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Mexico’s playoffs start Wednesday: Looking at the quarterfinal matchups

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The two clubs that contested CONCACAF’s championship finished at the top of Mexico’s standings. Santos Laguna, who lost Champions League to Monterrey last week, finished four points clear of the Rayados, earning the Liguilla’s top seed.

In Mexico, that seeding’s particularly important, for four reasons:

  • Like most playoff formats, the top seed gets matched against the highest seed in the playoffs; however,
  • Since Mexico re-draws their bracket in the semifinals (pairing the lowest surviving seed with the highest), the qualification stage’s winner always has the easiest road to the final.
  • The lowest seed always gets the second leg (in each round’s two-legged matchup) at home, and
  • If a matchup ends tied after both legs, the lower seed advances (until the final).

But even with all those advantages, it would surprise no one if Santos bowed out early.

#1 Santos Laguna (36 points, 17 games) vs. #8 Jaguares (27 points)

Though this is a rematch of the Apertura’s playoffs (won by Santos), a different kind of history is leaning on this matchup.

The fall of 2009 was the last time a top seed (superlider) advanced beyond the quarterfinals. Even then, it was only via a tiebreaker.

Year Tournament Superlider Quarterfinal Result Champion (Seed)
2011 Apertura Chivas lost to Querétaro, 1-2 Tigres (3)
Clausura Tigres lost to Chivas, 2-4 Pumas (2)
2010 Apertura Cruz Azul lost to Pumas, 3-2 Monterrey (2)
Clausura Monterrey lost to Pachuca, 1-3, quarterfinals Toluca (3)
2009 Apertura Toluca defeated San Luis, 1-1 Monterrey (5)

The last time a superlider won a Liguilla was the 2007 Clausura (Pachuca).

Beyond the premature exits for one seeds, there’s another pattern in there: Superliders have won the subsequent competition in their off the last four tournament (presumably motived by defeat). That won’t happen this time. Chivas was so motivated by their loss to Querétaro that they didn’t qualify for the Liguilla. Copa Lib may have had something to do with that.

Back to Santos. There’s no reason to believe there’s an actual superlider curse. Since people have come to think the qualification stage as something completely separate from the playoffs (and only slightly predictive), there’s no real pressure on the number one seed.

A more likely explanation for the curse: Teams that finish top in the regular season aren’t necessarily the best teams. They’re just the ones that tried harder during the regular season.

With Santos balancing CONCACAF Champions League’s knockout stages throughout the Clausura, that reason doesn’t hold up as well this tournament. Regardless, they finished number one, they have to debunk the curse, and in truth, they probably aren’t the tournament’s best team.

Quarterfinal matches: Thursday, at Jaguares, 8:00 p.m. ET; Sunday, at Santos, 7:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Santos 1-0 Jaguares (Jan. 2012), Santos 1-2 Jaguares (Nov. 2011), Jaguares 2-2 Santos (Nov. 2011), Jaguares 3-2 Santos (Sep. 2011), Jaguares 1-2 Santos (Jan. 2011)

#2 Monterrey (32 points) vs. #7 Tijuana (28 points)

Most would contend Monterrey is the best team in this tournament. Long regarded as the most talented team in Mexico, the Rayados just completed their second-straight CONCACAF Champions League triumph. If there was any fear that result would cause them to flick it in neutral for league, it was alleviated by their second place finish.

They’ve got an easy first round matchup. Tijuana started the Clausura strong but evened out through the last half of qualification. They finished with the league’s best defense (allowing only 11 goals in 17 matches), but their 18 goals scored are four less than any other Liguilla qualifier.

This being their first postseason, it’s difficult to see them getting past a team of Monterrey’s pedigree, but talent won’t be enough. After all, Cruz Azul – also regarded as one of the league’s most talented squads – didn’t even make the playoffs.

Quarterfinal matches: Wednesday, at Tijuana, 10:30 p.m. ET; Saturday, at Monterrey, 9:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Tijuana 1-0 Monterrey (Jan. 2012), Monterrey 4-2 Tijuana (Aug. 2011)

#3 Club América (32 points) vs. #6 Pachuca (28 points)

Club América blew a two goal lead on their final match to lose the second seed. As a result, they face Pachuca instead of Tijuana, an opponent few would prefer.

But as evidenced on Sunday, América has a trump card. Christian Benítez might be the best attacker in the region. In this weekend’s Clasico Joven, he scored twice within the first 13 minutes (though missed what would have been a game-winning penalty kick). His double left him with a league-leading 14 goals.

Unfortunately, he was bit of a one-man gang. While he led the league in goals, the rest of his team only scored 16.

It’s difficult to see Pachuca winning if they can’t slow down Chucho.

Quarterfinal matches: Wednesday, at Pachuca, 9:30 p.m. ET; Saturday, at América, 7:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: América 1-0 Pachuca (Feb. 2012), Pachuca 2-0 América (Aug. 2011), América 0-2 Pachuca (Jan. 2011)

#4 Morelia (31 points) vs. #5 Tigres (31 points)

Tigres rode incredible defending to win the Apertura, allowing only 1 goal through the Liguilla. It would be a mistake to doubt the resourcefulness of Morelia’s Miguel Sabah and Rafael Marquez Lugo, though Monarcas’ defense will need to make every goal count.

Just like superliders, Tigres have history to defy. The last time a team won consecutive tournaments was 2004 when Pumas won the calendar year’s Clausura and Apertura. No team has won both tournaments within a single season since the two short tournament-format was adopted 16 years ago.

