Tigers and Goats: Liga MX Final Preview

Tigers and Goats: Liga MX Final Preview

The time has come. The match-up has been set, and oh what a match-up we have.

The final of the 2017 Clausura in Liga MX sees two teams carrying rather dramatic and historically significant narratives into the closing chapter of this season.

Club de Fútbol Tigres de la Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León and Club Deportivo Guadalajara, better known by their kingdom nicknames of Tigres and Chivas, both come into this marquee affair with something to prove to the masses.

Tigres, Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti’s gold and blue clad side from Monterrey, could very well cement their place among the great Mexican teams of decades past. Having already won two of the last three Liga MX championships, Tigres have a massive opportunity to etch the word dynasty in stone by defeating their opponents from Jalisco.

(Will it be 3 titles in 4 Liga MX seasons for Gignac and company?)

Chivas, the Guadalajara giants lead by charismatic Argentine gaffer Matias Almeyda, have a chance to lift their first league championship trophy since 2006.

For a club very much seen as “Mexico’s team”, the league title drought of nearly eleven years has been unacceptable for millions of dedicated fans and most certainly for owner Jorge Vergara, the polarizing figure who just a couple of years ago saw his culturally iconic club mired in a relegation scrap while he himself was in the midst of an unsavory divorce from his then wife and former Chivas co-owner Angelica Fuentes, an often vilified character at the Estadio Omnilife.

It was right around that time, September of 2015 to be exact, when a man named Matias Almeyda rolled into town. Youthful by managerial standards, the former River Plate and Inter Milan midfielder has brought a model of consistency to Chivas, helping to guide the club not only out of the relegation zone, but back to the front pages for all the right reasons.

With the deeper meaning in play, Almeyda is now 180 minutes from cementing his legacy among the most highly regarded coaching names in club history at the ripe young age of 43.

(Looking ever so saintly, Almeyda has calmed treacherous seas at a club that yearns for success.)

Tigres slumped through the majority of the regular season in Liga MX, getting hot at precisely the right time and proceeding to go on an absolute tear, sprinting into the postseason as the fiercest seven seed imaginable. Loaded on the pitch, and on the bench, with more firepower than most teams could ever dream of, the tenacious Tigres attack has been matched by an impressive defensive record of late.

In four playoff matches, Tigres have outscored their opponents 10-1. Those four matches were also against the top two seeded teams in the liguilla, their bitter local rivals Los Rayados of Monterrey in the first round and the top-seeded Xolos of Club Tijuana in the semi-finals, the lone goal conceded coming in a 4-1 romp of Monterrey in the liguilla opener.

Chivas had a quality season overall, a campaign that already includes a Copa MX title (their second under Almeyda) and a third place regular season finish. The playoffs however have seen Chivas sneak their way past Atlas and Toluca, 1-1 and 2-2 aggregate scorelines sending Los Rojiblancos through to the final, each time aided by the higher seed tiebreaker. They will have no such aid in the final.

Hampered by some key injuries, Chivas are also faced with the less than flattering fact that one of their most talented attacking players, 26 year-old forward Alan Pulido, hasn’t scored a goal in nine matches.

On a sheer spectator level in both Mexico and the United States, both ends of the two-legged tie very much have the potential to top the all-time television viewership list for Liga MX matches.

As kickoff of Thursday’s first leg at the Estadio Universitario approaches, and the atmosphere at ‘El Volcan’ inches nearer to complete eruption, three questions are on my mind.

First off, is this Tigres side that is going for their third title in four semester seasons while featuring the likes of French star forward Andre-Pierre Gignac, Chilean striker and El Tri nemesis Eduardo Vargas (who despite his enormous talent has spent large portions of the season on the bench), Mexican international midfielder Javier Aquino, Argentine midfield maestro Ismael Sosa, Argentine goalkeeper and 2016 Apertura Final hero Nahuel Guzman and so many more high profile names, the best squad ever assembled in Liga MX history?

(Since arriving in Mexico just three months before Matias Almeyda in 2015, Gignac has helped transform Tigres into a worldly powerhouse.)

Second, what is the bigger story line going into this final, the dynasty aspirations of Tuca and Tigres, or the return to the grandest stage for an historic powerhouse club that has long embodied the Mexican footballing spirit, all while sputtering rather miserably for the past decade?

Lastly, and most importantly, who’s gonna win this thing, and why?

