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


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)

Miss of the season candidate as Correa whiffs for Sampdoria

GENOA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 23:  Jaoquin Correa of UC Sampdoria disappointed during the Serie A match between UC Sampdoria and AS Roma at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on September 23, 2015 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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21-year-old Joaquin Correa may be young and inexperienced, but he may have grown today.

Painful growth.

The young Sampdoria attacker will not want to watch the highlights of today’s 1-1 draw with Inter Milan in Serie A play knowing he could have given his side all three points.

Could have, had he – you know – hit an open goal from less than three yards out. Spoiler alert: he didn’t.

Correa rounds Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic thanks to a fruitful rebound after his initial shot was smothered, but as he turned to face the wide open net, he scuffed his shot and it trickled embarrassingly wide.

Not much more to say about this one than try to put it behind you, Joaquin. It’s an ugly one.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Lineups & Live Stream)

MONACO - OCTOBER 01:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur gestures during the UEFA Europa League group J match between AS Monaco FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Stade Louis II on October 1, 2015 in Monaco, Monaco.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Tottenham can go third in the table with a road win today at one of the toughest places to play in the Premier League at the moment as they visit the Liberty Stadium to take on Swansea City at 11 a.m. ET live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

Spurs are coming off a massive win over Manchester City last weekend – their third straight victory in league play – but will be without bright new signing Hueng-min Son for the forseeable future after he suffered a foot injury in the victory. Spurs then managed a stout 1-1 draw with Monaco in Europa League play.

They are also without Danny Rose from an injury in that midweek meeting and Nabil Bentalib misses his fourth straight match due to injury, but Deli Alli is fit while Moussa Dembele makes the bench. Erik Lamela is in the starting lineup as he finds himself in fine form the last few weeks.

WATCH LIVE: Swansea City vs. Tottenham Hotspur live online at NBC Sports Live Extra

Swansea, meanwhile, have a fully fit squad eight matches into the Premier League season, and they would move into the top half of the table with a win.

Bafetimbi Gomis starts up front with four goals on the season, but he has not scored in his last three appearances, and conversely the Swans have picked up just one point over that span.


Swansea City: Fabianski, Rangel, Fernandez, Williams, Taylor, Ki, Shelvey, Ayew, Sigurdsson, Montero, Gomis.
Nordfeldt, Tabanou, Bartley, Cork, Barrow, Routledge, Eder.

Tottenham: Lloris, Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies; Alli, Dier; Chadli, Eriksen, Lamela; Kane.
Vorm, Trippier, Wimmer, Carroll, Dembele, Townsend, Clinton.