Tigres might not have been playing its best coming into the playoffs, but the new Liga MX Apertura champions proved their worth in a 3-2 aggregate win over Monterrey.
When Leonardo da Vinci said simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, he probably wasn’t thinking about Liga MX’s Apertura final between Monterrey and Tigres, but one could see how it applies.
The second leg of Sunday’s championship, which featured the two best teams in the league from the city of Monterrey, exemplified why Liga MX is arguably the best in North America—a battle between two talented squads with opposing philosophies who ultimately have one purpose: to score.
You can’t get simpler than that.
Tigres, managed by the Brazilian Ricardo ‘Tuca” Ferretti, never really got going in the regular season and yet the team managed to come in second place, and that was a scary thought for the rest of the league. But once the playoffs kicked-off so did the team’s momentum as the team’s fluidity improved game by game. Back in his playing days, Ferretti was a versatile midfielder, able to adjust almost anywhere on the pitch and that’s why he is so effective as a coach, because he combines flexible creativity with disciplined possession. His offensive trio of Eduardo Vargas, Enner Valencia and Andre-Pierre Gignac create havoc upfront but also understand each other so well, that during a game, it wouldn’t surprise you to see them switch positions.
For Ferretti, domination begins with control, and control is born from possession.
But this is easier said than done, and even harder to achieve when your opposition is the antithesis of this belief. And that was the only thing that was standing in the way of Tigres’ chance at the Apertura title.
Antonio Mohamed’s Monterrey—a team that epitomizes direct football—cares very little about possession. In fact, Rayados players don’t want the ball; they simply want to punish you when you don’t have it, so the key is direct attack. During the regular season, Monterrey averaged less than 40% possession but scored more goals than any other team, mainly because of the killer instinct the team possessed, led by Aviles Hurtado, Apertura’s top goalscorer.
So this was always going to be an entertaining match, it was only a question of whose strategy would succeed.
The second leg kicked off with a trademark Monterrey goal. A long ball into the box by Cesar Montes, controlled by Rogelio Funes Mori, who placed it for Dorlan Pabon only for him to astonish the home crowd with a magnificent half-volley. It was a moment of pure magic, sending the entire stadium into pandemonium.
It was the third minute.
Tigres, however, did not succumb to the atmosphere or the hostile crowd and instead, relied on the teachings of its manager and adapted to Monterrey’s direct approach. Possession became the team’s friend and as the first half developed, the visitors took more control of the final third and more chances came their way. Eduardo Vargas took his chance with a first-time shot from inside the box and just like that, the momentum had turned and Tigres never looked back.
A Francisco Meza header (Meza replaced Ayala in the starting line-up after Ayala was given a red card in the first leg) made it 3-2 in aggregate and now the hosts were really in trouble, not so much because of the goal (there were no tie-breakers) but because Mohamed’s men didn’t really know how to react in this situation. Rayados did not lose a single match throughout Apertura and now they were in desperate need of reclaiming some momentum.
Ferretti brought on Jurgen Damm to replace Vargas after the hour and the midfield belonged to Tigres, meaning that Monterrey was chasing the game.
A questionable penalty was awarded to Monterrey in order to equalize but as soon as Aviles Hurtado stepped up, you just knew he was going to miss. There was a feeling of doubt in his eyes, perhaps it was nerves, perhaps it was anxiety—it just didn’t seem as is he was going to score. And as he ran up to take it, you could see he felt it too.
He missed in tragic fashion, hitting the crossbar.
Tigres held on, survived the long balls in the box, and after the attack was dwindling the club could sense the title belonged to them.
The final whistle came and Tigres came out victorious, winning its sixth title and fourth with Ferretti. Given the fact the club had won away from home, it was an eerie atmosphere, but the team could care less.
The amazing thing about this particular title is that they did so without relying too much on Andre-Pierre Gignac, who really was a shadow of himself throughout the tournament. Instead, it was the Ecuadorian Enner Valencia who played brilliantly in his debut season with Tigres, terrorizing defenders with his pace and finishing.
Regardless, this win was the collective effort of the entire squad and Ferretti’s vision. Tigres is the Apertura champion, and thanks to this final, Liga MX’s fantastic reputation will continue to thrive.