For answers to all of these questions, I spoke with members of the #LigaMXeng scene, writers, broadcasters, and Mexican Soccer experts, receiving some varying opinions and unique outlooks on this splendid occasion and what it could all mean down the line. Here’s what they had to say.

Nayib Morán, ESPN FC (Twitter: @NayibMoran)

“Historically speaking, I think this Tigres team will leave a mark just like Cruz Azul’s squad did in the 1970s, Chivas’ in the 1950s, and America’s in the 1980s. Those are teams that took the spotlight away from the rest, as Tigres are definitely doing nowadays.”

“The bigger story… I believe it’s Tigres’ dynasty or “golden era” as I like calling it; it’s great to see a club like Tigres make the big transfer moves and have a solid plan to become one of the most important clubs in the Mexican game.”

“The winner? I’ve got Tigres. A lot of miracles will have to take place for Chivas to win this Clausura title.”

Amelia Lopez, Fut Mex Nation (Twitter: @AztecaAmeliaaa)

“Tigres are definitely one of the best teams I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure if I can say “all-time”, but I can tell you that in these playoffs, they’ve absolutely dominated.”

“As far as the narratives go, I definitely feel the Chivas story is bigger. Everyone loves a good redemption tale and this would in many ways be the ultimate redemption. When you couple that with the powerhouse that is Tigres, if Chivas manage to take the final away from them, it would be absolutely incredible.”

“For a winner though, I still gotta say Tigres. There is too much intelligence and strength on the team that Chivas hasn’t leveled to in their own team’s performances. Chivas could play two very good games but the offense of Tigres most likely will be too much to handle.”

Eric Gomez, ESPN FC (Twitter: @EricGomez86)

“Historically, I think this Tigres team is definitely up there, but I’d still rank it a shade below the 94-95 América team with players like Biyik, Bwalya and del Olmo. But Tigres is a fantastic team that is dominating this era for a reason. They’ve spent big, but also wisely for the most part and have the most electrifying player in the league in Gignac.”

“The biggest story is always the biggest team. Chivas can potentially tie Club America with 12 league titles and they’re on the cusp of a league and cup double which is kind of unprecedented in recent times. Tigres is a great team, but they have a regional fanbase while Chivas is one of the few teams that transcends Mexican borders.”

“All signs point to Tigres for the win, but even they have their weaknesses. Especially against big teams. They had to go to penalty kicks at home last season to beat a seriously depleted America team. This season I feel like Chivas is strangely in a much better position than their rivals. I think they take it. I think Chivas wins it all.”

Brenda Alvarado, La Afición – Milenio TV (Twitter: @Brendalvarado94)

“Tigres are not only the best assembled team in this league and one of the greats in recent history, they have practically no weakness. They just continue to achieve, winning titles while playing top quality football. While I don’t think Tigres depend on a single player, it must be said that having a player like Gignac can make a world’s difference. He is in a class of his own.”

“I think both story lines are equally important in this final. The Tigres dynasty is just as significant as the return of Chivas to the grand final stage.”

“Tigres have everything they could possibly need to win, except, occasionally, intelligence in difficult situations. If there is one real negative characteristic about the great Ricardo “Tuca” Ferreti as a manager, it is his mental instability when he arrives to a big match-up knowing his side is the team favored to win. It’s the opposite case with Matias Almeyda. Through good and bad, he is always calm, so different from Tuca. Chivas is definitely the underdog in this final, and that could suit them very well. Tigres is definitely the favorite to win this thing, but it won’t be as easy as some people think.”

Cesar Hernandez, SoccerNation, ESPN FC (Twitter: @cesarhfutbol)

“Yes, I do believe this Tigres team is the best squad ever assembled in this league, although I am hoping that this is just the “Pet Sounds” album of Liga MX rosters. Fingers crossed that Tigres’ crosstown rivals Rayados will be inspired with a “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” of their own.”

“For me, Tigres’ dynasty is the bigger story, but that shouldn’t take away from the historic title that Chivas could achieve here. Both are massive.”

“For the win… You can’t bet against Tigres. Regardless of the superior roster, ‘Tuca’ Ferretti’s men also have an incredible amount of momentum. I don’t think that Chivas will be able to keep up for 180+ minutes.”

