It’s a tale not just of two different fortunes heading in, but also of two contrasting styles as Mexican soccer’s two University-based sides, Tigres and Pumas meet in the first leg of the Liga MX final on Thursday.
Pumas basically limped in, losing 3-1 to Club America in embarrassing fashion on Sunday. Fortunately, their 3-0 win at the Azteca Stadium in the first leg was enough to see them safely through to the final.
But despite the inglorious way they got here, Pumas should not be discounted. Coach Guillermo Vazquez’s team was the best and most consistent side this season, finishing first in the regular-season standings.
Vazquez has built this side to be compact and organized. While Pumas are happy to cede possession to the opposition, as they demonstrated against America in the first leg, they don’t need to possess the ball to be dangerous and dominate matches.
While the team excels at staying compact and soaking up pressure, they also have a release in the form of deadly duo Ismael Sosa and Fidel Martinez. The two marauding wingers have been Pumas’ best players this season, with Sosa leading the club in scoring and Martinez leading in assists.
Pumas' ability to soak up pressure and hit on the counterattack will be key if they are to emerge from the formidable Estadio Universitario on Thursday with their chances of lifting the trophy still intact.
Tigres, by contrast, stride confidently into the final after a 2-0 win at Toluca that, after a scoreless first leg, was enough to see them through to the final. The Monterrey-based side have a more possession-based style that more closely resembles what we see from many of the top European sides. Like Barcelona, Tigres employ a ‘death by a thousand passes’ strategy for winning.
Manager Ricardo Ferretti has drilled his side to be patient and to wait for its moment to strike, which it often does emphatically. Former Marseille man Andre-Pierre Gignac has done a fair job of living up to the excitement surrounding his signing last summer. The Frenchman has scored 13 goals on the season and has been instrumental in helping Tigres get to this point.
He will be the attacking focal point for his side and the man Pumas’ defense will have to be most wary of. Despite Pumas having finished at the top of the regular season standings, Tigres head into this final as slight favorites to win, especially on Thursday, when they will have the advantage of playing at home. Tigres are among the most expensively assembled squads in Mexico, and having lost out to River Plate in the final of the Copa Libertadores, this is their chance to prove that the money was indeed well spent.