GAME: (6) Tigres vs. Toluca (11)
DATE: Sunday, November 22nd
KICKOFF: 8 ET (7 CT)
VENUE: Estadio Universitario
The last time these two clubs met face-to-face was back in mid-August, during Round 5 of the regular season, as still undefeated Tigres visited La Bombonera to square off with a lackluster, dull Toluca team. And despite things starting off as expected, with Gignac giving the visitors a 1-0 lead in the 40th minute, it all went downhill from there, with Toluca’s Alexis Canelo completing the comeback and scoring the game winner in stoppage time in the 90th minute. After that match, the Escarlatas would only go on to win only three more matches in the remainder of the season, while Tuca and company would only lose two more times. Totally different stories to the season for both.
Tigres come into today’s match having not performed as desired at home, accumulating a 4W, 4D, 1L record. However, their road record helped level things out. They also owned the league’s second-best defense overall (16 goals conceded). Toluca, on the other hand, were one of the worst road teams in the league (1W, 2D, 6L). Not to mention, their league third-worst defense, conceding a total of 28 goals - a mammoth 19 of those 28 on the road. That, however, did go for league-worst in road goals conceded.
How do these two clubs arrive for today’s game? The home team will have its entire arsenal at its disposal, as the strong back line of Chaka, Ayala, Meza, and Salcedo are all available, as well as their all-star midfield of Carioca, Pizarro, Dueñas, and those bad boys. And, not to mention, their dream-team offensive top guns, led by Gignac, followed by Leo Fernández, Aquino, both Quiñones, and let’s not forget, team and possibly league revelation Nico López. They will of course be without Eduardo Vargas, who left the club at the start of the month to join Jorge Sampaoli’s Atlético Mineiro.
Following Toluca’s head coach Carlos Morales’ remarks during the weak regarding Toluca being a “bigger” club than Tigres thanks to “10 titles being more than 7” the last time he checked, his club have some big (no pun intended) words to back up on the pitch later tonight. With Maidana and company on the back line not being as reliable as one wishes, the Diablos Rojos will rely heavily on their dangerous attackers tonight. The fact they are at full strength as well as their rivals, led by Güemez and William da Silva in midfield, and up front by experienced leader Sambueza and team scoring leader Alexis Canelo (6 goals) gives them a fighting chance.
KEYS TO THE GAME: If Tigres want to clinch their playoff birth tonight, they must focus on two points; First of all, not allowing Toluca to get on the board early. We’ve seen the trouble Tuca’s squad has gone through when falling behind in an elimination match, seeing his rivals’ lines receding and close out spaces, really complicating things for his offense. Second of all, Gignac and company up front must take advantage of their opportunities and be effective. We’ve seen this squad be way off targetwise time and time again in big games, which has ultimately ended up costing them a shot at many more titles.
Toluca must focus on one thing, and one thing alone: get Rubens Sambueza involved from the start. The 36-year old Argentine player’s still got it and can still change the outcome of a game with one play. He must stay involved, and stay involved in a positive way (touching the ball, creating plays, etc.), not by committing fouls and being shown a yellow card or adding yet another infamous red card to his resume. When he has been involved, good things have happened, including their Week 5 regular season meeting with Tigres, when Sambueza assisted Canelo on their corner kick goal.
Ultimately, however, Tigres should win this match. They are by far the better team and have shown the great thing they’re capable of during certain stretches. They also have many experienced players who have won it all with them and have proven their worth in big moments. Despite Toluca being able to claim this game, it would be a surprise and true underdog victory. While having Rubens Sambueza always gives you a fighting chance, I fully expect Tigres to claim victory tonight and move on to the QF.