Can León solve puzzle that Tuca’s Tigres will pose?

Andre Pierre Gignac (L) of Tigres vies for the ball with Luis Montes (R) of Leon during the Mexican Clausura 2019 tournament first leg final football match at the Universitario stadium in Monterrey, Mexico on May 23, 2019. (Photo by Julio Cesar AGUILAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Andre Pierre Gignac (L) of Tigres vies for the ball with Luis Montes (R) of Leon during the Mexican Clausura 2019 tournament first leg final football match at the Universitario stadium in Monterrey, Mexico on May 23, 2019. (Photo by Julio Cesar AGUILAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP/Getty Images) /

The Tigres limp into Estadio León desperate to defend a 1-0 lead from the first leg and claim their seventh Liga MX title.

Tuca Ferretti outcoached León manager Ignacio Ambriz on Thursday night and he’ll have to do so again to claim his record-tying seventh Liga MX title as a coach. The Tigres could have four key players sidelined at kick-off but León will have to earn victory because Tuca’s teams can always be counted on to play in a disciplined, orderly fashion.

Central defender Carlos Salcedo (left knee) is out, left back Jesús Dueñas (brain contusion) is doubtful, as are winger Javier Aquino (right ankle) and forward Edu Vargas (groin).

As for the Esmeraldas, they must figure out how to play without striker José Juan Macías (on World Cup duty in Poland with Mexico’s Under-20 team), but midfielder Rubens Sambueza is back after serving a one-game suspension.

The Esmeraldas must also get a contribution from MVP front-runner Angel Mena who has been quite most of the post-season. Mena could become the first regular-season scoring leader whose team made it to the final that failed to score a single goal during the playoffs.

León must make its home-field advantage stand up (8-1-2, 23 goals for, 9 goals against, including playoffs) and beat the Tigres by two goals to hoist their 8th Liga MX trophy. A one-goal win will force overtime.

Last match

Tigres 1, León 0

André-Pierre Gignac scored in minute 21 and that was all the Tigres needed to head into the second leg with a one-goal advantage. The host Tigres harassed León captain Luis Montes most of the match, preventing him from generating the quick strike attacks that typified León’s season. León finished the game with only 46% possession and managed only two shots on goal. Vinicio Angulo replaced Macías in the starting line-up, but he was not up to the task. Jorge Torres Nilo replaced the injured Dueñas at left back and he helped neutralize the dangerous Mena. Still, the Ecuadorian winger did escape for a 1-on-1 with Nahuel Guzmán, but Mena hesitated and Guzmán closed fast allowing Torres Nilo to hustle back and break up the play.

Clausura 2019 result

León 2, Monterrey 2

This was the season opener for both teams. The host Esmeraldas had finished in 14th place in the Apertura 2018 while the Tigres had disappointed by ending as only the #6 seed before getting knocked out in the quarterfinals. So this result was seen as a surprise with Yairo Moreno putting León up 2-1 in minute 89 before André-Pierre Gignac converted a controversial penalty deep into stoppage time.

Possible line-ups

León: 4-4-2


Navarro – Mosquera – González – Tesillo

Sambueza – J. Rodríguez – Montes – Mena

Campbell – Moreno

I’m not sure coach Ambriz will go back to Angulo up front though Yairo Moreno is not a natural striker (he’s more of a wing). The León manager could also opt for five midfielders, with Jean Meneses opening on the right side and Rubens Sambueza taking a more attacking position. Right back Fernando Navarro must rediscover his regular-season form – both offensively and especially defensively (Navarro inexplicably left Gignac alone at the back side leading to the game-winning goal in the first leg).

Tigres: 4-2-3-1


L. Rodríguez – Ayala – Meza – Torres Nilo

Carioca – Pizarro

Quiñones – Zelarayán – Valencia


This is pure guesswork, due to the unknown status of Vargas and Aquino. If Tuca prefers the same tactical approach as he used in the first leg, I like Lucas Zelarayán to replace Edu Vargas in the slot behind Gignac. Enner Valencia would be more of a second forward than a winger, but I don’t think Tuca trusts Juergen Damm enough to use him from the opening whistle. The three forward midfielders will be instructed to drop back deeper – especially early in the match – to press and limit León’s time on the ball.

Key players

León: Winger Angel Mena must show up for this game. Mena led the league in goals and assists, but has been inconspicuous in the playoffs. The presence of Rubens Sambueza could provide him with a little more room to operate, but he must be more decisive and take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves.

Tigres: Midfielders Rafa Carioca and Guido Pizarro were very effective in the first leg, but this time around they’ll also have to chase Sambueza who gives León a second playmaker in midfield. The Tigres’ midfield tandem should also be prepared to be more greedy with possession in order to slow the tempo and force León to spend energy chasing the ball.


América showed the world last week that León is not invincible at home and the Esmeraldas are on a two-game losing streak after losing only two games during the regular season. This is the first final for Ambriz and the 11th for Tuca who will tie Ignacio Trelles for most league titles for a coach if the Tigres hold on. This is also the sixth final for the Tigres in the past 10 seasons. It’s hard to make up for that kind of big-game experience. If the Esmeraldas fail to score in the first half, they will be in trouble. Frustration will set in and the crowd will be nervously quiet. León must play loose and shake off the pressure; they must maintain their poise and create space for their midfield playmakers. If they can do that AND keep a man inside Gignac’s shirt, they can emerge victorious. I see the Tigres playing it safe, standing up to the pressure, and surviving the inevitable León surge with Tuca making the necessary tactical adjustments in the second half.

León 1, Tigres 1