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Tigres Transformation Not Complete Without Style Points

The Northerners are now part of the Liga MX aristocracy, and they must start playing like it.

Cruz Azul v Tigres UANL - Torneo Guard1anes 2020 Liga MX Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images

Although it has been the backbone of their striking recent exploits, Tigres’ conservatism could come back to haunt them. A pragmatic outlook has underpinned their rise from regional concern to national powerhouse, but that inherent sense of caution was their undoing in a damaging 3-1 defeat to América which leaves Tuca Ferretti’s charges on the outside looking in for a top four spot. Failure to finish in those privileged positions would hurt their chances of a deep liguilla run and strengthen the feeling that a greater sense of adventure would do them the world of good.

While smaller sides can point to a comparative lack of resources as a means of excusing a defensive style of play, Tigres cannot do the same. They are controlled by Sinergia Deportiva, a subsidiary of powerful multinational building materials company CEMEX, and that backing has turned them into one of the continent’s wealthiest clubs. Only city rivals Monterrey boast a more valuable squad in Mexico, with the likes of Nicolás López and André-Pierre Gignac incorporations that most teams in the country could only dream of making.

Both were in the starting eleven for the trip to the Azteca, but Tigres seemed content to sit back and soak up pressure for long stretches of the first stanza. As they had done so effectively against Cruz Azul at this same stadium just a few weeks prior, the plan seemed to be to keep the scores level until the break before deciding matters in the second period.

However, that blueprint was torn to shreds just a few minutes before halftime when Sebastián Córdova snuck a shot in at the near post past a poorly positioned Nahuel Guzmán. The subsequent introductions of Luis Quiñones and Leonardo Fernández did increase the visitors’ threat, but those changes proved too little, too late in a contest that called for a more expansive approach from the first whistle.

A customary late season charge up the table had put Los Felinos in the conversation for an automatic playoff place, but they really needed a win in Mexico City to make one of those coveted spots their own. A draw would have left them requiring a combination of results to go their way next weekend, while their hopes of avoiding the repechaje are now hanging by a thread after last night’s untimely reverse.

If the regular season ended today, Los Felinos would lock horns with Toluca in a tense one-off encounter to book their ticket to the postseason proper. They would be heavily favored in that matchup, but the bigger worry would come in the subsequent two-legged quarterfinal, where the tiebreaker would favor their higher-ranked opponent. That rule was crucial to their triumphs in the Clausura 2019 and Apertura 2017, and it might mark the difference between success and failure yet again in this liguilla.

Ultimately, having to go through the repechaje would not be a death knell for Tigres’ title aspirations. Their ample playoff experience could help them come out on top yet again, and they were in sparkling form before falling to defeat against Miguel Herrera’s men. After a decade that has seen them become one of the division’s elite, however, this passionately supported institution should now be judged not only on their results but also how they are obtained.