The relegation fight is the most interesting feature of the Liga MX's Clausura 2015, even if it can be difficult to get to grips with.
Yes, even the most casual fan of the league will know Chivas are in trouble. Arguably the biggest team in the country, the side from Guadalajara is currently duking it out with Leones Negros and Puebla to avoid relegation to the second division, which is notoriously difficult to get out of.
After nine rounds of matches in the current season, Leones Negros is in last place in the relegation table, just behind Puebla and Chivas. But the differences are so minimal that after this upcoming weekend's round of matches, any one of the three could be in bottom place, depending on how results fall, with Puebla hosting Chivas on Saturday in a relegation humdinger and Leones Negros away at Morelia on Friday.
The Liga MX relegation system is based on a separate tabla de descenso (relegation table) and not the regular season standings, making it particularly difficult to fathom. The relegation candidate is worked out by averaging the points per game ratio over the past six short seasons (three years), with one team going down after each Clausura tournament.
At present, with just eight regular season games remaining, Chivas have 102 points from its last 94 matches, while Puebla has 100 points from the same amount of games. That's pretty straightforward and easy to follow: Puebla needs to make up those two points between now and the end of the season. The tricky bit comes with Leones Negros, who were only promoted less than a year ago and have currently only played 26 games in the top flight, winning 27 points along the way. That means Leones Negros' points to games played tally is more volatile.
In raw numbers, Chivas are on 1.0851 points per game, Puebla 1.0638 and Leones Negros on 1.0385. There really isn't much difference. A win for La Franja against Guadalajara in Saturday's crunch relegation match means it leapfrogs its rival and would be ahead with just eight regular season matches to go. But if Leones Negros defeat Morelia beforehand on Friday, it would take them to 1.1111 points per game, moving them ahead of both whatever the outcome between Puebla and Chivas.
Yes, you need a calculator to divide the points per game and get the ratio and that is a bit of extra effort, but it is worth taking the time out, especially as the pressure has seemingly driven Chivas, Puebla, Leones Negros and also Veracruz -- in danger before the season, but now surely safe -- to perform much better than was expected ahead of the season.
Puebla is level on points with reigning champion Club America in fourth position in the Clausura 2015 table, with Chivas a point behind in sixth and Leones Negros in 14th, but hitting form and still in the race to get in the top eight places and make the playoffs.
It wouldn't be the first time a team that made the playoffs was relegated in Mexico, with one Pep Guardiola particularly annoyed when his Dorados de Sinaloa finished eighth in the Clausura 2006, but went down due to its points per games ratio.
"You can keep this invention of the [relegation] percentages," said Guardiola immediately after the side was relegated. "It is a farce because there are a lot of teams that don't play for anything [because] they know they can lose all their games and they won't go down."
But the rules are the rules and the bottom line is that if Leones Negros win all their games, they will stay up and consecutive victories over Club America in the Estadio Azteca and against Tigres in the Estadio Jalisco last Sunday really opened up the whole relegation battle.
The impact of Chivas being relegated is well-documented and would send a shockwave of seismic proportions through the Mexican game. But then Puebla is a major Mexican city, the fourth biggest metropolitan area in terms of population, and will feel it deserves a team in the top league.
At this point, however, it is not about who deserves what, but about who can scrape for the most positive results between now and the last day of the regular season on May 10, when one club is set to drop.
A few interesting Liga MX stats so far this Clausura:
- Club America has handed five debuts to players, the most of any club.
- Puebla has the highest average age per player (30.5 years), with Santos Laguna the lowest (24 years).
- Tigres are the Liga MX pass-masters and lead the way with most passes completed, percentage of total passes completed, total touches on the ball and highest average of minutes on the ball per game. The Monterrey club has also had more shots than any other team.
- Chivas players have covered most ground (1009.5 kilometers), with archrival Club America lagging behind in last place with only 919.5 kilometers covered.
- Monterrey has committed more fouls than any other side (159).
All stats via the official Liga MX website.