French stars shine as Club America, Tigres draw in likely playoff preview
Round six of matches in the Liga MX's 2018 saw Pumas move clear at the top of the table, while European forwards got on the scoresheet as Tigres took on Club America.
Here are five takes from the Liga MX weekend:
1. Tigres, Club America ready to challenge for titles
If you showed Saturday's 1-1 draw between Tigres and Club America to somebody who had never seen a Liga MX game, it would be as good an advert as you are likely to get for the league.
The two sides are set to be in the hunt for the Clausura title, and the quality of both the play and the spectacle were impressive, as was the way each tried to take the game to the other. There was no reverse gear for either in front of a packed Estadio Universitario.
Tigres may be champions, but they still have a chip on their shoulder about not holding a place in Mexico's "big four," while Club America -- arguably the biggest club in the land -- needed to make the trip to Nuevo Leon and hold their own.
Both sides came out with their reputations intact, and viewers were left feeling these two will meet again in the 2018 Clausura playoffs, or perhaps even in the CONCACAF Champions League. On the evidence of this season and last, only Monterrey is on the same level as these two.
As if to accentuate that, both goal-scorers were French, with Andre-Pierre Gignac opening the scoring for Tigres and Jeremy Menez leveling from the penalty spot late. Two Mexican sports newspapers even published their Sunday front pages in French, with Record's stating: "Mon Dieu!"
Both sides had chance to take the three points, but a draw was a fair result overall in a match-up that has become one not to miss in recent years.
2. Almeyda's Chivas dropping at alarming rate
There are only so many times you can try to lift a team struggling for confidence by urging them to work harder. It seems that is what Chivas coach Matias Almeyda is doing with all too much regularity of late, with no sign of a response from the players.
After Chivas' 2-0 loss to Puebla in round five, Almeyda had spent an hour locked in the dressing room with his team. When he eventually appeared in the postgame news conference, it was to stress that there would be changes and a redoubling of efforts to turn around what had become a deeply concerning situation.
Chivas needed to react to Almeyda's words and do their talking on the field at home against Santos Laguna on Saturday. It didn't happen, with Chivas falling 2-0 via goals from Julio Furch and the on-form Djaniny Tavares.
Even the return of Oswaldo Alanis and Jair Pereira from recent absences couldn't lift Chivas from their recent malaise. And the experiment of playing Isaac Brizuela and Carlos Cisneros on the right and left of midfield didn't work, either.
Chivas have had more shots than any other team in the Clausura so far, but there is a desperation about the side, a lack of assurance and a deficit in the physical side of the game compared to other teams.
After the game, Almeyda looked in shock and admitted that this is the most difficult moment of his career since joining Chivas. The Argentine denied that he was in any way considering resigning, but the fact he was even asked tells a story.
Less than nine months on from the 2017 Clausura title, Chivas have lost their way.
3. Pumas move top of Liga MX
Pumas have done the opposite of Chivas so far this Clausura, rediscovering their identity and charging into first place. They defeated a strong Morelia 2-1 on the road Friday to remain unbeaten and two points ahead of America, the only other undefeated team.
Offseason signing Matias Alustiza once again impressed for Pumas, and the midfield partnership of Marcelo Diaz and David Cabrera provides solidity and freedom for the attacking quartet of Pablo Barrera, Jesus Gallardo, Alustiza and Nico Castillo to shine.
As the weeks go by, David Patino's Pumas are looking increasingly balanced and confident and the fan base is starting to believe. And with Pumas' next five games against Veracruz, Club Tijuana, Chivas, Leon and Toluca, it's possible the club will have wrapped up a playoff spot by the next international break in late March.
4. Tijuana's defensive streak comes undone
Club Tijuana goalkeeper Gibran Lajud broke the record for the longest time without conceding a goal at the start of the season on Friday before his streak ended at 477 minutes on a goal from Queretaro's Edson Puch.
The record will be nice for the young goalkeeper, but the result certainly wasn't, with Queretaro picking up a surprise 2-0 win in Estadio Caliente.
The result leaves Xolos outside the playoff spots with only three goals scored and two against.
5. Atlas drop to last place; Lobos BUAP boost
Lobos BUAP defeated Atlas 3-1 on Saturday in a result with important implications for the relegation situation, especially with Veracruz losing 1-0 at home to Pachuca in Sunday's late game.
The gap between Veracruz and Queretaro in the relegation table is now 10 points, with 11 rounds of matches to go before one side drops to the Ascenso MX. Meanwhile, Lobos BUAP leapfrogged Atlas and Queretaro in the relegation table with their victory.
In other results, Monterrey lost its undefeated record in a 2-1 loss to Toluca on Sunday -- in which Aviles Hurtado was sent off in the 19th -- and there was also a poor 2-0 loss for Cruz Azul at home to Necaxa, with Pedro Caixinha taking some time to get to grips with the squad early in his tenure.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.