Can Tijuana defy the odds?
During the past several weeks, no team in Mexico has looked stronger than Tigres. Led by the goal-hungry Andre-Pierre Gignac, the current title-holders are easily looking like the favorites to win this year’s Clausura trophy.
While Xolos sneaked past Morelia with a narrow 2-1 aggregate scoreline in the quarterfinals, Tigres thrashed Monterrey with an intimidating 6-1 aggregate win. The Nuevo Leon club is on fire, and with a long list of stars in the roster, it’s going to be extremely difficult for Tijuana to find a way into the final.
It’s not impossible either, though.
Earlier on Wednesday, Xolos manager Miguel “Piojo” Herrera confirmed a defensive-minded starting roster for the upcoming first leg.
Miguel Herrera confirma el XI contra Tigres
Lajud; Pérez, Vargas, Valenzuela, Muñoz, Núñez; Guido, Corona;
Malcorra, Caraglio, Hurtado
— Salvador Borboa (@Insider_del_fut) May 17, 2017
It’s a practical approach from the manager, and if Tijuana is able to avoid a serious defeat, Xolos will still have a chance to earn a place in the final through the second leg at home.
Key to success for Tijuana — Defend, defend, defend
Tigres manager Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti has no shortage of highly-talented attacking options. With names like Gignac, Javier Aquino and Lucas Zelarayan, Ferretti’s roster is the closest that Liga MX can get to an all-star team.
Keeping this in mind, Herrera’s must sit-back and frustrate Tigres with an organized and compact defense. All signs point to a backline of five, which is the perfect solution for Xolos.
Hitting Tigres on counters will be vital as well. Tijuana players such as Aviles Hurtado and Damian Perez will be crucial with their pace that could initiate much-needed opportunities. Set-pieces will be important as well, therefore placing a serious amount of responsibility on Joe Corona and Ignacio Malcorra.
Xolos player to watch — Juan Carlos Valenzuela
Valenzuela is set to be the central cog of Tijuana’s backline. Although he should have more support around him, the team captain will have the unenviable task of stalling Tigres’ high-powered attack.
The 33-year-old will not only need to be perfect in his own defensive tasks, but will also have to make sure that his backline is constantly prepared and straightened out. If Valenzuela fails to take charge, Tigres will be sure to capitalize on any and all mistakes.
Predicted score — Tigres 1-0 Xolos
This is going to be Herrera’s most difficult match in his Tijuana tenure. Tigres’ home stadium, also known as El Volcan, is going to be incredibly intense for Xolos. With another 90 minutes left in the second leg at home this Sunday, Herrera should seek to emerge with a hard-fought draw.
That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ferretti’s men are able to sneak in at least one goal on Thursday night. It wouldn’t be the worst result for either side, and with a second leg left to play for, a spot in the final would still be up for grabs.
Predicted starting XI for Xolos
This is less of a prediction and more of a confirmation from VAVEL’s Salvador Borboa, as seen in his aforementioned tweet. Unless if Herrera decides to make some last minute changes, this is what Tijuana should look like in the first leg of the semis.