Here your five conclusions from the Semifinals of the 2017 Liga MX Clausura, where Chivas and Tigres sealed their place in the Liga MX Final.
Rodolfo Pizarro the difference for Chivas
It can take just one injured player to disrupt the whole chemistry of a team. When Chivas lost Rodolfo Pizarro through injury, Matias Almeyda was stripped of one of his most important players. Enter Pizarro back from injury in the first leg, and the young Mexican forward scores the key away goal for the Rebaño. When the second leg came around, Almeyda had no choice but to give Pizarro the start.
The problem for Chivas in the last few weeks hasn't been the shape of the team or the fact that they have lacked a cutting edge. Where Pizarro differs from the rest of Chivas’ wide players is that he devotes his time to the small things on the field. He is not a one-trick pony. When he recognizes the need for the team to stretch the field, he, as expected, goes wide. He also has the recent tendency to move centrally when on the break, which explains his sudden rise in goals. Defensively, he tracks back, and is arguably one of the smartest players in all of Chivas’ squad, if not of all Mexico’s young national team pool.
On this occasion, Pizarro represented a threat not just because of his goal but tactically he revolutionized Chivas. When Toluca needed to start the second leg in search of a goal, it was Chivas who had the upper hand by stretching the field through Pizarro. If Chivas are to win the Liga MX title, Pizarro will have to be huge once again against Tigres.
Toluca bow out but continue to improve
There will be no league title for Toluca on their 100 year anniversary. Tactically, Matias Almeyda in no way outwitted Hernan Cristante. At the end, the Diablos Rojos just weren’t good enough. After just two seasons, Cristante has proved to be one of the most promising young managers in the league, and if you consider the fact that they missed out on the Liguilla last season, making the semifinals can be seen as an improvement. At times, Toluca offered reminders as to why their third most winning team in Liga MX history with 10 league titles, but as the second leg suggested, Toluca are not ready for another championship run. The Diablos Rojos, though, could do with some new signings during the summer, and if the board is patient with Cristante, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Toluca take that extra step next season.
Injuries push Tijuana to the limit
Miguel Herrera will not be especially pleased that the injury virus hit his team so late in the season. Tijuana was already playing with rookie defender Hiram Muñoz on defense because of Yasser Corona’s injury, and to make matters worse, Juan Carlos Valenzuela was forced off in the first leg, Michael Orozco was unavailable all series, and star player Aviles Hurtado was struggling with a knock.
As the Liguilla has shown more than once, you need to have your best players available, as well as plenty of depth. In that regard, Tigres have recognized what it takes to be competitive down the stretch, and having guys Luis Alfonso “Chaka” Rodríguez and even an Eduardo Vargas on the bench is an added bonus.
Next season, Tijuana will be under pressure to rebuild, as it is almost an open secret that coach Miguel Herrera, Guido Rodriguez, and Aviles Hurtado will be exiting the club. Should Tijuana plan on consistently challenge for the title, they can start by learning from Tigres about how to build depth.
Tigres’ charge for consecutive titles continues
It is perhaps irrelevant to mention now, but Tigres had been slow starters this season. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where they turned their season around, but their 3-0 regular season win over Xolos de Tijuana was one of their key moments. It was a cathartic occasion for the felinos, who then went ahead and seized the opportunity to seal their place in the Liguilla the next week.
The irony, of course, is Tijuana could have ended with Tigres’ season that day, but instead it was Tigres who eventually wet on to end theirs. In a season where missed opportunities looks to be the theme (Club America and the relegated Chiapas among others), Tigres’ prolificacy has paid its dividends. They won when it mattered most, and as such, they are just two games away from lifting another title.
Dream Liga MX Final?
Rating wise, Univision and Televisa have to be loving this. To put things into perspective, in three of the last four finals, Andre-Pierre Gignac and company have been pinned against three of the so-called “big four” in Mexico. After taking down Pumas UNAM and Club America, Chivas is next in Tigres’ agenda. This has all the ingredients to be an iconic final. The most popular team in the history of Mexican football against perhaps the most successful in the last few years. It doesn’t get any bigger than this.