Francisco Velasco, East Village Times, FutNSoccer.com (Twitter: @FranciscoEfV)

“Yes, I think Tigres UANL is the best roster the league has ever seen. It is incredible to see what the team can do on the pitch while still having players like Eduardo Vargas and Jürgen Damm sitting on the bench. Those players would not only be undeniable starters on other teams but they would be key figures and goalscorers.”

“Chivas making the return to the final after over a decade is definitely the bigger story. It is dark times for the four historically ‘big teams’ in Liga MX and Chivas are the only one shining. Tigres, as the new kings, were favorites to take the Clausura 2017 title from the moment they lifted the Apertura 2016 title, so no surprises there.”

“Tigres will definitely win this final. Apart from having the best team on the continent, Tigres has consistent forwards who can score in bunches. This is something that Chivas do not have. In fact, their main striker, Alan Pulido, hasn’t scored in nine consecutive matches! These things do not bode well for the underdogs.”

Juan Arango, Beyond the Pitch, (Twitter: @JuanG_Arango)

“No. I’m not ready to call this Tigres team the best squad of all-time. You’d have to see the great America teams of the 1980s. Chivas back in the ’60s. Even the Necaxa and Toluca teams of the early century.

“Tigres need more wins in finals to be considered a dynasty. So based on that, the bigger narrative would have to be Chivas and how they got to the final. And it’s not just about this season. Chivas became a better club once Angelica Fuentes got out of the way.”

“Tigres should be able to win this thing. They’re firing on all cylinders.”

Jon Arnold, Goal.com, BBC (Twitter: @ArnoldCommaJon)

“Best squad ever assembled? Maybe. Hugo Sanchez’s bicampeones at Pumas weren’t half bad either, but it’s definitely tough to find the weakness in this Tigres team, other than the fact that they look totally apathetic for large portions of seasons. When they turn it on, they’re nearly impossible to beat.”

“To me, the Chivas story is enormous locally – meaning in Mexico and even in the United States with the sheer number of Chivas fans here. What Tigres is doing resonates on a global level. I try to talk about something other than Andre-Pierre Gignac, but his addition has been so monumental. Tigres is one of the first teams in Mexico who seem to understand that competition isn’t just against Monterrey or America or Chivas any more. Because of the global nature of the game, you’re competing with everyone – for players, for attention, for respect.

“I’m taking Tigres. Chivas’ injuries are really hampering and when you combine their struggles to score with Tigres’ defensive consistency, I find it tough to pick against Tuca’s team.”

The Finalist Goat, TheStrayGoat.com (Twitter: @TheStrayGoat)

“At least in my lifetime, I believe that Tigres are the best team this league has seen. What’s even more frightening is that may continue to bolster to this roster in the off-season.”

“Undoubtedly the bigger story is Chivas’ return to a final. Tigres is a great club, but Club Deportivo Guadalajara captivates an entire country even in the midst of a 10 year championship drought.”

“And as far as who is going win this final… As the great scholar R. Kelly once said, “My mind is telling me Tigres. But my body, my body is telling me Chivas.”

Ivan “Afroxander” Fernandez, FutMexNation (Twitter: @afroxander)

“I’m not sure if it’s the BEST OF ALL TIME, but this Tigres squad is definitely more stacked than any other one we’ve seen in Liga MX. I can’t think of another Liga MX team with the same level of depth and talent in recent years.”

“The bigger story is certainly Chivas’ return to the type of competitive normalcy expected of one of the ‘cuatro grandes’. The work by Tigres’ management and higher-ups done behind the scenes merits plenty of praise but it’s a story that began two years ago when Monsieur Andre-Pierre Gignac and Javier Aquino joined the squad. Chivas, meanwhile, are still ridding themselves of a Cruz Azul-esque curse of mediocrity that fell a few games shy of giving Univision the best ratings in Mexico’s second division of football. The rojiblancos, funnily enough, found new life following team owner Jorge Vergara’s divorce (she didn’t get half like Eddie Murphy predicted!) as well as from Vergara discarding his habit of firing coaches every few weeks. It’s taken a lot of work between Vergara and coach Matias Almeyda, and everyone involved has done their part to right the ship to the point where Chivas are no longer a punchline in Mexican soccer.”

“To quote one of the greatest R&B songs of all time (whose singer shall remain unnamed): My mind’s telling me Tigres but my body’s telling me Chivas.”

(SoccerNation Note: Chivas supporters seem to be listening to a lot of R-Kelly. Whether or not they will be popping Cristal in stretched Navigators this coming Sunday remains to be seen.) 

