemate lasted for three minutes before Edson Rivera produced a goal of the season candidate – a clever flick over the defender and a left-footed half-volley into the far corner – to decide the match.
Atlas manager Tomas Boy adopted a rather straightforward formula to inspire this group comprised of experienced campaigners and younger players keen to impress at this level. His side concedes infrequently (five goals in six matches), restricts the opposition in the final third and takes its chances when presented (former Mexico international Omar Bravo has scored a team-high three goals). It is a concoction that has worked against strong (a 2-1 victory over Club América in Jornada 4) and weak (consecutive wins over Jaguares last week and Atlante this week) sides alike.
The recent uptick in form has created a seven-point gap between the two relegation contenders with 11 matches to play in the Clausura. If Atlas can collect a result during the trip to Querétaro on Feb. 23, then the Guadalajara-based side will likely make the gulf too significant for Gallos Blancos to bridge before the end of the campaign. Even a defeat in that fixture might not prove enough. The numbers – and, in this case, the performances, too – increasingly point toward Atlas making its escape by the end of the Clausura.
Around Liga MX – Jornada 6
Nine-man Club América continued its promising start to the Clausura by handing Club Tijuana its first defeat of the campaign with a 2-1 victory at Estadio Caliente. Few would have expected Paul Aguilar to serve as one of the saviors after a pair of poor performances for Mexico, but his stunning goal shortly after halftime doubled the advantage and provided the margin of victory in this enthralling affair between two of Mexico's best sides.
The result in Tijuana allowed Tigres to move one point clear at the top of the table after a 4-1 thrashing of Toluca at La Bombonera. Emanuel Villa increase his Liga MX-leading haul to six goals in stoppage time to cap off the emphatic victory. Toluca boss Enrique Meza will hope the heavy defeat does not portend a similar result on the trip to Buenos Aires to open the Copa Libertadores against Boca Juniors on Wednesday.
Cruz Azul now sits in fifth with 10 points after a 1-1 draw with Pumas. Pachuca (1-0 victors at Santos Laguna courtesy of a Héctor Herrera goal after 10 minutes) and Puebla (3-1 winners at San Luis after substitute DaMarcus Beasley scored twice in the final nine minutes) are level with La Maquina after their results this weekend.
Rafael Márquez Lugo popped up yet again to give C.D. Guadalajara its first victory of the season and move Chivas within sight of the playoff places. The in-form striker created an opening inside the penalty area and slotted home after 67 minutes to cinch a 1-0 win at Monterrey.
Morelia continued its push for a place in the Liguilla with a 1-0 home victory over reeling Club Léon. Sergio Santana struck after 54 minutes to hand Leon its fourth defeat in six attempts. Léon now sits joint bottom with San Luis and Jaguares on two points after Jaguares drew 1-1 at Querétaro.
Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.