North America's best club has decided to be good again
For most of the 2017 Clausura, Tigres have been on the outside looking in at Liga MX’s playoffs. Due to a lack of consistent wins, and several underwhelming performances, the current title-holders endured numerous weeks without a spot in the top eight.
Inevitably, the word “crisis” began to emerge from nearly every Mexican media outlet around February and March, questioning the form and motivation of the squad.
Recently, that narrative has changed. Drastically.
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Better late than never, Tigres have powered through the past couple of weeks with commanding and electrifying wins. Almost as if making a statement to the rest of the league, the Nuevo Leon club racked up seven goals in its last two victories, thus allowing it to charge up the standings.
Manager Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti still has a tricky and challenging path toward a second consecutive championship, but recognizing the immense talent at his disposal, his squad might be able to once again exert its dominance in Mexico.
A recipe for a slow start
Before we begin analyzing what Ferretti’s men can achieve, let’s take a look at why their problems emerged in the first place.
The most overt reason as to why Tigres had early struggles? Scheduling that led to a lack of a true preseason.
Thanks to America’s involvement in last year’s Club World Cup, the 2016 Apertura finals were postponed until late December. Less than two weeks after Tigres were able to surpass Las Aguilas and lift the Apertura trophy on Christmas Day, the team took the field for its first match of the 2017 Clausura.
Keep in mind that most other Liga MX clubs, especially those who didn’t qualify for the playoffs, had over a month to relax and prepare for the current competition. That’s also a reason why America has had problems of its own this year, but unlike Tigres, Las Aguilas were allowed to delay their first game of the current tournament.
Another case to consider is that of Andre-Pierre Gignac. Since his arrival in the summer of 2015, the French striker has become the focal point in Tigres’ attack. To date, Gignac has amassed a total 50 goals in all competitions for Ferretti’s side.
However, this season, the striker hasn’t had much of an influence until recent weeks. With Gignac scoring only two goals in his first 11 matches of the Clausura, Tigres appeared fairly harmless in January and February.
Speaking of the attack, an additional issue for Ferretti was that of an abundance of talented options, particularly after the incorporation of Eduardo Vargas. Although this seems like a strange problem to have, the manager has had to regularly bench noteworthy names in attempts to figure out which combination works best.
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The late resurgence
Despite the fact that it has taken longer than expected to get all cylinders firing, things are finally starting to click for Tigres.
Following months of mostly average performances, Tigres have taken back headlines after last week’s results: a 3-0 win over Chivas, and a 4-0 victory against Pumas.
Gignac, who only had two goals in 2017 beforehand, was suddenly invigorated with three goals in the two aforementioned matches. Several others, such as Jurgen Damm, Javier Aquino, Ismael Sosa, Lucas Zelarayan and Vargas also contributed with goals and assists in the two victories.
The recent goal fest was a distinct reminder of what the current champions are capable of. If a fringe player like Damm can score two goals in less than 15 minutes against Pumas, it’s scary to think of what a more motivated squad will be able to produce in the near future.
Granted, the agile Damm would be a starter in any other Liga MX club, but that’s also a testament to the depth and power of Ferretti’s roster. In a league that boasts names like Carlos Sanchez, Hirving Lozano, Nicolas Castillo and Orbelin Pineda, Tigres stand above the competition when it comes to the capacity and talent of its squad.
Perhaps the most frightening thing about the current champions, though, is the ease at which they have suddenly returned to title contention. After coasting through most of the Clausura with occasional wins, Tigres are suddenly in ninth place, one point behind a Liguilla-worthy spot.
Given the team's form and the experience of a coach like Ferretti, Tigres now have an exciting opportunity to fight for another championship.
Obstacles between back-to-back titles
This is all, of course, easier said than done.
In spite of Tigres’ impressive results, it’s important to remember that plenty of the hype building around the team encompasses just two victories -- results posted over the course of five days.
Ferretti will need to juggle several important matches during the next two months. Tigres are set to face crosstown rivals (and fellow title-contenders) Monterrey this Saturday, second place Tijuana on April 29th and will wrap-up the regular season against a revitalized Queretaro on May 6th. Let’s also not forget the two legs of the CONCACAF Champions League final versus Pachuca, which are set for April 18th and 26th.
Also worth noting is the unavoidable reality of any number of clubs parking the bus. Tigres are at their very best when teams throw numbers forward, but when opponents tend to sit back and clog their defense, that’s when Ferretti occasionally walks away with draws or narrow losses.
All of these obstacles produce a daunting task at hand, but if there’s a team capable of pulling it off, it’s Tigres.
The club has done an excellent job pushing away early issues and has seen Gignac spark a resurgent attack. On the sidelines, the highly-experienced Ferretti is the perfect manager to maintain the team’s current momentum. Looking back at his double-duty as Mexico and Tigres’ coach in 2015, the Brazilian is clearly no stranger to surviving challenging tasks.
North America’s most talented team is once again front and center in Mexican soccer. Whether that means a return to Liga MX’s top eight, or titles in the Clausura or Champions League, we’ll have to wait and see.