Concacaf Champions League winners Tigres UANL, repping Liga MX, will meet Bayern Munich in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup on Thursday and could be 90 minutes away from a historic feat.
No Concacaf team had even made it to the final before, much less beat the reigning European champions in it.
It couldn't be a tougher ask though, as in their way are The Bavarians, who mopped the floor with one of the most respected club teams of the decade and perhaps the greatest player to ever play the game back in August.
Bayern conquered Germany with a domestic treble in 2020 and added the Champions League and UEFA Super Cup to that haul. They need only the Club World Cup trophy to make it 6 titles in a single year, becoming only the second team in history after Barcelona to accomplish such a feat.
So, the biggest question is: what does Tigres have to do to win? Do they have a chance at all?
The answer is yes. There is always a chance, and three matches, in particular, this season have showcased some of Bayern’s weaknesses.
The time a high defensive line cost them 4 at Hoffenheim
In just Matchday 2 of the Bundesliga season, the alarm bells were already sounding for the reigning German champions.
Hoffenheim needed a perfectly-timed goal off a corner for their plan to take effect, and so it did.
After going down 1-0 Bayern had to press up high to equalize. That’s when Hoffenheim sat back deep in a 5-3-2, blocking the spaces and holding strong against Bayern’s 72 percent possession all game.
They got their goals through counters, almost always outnumbered but with Bayern’s defenders rushing back late. Credit to Munas Dabbur, Andrej Kramaric, and others for being efficient and taking their chances, though. Hoffenheim had eight shots on target in total, with half of them ending in a goal.
That loss ended Bayern’s 32-match unbeaten run that had been going on since December 2019 and occurred less than 72 hours after Bayern defeated Sevilla for the UEFA Super Cup.
“There are no excuses. We know we’ve got a game every few days this year, so we can’t talk about being tired but just accept it,” Manuel Neuer said after the Hoffenheim loss.
Despite the Bayern captain’s words, it is true that the Bavarians are one of the most overplayed teams this season. That happens when you’re the reigning champions of everything. They’ve averaged two games a week this month alone.
So, what can Tigres learn from this?
Ferretti needs to lock down the running spaces for Bayern and sit back deep. Tigres’ defensive line, anchored by a familiar face to Bayern in Carlos Salcedo, did well in keeping Palmeiras at bay, and Los Felinos have plenty of defensive options to work with in Ayala, Reyes, Salcedo, Meza, Dueñas, and even midfielders like Pizarro and Carioca who have high defensive work rates.
Up top, their attackers need to be precise and keep their cool in front of goal and look to score every chance they get. That shouldn’t be too hard for Gignac, who lives for matches like these.
The time defensive mistakes let Mönchengladbach come from behind
The truth is that no Bayern defender has had a stellar season. From Alaba and Boateng to Davies and Pavard, all have been off their best form and have all made costly errors leading to goals.
Boateng will miss Thursday’s final, meaning Tigres will most likely see Niklas Süle in the Bayern backline. More good news for the Mexican team.
The particular culprit against Mönchengladbach last month was Süle, who was caught watching on almost all Borussia’s goals which allowed them to come back from 2-0 down to win 3-2.
Bayern’s defense is their Achilles’ heel this season, which makes it that much more important for Tigres’ attackers to have the game of their lives.
Munich’s center back partnerships are penetrable, while the fullbacks (Davies, Pavard) have lacked offensive flair this season and thus will be reduced to their defensive capabilities, which are more limited.
Bayern has already conceded 26 goals in 20 Bundesliga matches this season. Last season, they conceded just 32 in all 34 games.
The time quick passes through the middle saw an underdog eliminate a giant
There won’t be another domestic treble this season for Bayern.
Just last month, second division side Holstein Kiel needed extra time and penalties to defeat Bayern 4-2 in the German cup. They drew 2-2 after 90 minutes thanks to some well-timed passes through the middle, because surprise surprise, Bayern were sitting way too high.
“You get the feeling that the opponents have slowly figured that out,” Bayern legend Bastian Schweinsteiger said after the game. “They’re consistently trying to look for quick and direct passes in behind. From my point of view, they don’t have to stand so high.”
If a second division German side can defeat Bayern, it’s certainly not a huge pill to swallow to see the champions of Concacaf do it.
When it comes to teams that pass well, Bayern couldn’t have done worse than being put up against Tigres.
Guido Pizarro, Rafael Carioca, and Chaka Rodriguez have some of the best passing numbers in Mexico. Two or more of those players were in the Top 10 in key passes, opposition half passes, and final third passes in Liga MX last season. Through balls to Gignac, Aquino, and Quiñones are common and will be much needed on Thursday.
Can they get it done? Can Tigres become the first Mexican club to conquer the world? Let us know in the comments below!
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