Quarterfinal matches: Thursday, at Tigres, 10:00 p.m. ET; Sunday, at Morelia, 9:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Tigres 4-1 Morelia (Mar. 2012), Morelia 2-0 Tigres (Oct. 2011), Morelia 0-3 Tigres (Apr. 2011)

Chelsea 5-1 Newcastle United: Blues cruise past hapless Magpies

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on February 13, 2016 in London, England.
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  • Costa opens scoring in fifth minute
  • His 8th goal in 10 appearances
  • Magpies back into drop zone on goal diff.
  • Townsend strikes late to break shutout

Diego Costa and Pedro scored before the match was nine minutes old, and Willian put an exclamation point on a wild first half in the 17th minute as Chelsea battered Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Pedro added another in the second half before Baba Rahman tallied to make it 5-0, and that’s how it finished at the Bridge. Chelsea now has 33 points, and is within two points of 10th and nine back of fifth place Manchester United.

Newcastle is back in 18th, lower than Norwich City on goal differential. Andros Townsend scored late for the Magpies.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It took barely more than four minutes for Chelsea to take the lead, as Costa burst past Steven Taylor to slide Willian’s pass past Rob Elliot. 1-0.

Pedro doubled the advantage when he took advantage of 20-year-old Rolando Aarons, who was forced to play right back despite starting as a right wing under Alan Pardew. It was an awful pass regardless of his normal position, and Pedro picked it off and went the distance.

Andros Townsend cut in from the left to provide a counter threat, but his low shot was gobbled up by Thibaut Courtois.

Still, 3-0 came first. Costa worked a long ball and then watched Fabricio Coloccini back off. Willian tore through an unmarking back line to push home an easy goal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The Magpies found some life in the second half, as Chelsea had to cope with an injury to John Terry that moved Branislav Ivanovic inside and put Baba Rahman into the game.

Aleksandar Mitrovic absorbed a tricky cleat to his achilles, staying in the game to hit a low shot wide of goal.

But Pedro added another goal moments later on a counterattack (of sorts) and it was 4-0 in the 59th minute.

Townsend broke the shutout when he belted a left footed shot home late for his first ever Newcastle goal.

Suarez: I’d only play for Liverpool in the Premier League

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Luis Suarez has upset fans of every Premier League team by saying he’d never join their club.

[ MORE: Van Gaal downbeat after defeat ]

On Valentine’s Day weekend his heart belongs to one PL club: Liverpool.

Speaking to former Liverpool teammate Jamie Carragher on behalf of the Daily Mail, Suarez insisted he is loving life at reigning Spanish and European champions Barcelona.

But if the 29-year-old striker ever left the Nou Camp and came back to the PL he wouldn’t play for Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea. Oh no.

“I’d prefer to stay here [Barcelona] for many more years. I know it doesn’t always turn out that way. But if I had to return to the Premier League, I would only go to Liverpool,: Suarez said. “I wouldn’t go to another team. It wouldn’t be a move for money. I’d also love to play again for Ajax, as they allowed me to develop as a player in Europe.”

So, in 2019 once Suarez has won the Ballon d’Or at Barcelona and won four-straight UEFA Champions League titles, could he be back at Anfield to help attend to some unfinished business with Jurgen Klopp still in charge?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Just a thought, but Suarez is obviously keen to repay the loyalty both Liverpool’s fans and the club have shown him over the years during many difficult moments on and off the pitch. At away stadiums across England he was lambasted by fans of the opposition and he obviously remembers that. Suarez was the subject of a cheeky bid from Arsenal and Arsene Wenger obviously admires him but the fact of the matter is, it would be shocking to see him leave Barcelona anytime soon.

Suarez still has plenty to give for Barca in the meantime as he has 36 goals in 34 appearances for the Catalan club this season so far.

Pardew, Palace lamenting “tricky run”; Without Premier League win in 2016

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Watford at Selhurst Park on February 13, 2016 in London, England.
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“We are on a tricky run and need to fight out way out of this form.”

That’s how Alan Pardew is describing his club’s brutal form of early 2016. Crystal Palace has one point in its last seven matches, their streakiness matching what we expected from Pardew when he led Newcastle United through a topsy-turvy few seasons at St. James Park.

[ MATCH RECAP: Crystal Palace 1-2 Watford ]

Pardew says injuries and bad luck have hurt his side, and Yannick Bolasie‘s absence looms large in a midfield-vital Premier League. But Palace has managed just three points since Dec. 26 despite playing a manageable schedule of opponents.

Since beating Stoke at the Britannia on Dec. 19, this is Palace’s Premier League form:

Dec. 26 — 0-0 at Bournemouth
Dec. 28 — 0-0 vs. Swans
Jan. 3 — 0-3 vs. Chelsea
Jan. 12 — 0-1 at Villa
Jan. 16 — 0-4 at Man City
Jan. 23 — 1-3 vs. Spurs
Feb. 2 — 1-2 vs Bournemouth
Feb. 6 — 1-1 at Swans
Feb. 13 — 1-2 vs. Watford

Fortunately for Pardew, he has his old charges in Newcastle, Aston Villa and Norwich City not doing much to threaten a climb out of the drop zone. But Palace has gone from Top Four contender to bottom-half side in a month and a half.

WATCH: Chelsea’s three goals in 11 minutes have Newcastle defense in tatters

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on February 13, 2016 in London, England.
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Diego Costa, Pedro and Willian are terrorizing Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, battering the Magpies by three goals.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

And the game’s not even a half-hour old as of posting time, so we’re just going to leave these videos right here, Toon Army.