Liga MX semi-final round preview: head-to-head, favourites, key players
The semi-final round of the Liga MX 2022 Apertura begins as América, Toluca, Pachuca and Monterrey smell success.
The culmination of 17 matches has finally led to the final four being decided. América, Toluca, Pachuca and Monterrey are the last teams remaining in this year’s apertura. In four days four matches will decide the finalists - but who are they? How have they fared so far this season? Who should you watch out for?
Are América the team to beat?
Club América sit top of the tree with the first half of the year completed, 12 of 17 matches having ended in victory, destroying Puebla 6-1 away and 5-1 at home. Along with Pachuca, they are joint-top scorers in the league and pose a strong attacking threat with Henry Martín who has 10 goals so far. But against Toluca back in mid-July, it was midfielder Richard Sánchez who bagged the winner against 10 men in injury time with a thunderous effort that América fans will be keen for him to recreate this time around.
Toluca might have an easier game than the last time the teams met, seeing as they should have Claudio Baeza for the full fixture; his early red card for a dangerously late challenge on Diego Valdés saw the defensive lynchpin sent off in the first half and with that their chances of a win slipped away.
The quarter final round for Los Diablos Rojos against Santos Laguna was not one fans will forget in a hurry. From 2-0 up to 2-3 down in the space of 19 on-field minutes will have had fans praying for a miracle. Thankfully for them, 34-year-old Sanvezzo equalised before a penalty was given to Toluca. In already dramatic circumstances and after coming back from a losing position, goalkeeper Volpi made the long walk and sent his opposite number the wrong way in added time, putting his team through.
The second leg was a slightly less chaotic affair, with Toluca teaching Santos a lesson in efficiency. They went two goals up straight after the break before a late surge from Santos - after missing what felt like a million chances in the first half - made sure the scoreline didn’t run away too far.
What is for certain is that the rivalry between the Eagles and the Red Devils took a turn in the early 2000s and since then has gone on to be a fiercely contested showdown between the two. Nine times they have faced each other in the final rounds of the Mexican league and currently Toluca edge out their rivals with 5 victories; América have 4 to their name.
Defence may be the best form of attack
Club América may have ended up as league leaders, but Monterrey were not far behind. In fact, they lost less matches (2) than América (3) during the season and conceded less goals (13 vs 17).
Monterrey face Pachuca at the Estadio Hidalgo and return to play the home leg three days later. Their last championship win was in 2019, where they beat América on penalties, and since then have only made the quarter finals once. Three seasons ago they lost out to Atlas and, despite drawing twice, the Liga MX rules allowed them to progress given that they were the higher seed. This time around they beat Cruz Azul 0-3 after a first leg draw of 1-1, goals from Berterame, Funes Mori and a late volley from Gallardo booking them a place in the semi-final.
Monterrey’s goalkeeper Esteban Andrada had a stellar night in the last round and contributed heavily in helping his team progress and he may be needed again this time. Pachuca scored the third-highest number of goals in the league (28) and currently have the league’s top scorer, Argentinian Nicolás Ibáñez (11 goals), in fine form. When the two teams met during the season, no side walked away with three points or even a goal to their name; the two teams fully focussed on cancelling out the others’ threats. Pachuca beat Tigres over two legs to get to the semi-final and eventually went through, setting up the tie with Los Rayados.
Too close to call
Taking previous results into account, and added to that the goalscoring capabilities plus some tough defences, this year’s Apertura semi-final ties have the making of living up to the high levels of excitement and expectation we all share.
Read about how and where to watch the first of the ties, Toluca vs Club América, here.