On Wednesday night, the Mexican postseason officially kicks off with #8-seeded Chivas Guadalajara taking on top-seeded UANL Tigres at Estadio Omnilife. While the seedings may point to this being an easy series for Tigres, in reality these two teams are much closer matched than they may seem at first glance. The strength of each club begins with their defense, and each side boasts one of the best backlines in Mexico. In fact, the Tigres defense just completed a run of historic proportions - conceding a minuscule nine goals during the entire Clausura, a new record for a 17-game season. Tigres also ride a three-game shutout streak into the first round of the Liguilla playoffs.
The Chivas defense, while not quite on this level, is also one of the best in the league. The Chivas defensive unit will be further bolstered this week by the return of left back Jonny Magallon, a key player who has missed the last four games due to injury. Magallon’s presence will play an important role in limiting the Tigres attack, especially the play of Danilinho down the right side.
When these two teams met back in March they played to a 0-0 draw, a result that should give some indication of the collective defensive strength of both clubs. It should be noted, though, that the Chivas attack has improved considerably in the two months since that earlier match. It has been Marco Fabian leading the way for Chivas during the late stages of the season, scoring seven goals over the final six matches. Fabian did not start the previous match against Tigres, nor did Omar Arellano. Now together in the starting lineup, both players (along with Cubo Torres) give Chivas a great shot at breaking through the seemingly impenetrable Tigres backline.
To have a chance, it is imperative that Chivas pull out a win in the first leg at Estadio Omnilife before heading out on the road. Tigres have a great homefield advantage and some of the best fan support in the league. Chivas, like any team, will have a very difficult time getting a result in the second leg on Saturday at Estadio Universitario in Monterrey. As the higher-seeded team, all Tigres need is an aggregate draw to advance. If Chivas don’t take some kind of lead into the second leg, they can kiss any hopes of pulling off the upset goodbye.
History does show things can be dangerous for teams in the top spot. In Mexico there is what is known as a "superleader curse" because the #1-seeded team so often fails to live up to expectations. In the last two seasons, Cruz Azul (Apertura 2010) and Monterrey (Bicentenario 2010) came in as the top-seeded teams. Both proceeded to lose in the first round. It has now been eight seasons since the #1-seeded team managed to win the title in Mexico.
If the Chivas defense can limit the scoring opportunities of Hector Mancilla, Lucas Lobos, and the rest of the Tigres attack, they will have more than a chance. This is certainly doable, because for all their talent on offense, Tigres frequently have trouble putting the ball in the back of the net. Chivas played a great match this past weekend, and look to be in better form than their record indicates heading into this series. Even though they ultimately dropped the game to Monterrey on Saturday, Chivas were clearly the better side. If not for a few unforced errors (and a few great saves from Jonathan Orozco), they probably win the game going away. The Chivas defense can certainly be counted on to bounce back. If Fabian can maintain his impressive scoring form, Chivas just may resurrect the ghosts of the old superleader curse for one more season.
The first leg kicks off Wednesday at 8pm est and can be seen in the United States on Telemundo.