Two of the most offensive-minded Liga MX teams square off in a tantalizing quarterfinal series beginning Thursday when Tigres host the Pumas.
Only América scored more goals than the two squads facing each other in this #3 vs #6 pairing. The two teams combined for 6 goals in their regular-season meeting and it will be no surprise of Tigres goalie Nahuel Guzmán and Pumas keeper Alfredo “El Pollo” Saldívar have to reach behind them into the netting to put the ball back in play.
Tigres coach Tuca Ferretti and Pumas manager David Patiño – teammates on the great 1990-91 title-winning Pumas team – will match wits from the sidelines. This will not be a boring series.
Tigres: 8-5-4, 32 goals for, 18 goals against
5-2-2 at home, 21 goals for, 9 goals against
Pumas: 8-6-3, 29 goals for, 19 goals against
6-2-1 on the road, 13 goals for, 5 goals against
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Tigres: 1-0 win at Chivas
In Guadalajara, Coach Tuca Ferretti used a makeshift line-up with four subs since there was nothing at stake in the outcome. The Tigres had already clinched a playoff spot and their significant goal differential gave them an advantage over any team that might tie them in points scored, while the only way they could have improved their seeding was if there was a loser in the Pumas-Santos match. The Tigres controlled possession but showed little ambition until Tuca threw on late subs, including right back Chaka Rodríguez. Finally, in injury time, Chaka let fly from 30 meters, blasting a shot over Chivas goalie Raúl Gudiño and into the side netting.a
Pumas: 1-1 tie vs Santos
This was a battle for the 3rd seed so both teams were at full strength (Santos captain José Abella was on a one-game suspension). Pumas attacked with great elán, especially skipper Pablo Barrera who missed two golden opportunities (one looked like it would have been annulled by an offside call). Both teams were pressing forward, looking for opportunities with Santos enjoying an advantage with their dangerous two-man game featuring Julio Furch and Johan Rodríguez. The Santos tandem produced a goal in minute 25, but the Pumas responded … with a little bit of luck. In minute 63, Santos defender Matheus Dória headed into his own net though he was not under pressure. Neither team could find another goal.
Regular season match
Pumas 3, Tigres 3
One of the more entertaining matches of the entire Liga MX season took place in Mexico City on the UNAM campus on Oct. 21. Pumas striker Carlos González scored a hat trick, equalizing with his third, a 62nd-minute finish just before the rain started, slowing the pace of the game. Pablo Barrera and Alan Mozo were constant threats on the right flank for the Pumas, but their defense could not keep up with the Tigres patient ball movement. Edu Vargas, youngster Rafa Duran and league-leading scorer André-Pierre Gignac got the Tigres goals.
Ch. Rodríguez – Ayala – Juninho – Dueñas
Pizarro – Carioca
Duran – Vargas – Aquino
Coach Ferretti has used plenty of line-ups this season – due to injury, the usual mixing-and-matching, and to give youngsters playing time. So he has a deep bench should he be dissatisfied with the way things are going. Juergen Damm, Enner Valencia and Lucas Zelarayán are all solid offensive options. Whoever is on the pitch, the style of play won’t change – patient ball movement, probing the flanks and Gignac lurking around the box waiting for a chance to pounce. Jesús Dueñas will have his hands full protecting the left side of the defense and will need help from Javier Aquino.
Mendoza – Arribas – Quintana – Mozo
Barrera – Iniestra – Malcorra – M. Rodríguez
González – Mora
Pablo Barrera has found the fountain of youth back with the team with whom he began his career back in 2005. His knees have held up and he has combined splendidly on the right flank with young fullback Alan Mozo. Up front, Carlos González and Felipe Mora will be active, looking to elude the marking of the Tigres aging central defenders. Alejandro Arribas and Luis Fernando Quintana will have to be alert, not only draping Gignac at all times but also facing up to centering passes and crosses. The midfield pairing of Andrés Iniestra and Víctor Malcorra will be called upon to shut down the passing lanes toward Gignac while also preventing Edu Vargas from finding space to shoot from the top of the box.
Tigres: Winger Javier Aquino missed portions of the season with injury and has been rounding into shape the past month. Against the Pumas, he must return to his elusive best on the left flank and his battle with Alan Mozo could be epic. In addition, he will have to track back and help his defense because Mozo is so good going forward and the dangerous Pablo Barrera patrols the same side of the field. Counterattacks could be open on the left for the Tigres.
Pumas: Goalie Alfredo Saldívar had a good outing against Santos last time out, and will need to be sharp against the potent Tigres offense (No. 2 in scoring in Liga MX). But “El Pollo” is weak in chasing crosses and centering passes, so he will need his central defenders to mark anybody in the box tightly. If he can make a few reflex saves – especially early on – he could inspire his team to a good result to take back home for the return leg.
I expect this series to be a rollicking, high-scoring affair. Perhaps more than 8 goals in the 2-games. The Pumas know they have been overwhelming at home this season and will likely come out looking to solidify their reputation as the league’s best road team. André-Pierre Gignac often is at his best in the playoffs and UNAM’s defense will likely swarm him. That could leave room for other Tigres to contribute.