It’s something no Liga MX team likes to hear. Unfortunately, for all playoff-involved teams, it is a reality they must come to grips with; “Tuca” Ferretti’s Tigres are back, and just in time to gear up for the playoffs. After garnering just two wins through their first nine games, Tigres have since become winners of four straight and bounced all the way back into 5th place overall in the league table with 23 points, just 1 behind 4th placed Pumas who occupy the last spot to receive a first round bye in the playoffs.
Not only have Tigres regained relevance and championship-contender status, but their defense has tightened up in notable fashion. In this four-game stretch, the club have scored 10 goals and have yet to allow any to their opposition. This of course, after a defensive error-fest five-game winless stretch where they couldn’t seem to prevent rivals from scoring in stoppage time, dropping countless points.
Tigres’ main revelation during this span hasn’t been Gignac, Aquino, or even last season’s breakout star, Uruguayan youngster Leo Fernández. However, it is another Uruguayan; 27-year old Nicolás López. Into his second season with Tigres, López barely made his Guard1anes 2020 debut in Round 8 vs. Chivas, when he came on for Javier Aquino to occupy the left-wing position, playing only 29 minutes. After missing out on the Round 9 match vs. León, López has been a part of each of the club’s last four wins, despite coming on as a sub. He scored 1 vs. Santos in his 17 minutes of play, then doubled that vs. Querétaro the following match in 45 minutes of play, and scored 1 more goal in the ‘Clásico Regio’ in his 25 minutes of action. He got 27 more minutes vs. San Luis this past weekend, and despite not scoring, he netted a beautiful assist to Vargas, and kept his goal-involvement in consecutive games alive. It’s also worth noting the team finally looked the Tigres of old last weekend, dominating 70% of ball possession vs. San Luis and finding wide variety in play creation.
And so, with four games to go in the regular season, Tigres appear to be finding the necessary elements to find their groove and enter the playoffs hitting their sweet spot; 1) Cleaning up on the defensive end (4 consecutive clean sheets); 2) Their star players (Gignac, Fernández, Quiñones, Pizarro, Ayala, and Guzmán) all healthy and playing at a high level; 3) An unexpected player appearing and providing the squad with extra production in “Nico” López; 4) Most importantly of all, they have found the recipe for victory, and are now in contention for a top 4 first round bye.
The final stretch of the regular season for Tigres is perhaps the most interesting part of this entire thing. Ferretti and company will have a couple of chances to prove and cement this four-game winning streak, as they continue their season in a couple of weeks by visiting 2nd placed Cruz Azul. If that one isn’t enough to start your playoff engine, a couple of weeks after that, they’re back in Estadio Azteca to visit the other home club, América. Those two matchups promise to be extremely entertaining, possibly even garnering match of the week honors. Not to mention, a delightful preview of what’s to come in the playoffs. If they’re able to win either of those two matchups, they will have reestablished themselves as title favorites alongside this season’s top 3 (León, Cruz Azul, América).