1) Andre-Pierre Gignac is back.
It goes without saying that Tigres are one of the most talented teams in Liga MX, but when Andre-Pierre Gignac is in form, there is almost no team in Mexico that can stop them. By his standards, Gignac had been virtuously anonymous all season. Struggling with small knocks here and there and shackled by opposing defenses week in and week out, people were quick to point out his influence was quickly fading.
But the reports of Andre-Pierre Gignac’s demise were greatly exaggerated. The French striker has five goals in this Liguilla, scoring two against Leon through the course of the semifinals, and most importantly, he is back to being the foundation of Tigres’ attack.
As ever, it is the little things that separate a good player from a great one. During the regular season, Gignac often found himself pulling backwards with no clear indication, but here, he was back to getting himself in between lines with tremendous effect. Although his second leg wasn’t exactly the three-goal performance he put up against Pumas, it could have been his best game yet in this Liguilla.
How do you say “Welcome Back” in French?
1) Pumas have plenty to proud of.
It wasn’t quite like a year ago when both teams met in the final of the 2015 Liga MX Apertura. There was no incredulous comeback from Pumas, no sweet revenge for what happened a year ago in Ciudad Universitaria. Just one scintillating second-leg performance from Tigres.
After a decent 2-2 draw in the first game, Pumas were simply ripped to shreds in the second. Coach Juan Francisco Palencia’s biggest sin was to go into Tigres’ stadium playing a high line. Every time the capitalinos got forward, they seemed to be leaving Tigres all the room in the world to do what they pleased. This was perhaps not appropriate against one of the best teams in Mexico, and the end result was a 5-0 thrashing.
Going into the season, Palencia had many problems, possibly more than his recent predecessors, so making the Liguilla is one massive accomplishment for the rookie coach. Painfully, Tigres exposed some of his flaws, particularly the unsuitability of some players like Dario Veron to his system. Still, Palencia has plenty to be proud of. Here, they were quickly finished off, but they can only learn from this and improve heading into next season.
1) Xolos de Tijuana’s late season struggles.
Veracruz gifted Xolos de Tijuana absolutely nothing on Friday. Tijuana came into this match needing at least a draw to clinch first seed in the Liguilla and they came out out of the Estadio Luis “Pirata” Fuente with their fourth defeat of the season.
Although Tijuana penned first place a day later thanks to Pachuca’s draw with Club America, it wasn’t the happiest of endings to a marvelous regular season from Miguel Herrera’s side. Xolos slipped to two straight defeats, and it’s difficult to say how much overconfidence affected them, given one of those defeats wasn’t one of the most winnable games against Tigres.
But make no mistake, against Leon in the quarterfinals, if Tijuana play with the same lack of verve as they did in Veracruz, they might just be there for the taking.
1) Tigres beat Xolos de Tijuana in Liguilla preview.
This was as close of a Liguilla-type game as you will see during the regular season. At the home of the league leaders, Tigres earned a 1-0 win that qualified them to the Liguilla. In the process, handing Xolos de Tijuana their first home defeat of the season.
What really marked this performance was the intensity of which the game was played. Nothing summed that up like an end of the game scuffle between Andre-Pierre Gignac and Tijuana goalkeeper Federico Vilar. For Tigres it was something of a statement game. Make no mistake, Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti’s side wanted to win this game.
Here, Gignac’s individual loss of form was evident, but Tigres showed they are more than a couple of big-name players. They were sturdy in defense, as they often have been under Tuca in the Liguilla, and that is what ultimately brought them the three points at the Caliente.
For Tijuana, who to their credit came close to grabbing an equalizer, this defeat raises the question of how ready this team is for the Liguilla. This game said much about the type of issues Tijuana will likely face in the Liguilla, and now it is up to Miguel Herrera to find solutions before the start of the playoffs.
1) Pumas UNAM get first road win of the season.
Alas, Pumas managed to clinch their very first away win of the season by thrashing Veracruz 4-1 on Friday. There was no dramatic comeback, no late equalizers. Sure, Dario Veron missed a penalty before Veracruz manage to score a fortuitous equalizer, but at the end of the day, three second half goals provided Pumas a good-enough cushion to exorcise their road demons.
Not only did the win help Pumas get back into positive goal difference, but their first road win couldn’t have come at a better time. The win placed them back into a Liguilla position, moving them up to sixth in the league table, and with two games still to play in the regular season, the team from UNAM now controls their own destiny.