Tigres, America charge toward playoffs as relegation race opens up in Liga MX

Toluca held on to top spot and Club Tijuana moved into second as the race for the playoff places tightened up in Week 14 of the 2017 Clausura.

Here's what we learned from the most recent round of matches, with only three games for each team remaining in the regular season.

1. Tigres' form ominous for the rest of Liga MX

There was a video doing the internet rounds earlier in the week of Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman giving a pep talk to teammates ahead of the game against Chivas on Tuesday.

"This right here is a playoff game, don't let the intensity drop!" he screamed at fellow Tigres players.

It's almost like those words have been the rallying cry for Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's side of late. Tigres couldn't have dreamed of a better week, with the 3-0 win over Chivas followed by a 4-0 battering of Pumas on Saturday, both at Estadio Universitario.

A recap of the match isn't necessary. Tigres were as dominant against Pumas as they were against Chivas. It isn't a surprise given the talent, but the timing of Tigres' mini-renaissance after a poor start to the Clausura is ominous for other Liga MX title hopefuls.

Tigres now lie in ninth position in the league with three matches to go. Andre-Pierre Gignac is scoring, Jurgen Damm is flying and the team isn't conceding goals. In sum, things are coming together for Tigres right before the business end of the season and Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League final against Pachuca.

2. Pachuca scoring drought continues pre-CCL

While Tigres rise, CCL final opponent Pachuca is in a scoring slump. Los Tuzos have only scored 11 goals in the Clausura and on Saturday against Chivas, they finished their third consecutive Liga MX home game with a scoreless draw.

But despite the fact that they are tied for the worst attack in Liga MX, Diego Alonso's rhetoric doesn't transmit concern. The manager firmly believes that once the team is able to find the back of the net, a "waterfall of goals" will come its way and, to be fair, in CONCACAF play Pachuca has been able to score the necessary goals to propel it to another CCL final.

On Tuesday, Los Tuzos will visit Tigres' Estadio Universitario, a place where they lost 4-2 in their last visit. After the Chivas stalemate, Alonso recalled that game at El Volcan and noted that he was pleased with the team's performance even if the final score was negative.

Heading into the first leg of the CCL final, Pachuca boasts of a strong defensive unit, but it will need Hirving "Chucky" Lozano and Erick Gutierrez to shine in order to bring a positive result back to Pachuca's Estadio Hidalgo, where Los Tuzos have only conceded one goal in all competitions in 2017. -- Report from Nayib Moran in Pachuca.

3. America's defense shining under La Volpe

Chivas have rightly received praise over the past few months for climbing the pedestal as one of Mexico's best teams once again. It has also been interesting to see how that praise has coincided with heavy criticism of Club America and especially coach Ricardo La Volpe. But, as things now stand, Chivas are only one point ahead of Club America and both are likely to be in the Liguilla.

Choosing which side you'd back for the title right now is tough, but given the fact that Club America eliminated Chivas in both the 2016 Clausura and 2016 Apertura playoffs and is set to reach its 11th consecutive Liguilla, you'd have to lean toward the Mexico City team.

Club America is arguably the form Liga MX team right now after Saturday's 1-0 win over Queretaro, at least in terms of results. Las Aguilas have four wins out of their past five games, haven't conceded in their past six home matches -- a new club record at Estadio Azteca -- and have three 1-0 victories in their past four. It's not always pretty, but it is effective.

"Awesome solidity," is how La Volpe described his team after Saturday's win.

All of a sudden, the signing of goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin is looking shrewd, key wing-back Paul Aguilar is back from injury, Oribe Peralta is scoring goals, Diego Lainez's youthful nonchalance and raw talent is exciting the fans and Las Aguilas are well-placed to once again make a deep playoff run.

4. Relegation as interesting as playoff battle

As interesting as the playoff battle is with three rounds of matches to go, the relegation situation is just as fascinating -- perhaps even more so.

Make no mistake, the drop between the first division and Ascenso MX in Mexico is huge and getting back is no easy feat when there are two seasons per year -- each with its own playoffs -- followed by a two-match series between the champions of each season to decide which team gets promoted.

Of the contenders for the drop, Veracruz lost 1-0 at home to Necaxa on Saturday and remains in last place in the table on 111 points, Chiapas fell 2-1 at home to Tijuana and is still on 112 points and Morelia lost 2-1 at home to Leon and is level on 112 points.

With games to play against Pumas (away), Monterrey (home) and Tijuana (away), Veracruz remains the favorite to go down, but it's set to go to the wire.

5. Santos suffers as lead slips against Atlas

If Santos Laguna doesn't make the playoffs, it will because of matches like Saturday's against Atlas. The side from Torreon took the lead through Gael Sandoval on eight minutes and then seemed to control Atlas, who had lacked intensity and looked tired. But Santos couldn't get that second goal and Fidel Martinez earned Atlas a draw with 10 minutes left.

It's been the story of Santos' season. The side has conceded five goals after the 75th-minute mark and Los Guerreros' goal difference is +7 in first halves and -3 after the break. In other words, the team is giving up late goals with a frequency that's hampering its playoff charge.

Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre's team is coming together nicely with its young Mexican base and some quality foreigners, as is Atlas with a similar mix under Jose Guadalupe "Profe" Cruz, but both will be disappointed with just two points from the past two games.