Tigres reassert position as kings of the Liga MX jungle
It only took a half for Andre-Pierre Gignac to remind fans why he's the best player in Liga MX.
Was a reminder needed? Maybe not after the sensational first tournament he had in Mexico. He helped Tigres to the Apertura title just a month ago. But that's in the past; it's a new tournament now.
Tigres didn't come into Saturday's match with the best record. That was held by the opponent, Leon. Even after an opening-week defeat at Toluca and a draw against Chivas that Gignac sat out because of illness, the 3-1 win in the fourth round was a hint that Tigres are just as strong as they were last tournament.
The French forward completed a hat trick in the first half, putting Leon goalkeeper William Yarbrough to the ground far too early and then calmly chipping in the opener, then sending powerful headers past the American for his second and third. In the second half, Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's men were able to defend the lead and see out the victory without incident.
Tigres might've done it without Gignac. He scored all three goals, but Los Felinos used strong wing play to put a barrage on the visitors' net and take the lead into the break. Javier Aquino and Jurgen Damm are in their second tournament with Ferretti. Aquino returned to Europe to join the side while Damm is yet to make the jump. In their current form, it's tough to imagine the side can keep both of them after the summer, but Ferretti is certainly enjoying their skills while he can.
Still, the fact that this team still has the 30-year-old forward at its disposal makes it look like the Liga MX Clausura title again runs through Monterrey (cross-town rival CF Monterrey was handed its first defeat of the campaign Saturday but also looks to be a contender). Ferretti was able to keep his experienced defense together. Even with rumors swirling that Gignac or defensive midfielder Guido Pizarro might be wooed away by a European team, Tigres have managed to keep the band together after winning the title.
There might be off days for the side, which also is contending with CONCACAF Champions League play in 2016. Tigres know that's OK in Liga MX. A year ago, they topped the 2015 Clausura table but weren't able to move on in the Liguilla. Last tournament, they entered the postseason as the No. 5 seed and emerged holding the trophy.
The loss knocked Leon from the top of the table, and if that wasn't bad enough, La Fiera also lost their manager. Juan Antonio Pizzi returned to South America to take over the Chile national team, with Luis Fernando Tena is set to be announced as the new boss Monday. Tena's brother Alfredo, himself a former Liga MX head coach, will be part of the club's new coaching staff.
Despite the Tena brothers' experience, a change at the top, combined with Leon's shaky back line (each week after the opening-round clean sheet they've allowed one more goal than the week before) could lead to big problems for the side from Guanajuato.
That's not to say Leon will go spiraling out of control, but Tigres' comprehensive win over the team that was sitting atop the table was an indication that they're the real kings of the league until someone emerges to knock them off the throne.