Chivas face Tigres in one of the most highly anticipated Liga MX finals of recent seasons. The tie contains so many fascinating aspects; Chivas’ first final in so many years, Tigres aiming to become bi-campeón, and the tactical battle between two of Liga MX’s finest coaches. Here’s Tom Harrison’s preview.
Can Tigres remain clinical?
Tigres won just three of their first 12 games this Clausura. They’ve since won eight out of nine, scoring 25 goals in the process.
The most significant reason for this enormous turnaround in form is the vast improvement in finishing chances.
During the regular part of the Clausura, Tigres averaged a goal every 8.1 shots. In liguilla, Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti’s side have scored once for every 4.2 attempts on goal. Tigres’ efficiency in front of goal has almost doubled during the play-offs.
André-Pierre Gignac’s improvement in finishing chances has been even more incredible. After jornada 16, Gignac was requiring 6.98 shots to find the back of the net across the whole of 2016/17. Since then, the Frenchman has scored seven of his last 11 shots. Quite remarkable.
— Tom Harrison (@tomh_36) May 14, 2017
Finishing chances is such a difficult aspect of football, and often the mental state of a player has more impact on the outcome of a shot than their technical ability. Every professional football is capable of finding the top corner from around the box, but not every player can keep their cool when a big chance presents itself.
Confidence is evidently high within Tigres’ attackers right now, which can play a massive role in determining whether or not chances are finished, but maintaining this confidence, and maintaining an extremely high efficiency in front of goal, isn’t guaranteed. This has been seen throughout the Liga MX season.
Querétaro averaged a goal approximately every four shots when Jimmy Lozano first took over, and then scored just once in their next four games. Tijuana finished the regular stage of the Clausura with the best efficiency in front of goal, taking 7.1 shots to find the back of the net, before scoring twice from 33 shots during liguilla.
Whether or not Tigres can remain as clinical in front of goal as they have been recently could decide the outcome of this final. Coming up against the keeper with the highest save percentage this season, Rodolfo Cota, it won’t be easy.
Save percentage in the 2017 Clausura, minimum 36 saves.
— Tom Harrison (@tomh_36) May 9, 2017
To counter this, it could be argued that Tigres have altered their approach to shooting. During liguilla, their shots per game rate has dropped from 12.35 (in the regular season) to 10.5. Gignac has attempted 3 shots per match across the whole of the 2016/17 season, but just 1.5 a game during this liguilla. Perhaps Tigres are benefitting from being more patient in front of goal, turning good possession into clear-cut chances rather than attempting shots from range.
Zelarayán- the key man?
Since Tuca Ferretti brought in Lucas “Chino” Zelarayán for Eduardo Vargas at the attacking-midfield role, Tigres have won six out of six and scored 18 times.
Zelarayán, perhaps due to his inferior reputation, was left out for far too long. El Chino has consistently shown his creative class for Tigres, whilst Edu Vargas was a major disappointment, as he has been for most of his club career.
The Argentine has eight goals and six assists this season from 29 starts, plus an 81% pass completion rate, very high for an attacking midfielder.
— Fut Mex Nation (@FutMexNation) January 22, 2017
Zelarayán links attacks for Tigres to great effect, picking up pockets of space between the opposition’s defence and midfield. José Juan “Gallito” Vázquez has a huge challenge to try to stop Lucas from creating.
Will Matías Almeyda sit back or battle for dominance?
Traditionally, Matías Almeyda sets his Chivas side up to try to dominate matches. Only Tigres, who take fewer risks in possession, have held more possession this season.
Almeyda is also not afraid to push players forward in search of goals. The full-backs, usually Edwin “Aris” Hernández and Jesús “Chapo” Sánchez, regularly push forward, whilst Almeyda has also become well-known for throwing on plenty of extra attackers when Chivas need a goal.
However, we could see a change of style against Tigres. History shows that attempting to battle with Tigres over possession, or trying to dominate and attack them, plays right into their hands. It opens up the game, allowing time and space for the star-studded Tigres attack to thrive.
This season, Tigres have been much more successful when they’ve held less ball possession.
Tigres average possession per result this season:
— Tom Harrison (@tomh_36) May 17, 2017
Chivas held more possession when they played Tigres at El Volcán earlier this season (51%), and lost three-nil.
This leaves Matías Almeyda with a huge decision to make. Does he stick to his philosophy and try to dominate Tigres, or does he learn from the past and sit back, compact space in the final third and attempt to frustrate Tigres. Tuca Ferretti’s side have struggled greatly when sides have effectively adopted this strategy in the past.
Returning injured players
Although they’ve only scraped through liguilla, relying on the higher seed rule to advance in both rounds, Chivas have done extremely well to get here considering their injury problems.
The Guadalajara side have been boosted before the final though, with Rodolfo Pizarro and Ángel Zaldívar returning to fitness. This improves the quality of attacking options available to Almeyda, although these players may not be fully match sharp and therefore not at their best.
Taking that into account, Almeyda has some very difficult line-up decisions to make in attack. Pizarro should start but Almedya may prefer to keep Néstor “Avión” Calderón and Carlos Fierro, who have done decent jobs in recent weeks, over Zaldívar.
There’s also the wildcard option of Javier “Chofis” López. Unpredictable and enigmatic, Chofis is statistically the most efficient creator in Liga MX across the 2016/17 campaign.
Tigres appear strong favourites coming into this final, based on both form and squad strength. They are more likely to win, but it would be unwise to write off Chivas.
Tigres’ attackers cannot keep up the recent level of efficiency in front of goal, and may struggle to find the back of the net if Rodolfo Cota plays to his potential. Tuca’s side may also find it difficult to dominate the midfield and create opportunities, given the class of Gallito Vázquez and Orbelín Pineda.
Besides, this is Liga MX, and Liga MX is always stunning us.