Miguel Vazquez, East Village Times (Twitter: @LawyerVazquez21)

“Though this team would have to accomplish a bit more to be up there with the best ever teams in Liga MX, dynasties like Chivas’ ‘Campeonisimo’ teams of the ’60s, America in the ’70s, and even Cruz Azul in the 80’s, I think there’s definitely an argument to be made for them being the most impressive collection of talent in league history.”

“In my view the bigger story line going into this final is the resurgence of Chivas. I was fortunate enough to live in Guadalajara for almost a decade and got to see the very special way that city loves its team. And after fighting relegation and bad management for years, the fact that they’re on the brink of their 12th title and the first in eleven years is really something special.

“The great thing about soccer is the fact that it’s the most unpredictable sport in the world. I think that it will be the most entertaining final in the last decade. If Jair Pereira and Oswaldo Alanís can contain Gignac and company, I think Chivas will give Tigres a good fight. My prediction for the final is that Chivas will find a way to get a draw in Monterrey and then win the return leg 2-1 in Guadalajara.”

Tom Harisson, Fut Mex Nation (Twitter: @tomh_36)

“The best assembled squad of all time? That’s a difficult one. It’s almost certainly the most expensive Liga MX squad ever assembled, but it’s by no means unbeatable.”

“I’m going to have to be diplomatic here with the weight of the narratives. The significance of the stories depends on who you talk to. Fans of both sides can make strong cases, and these two sides have plenty of fans. It is all set up for an incredible spectacle.”

“If Tigres maintain their recent effectiveness in front of goal, scoring once every 4.2 shots during the liguilla, they will almost certainly win. However, efficiency in front of goal cannot be relied on, especially when they face a keeper who saved over 80% of his shots faced during the Clausura in Rodolfo Cota. I can see Tigres continuing to be prolific enough to win the trophy though, and they may well benefit from Matías Almeyda attempting to battle over possession, which could open up the tie. The more space that Tigres’ star attackers have to play in, the more dangerous they become.”

Nico Cantor, Univision Deportes (Twitter: @NicoCantor1)

“This revolution of modern day football has helped put together all-star teams in each league. Although this might not be the greatest Liga MX team of all time, it could very well be one of the best and deepest squads we’ve seen in recent history.”

“Whenever Chivas makes a final, it’s a huge headline, especially after an 11-year league trophy drought. But this is Tigres’ final to lose. The dynasty storyline is huge, and I think they are all too powerful to let this one slip through their hands (paws?)”

“Chivas need to improve drastically in a short amount of time if they want to dream of taking this final. Tigres are incredible on both ends of the field and playing with so much momentum. Chivas will have to find a way to keep their prolific attack at bay while finding a way to breach a strong back line, which they’ve seldom accomplished in this liguilla with just 3 goals in 4 games. I’ve got Tigres winning it all, again!”

Joely Aceves, Cantina MX Podcast, (Twitter: @JoelyQuest)

“Yes, the squad is great, but Tigres still have a long way to go historically. I look at the Chivas ‘Campeonisimo’ era (’56-’65), the squad which won 7 league titles in a proper long season format, as well as a host of other cups in that time. In the modern era I would say Toluca’s run from 98-08 that yielded 6 league titles, though in short-season format, tops what Tigres have done. Are they talented? Yes. Immortal? No.”

“The Chivas narrative is more important, but almost in a bad way. Chivas, since the ’70s, have made the final about once every ten years. The Chivas comet, like a falling star, burns brightly but only for a fleeting moment.”

“It is said that Liga MX teams that enter the liguilla on a hot streak are likely to run away with the league title. Who is playing better right now than Tigres? The felines have outscored their playoff opponents 10-1 whilst Chivas has only mustered 3 goals during the playoffs and two were absolutely gifted! I’ve got Tigres winning it all.”

Final Rundown (Listed in Pacific Time): 

Thursday 5/25, 7 PM: Tigres vs. Chivas, Liga MX Final 1st Leg, Estadio Universitario, San Nicolás de los Garza

Sunday 5/28, 4 PM: Chivas vs. Tigres, Liga MX Final 2nd Leg, Estadio Omnilife, Guadalajara

Television: Both legs available to American audience on Univision Deportes, Univision USA, and with English language commentary on Univision Deportes Facebook Live. 

Keep it here with SoccerNation for more #LigaMXeng coverage. 

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