Tigres continue to struggle to kick-start their season, both in style of play and results. In their last 6 matches, they have a subpar record of 1W, 3D, 2L. That’s not good, considering a squad of Tigres’ caliber. Now, playoff-wise they’re in no sort of trouble whatsoever; they march along with 12 points and sit 11th overall in the league table with a game in hand. And let’s remember, 12 teams make the playoffs, so in that sense, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.
With that being said, it is troubling to see such a star-studded squad struggling the way it has and being unable to outperform obviously inferior rivals. Apart from defeating the current champs on opening weekend and ending Xolos’ undefeated run to start the season a couple weeks ago, the rest of their results have either left much to be desired or been subpar at the most. What’s interesting is this team is usually known for its outstanding defense, what normally carries them through the phases of a season. This season, however, has been a bit different, having conceded 11 goals to this point in 9 matches.
The offense has been asked to provide, and it has at certain times over the past 5 matches. And what those 5 matches have in common is the appearance of Uruguayan star Nico López. Out of Tigres’ 11 goals this season, 4 have been scored by López, and 5 have come with him on the pitch. A fun fact: he’s played 319 minutes out of a possible 810. He hasn’t even played half of the season, leads the team in scoring, and they’ve scored half of their goals when he’s on the pitch. Not to mention, the countless dangerous plays he’s helped create when on the pitch that don’t result in a score.
Something very similar occurred last season as well. But despite the clear message that all fans and pretty much any other person see - Tigres is a better and more dangerous team with López on the pitch - Tuca appears to be the only one who sees differently. The only reason “El Diente” started three consecutive matches was because of the injuries to Carlos González and “Chaka” Rodríguez. After a great run of performances and production (with a tiny hiccup vs. Toluca), López was benched once again last week against Puebla with Rodríguez’s return, a game Tigres should’ve surely had in the bag after going up early on Gignac’s penalty, and struggled to create with the clarity they had been with “El Diente” on the pitch. Not to mention, the fact they got lucky Puebla had a bad aim that night, as they could’ve easily scored on four different occasions.
And as usual, Tuca called upon López as a last resort for the final 25 minutes, after his gameplan had failed greatly. In his short time on the pitch, he was able to volley a shot on goal that was caught by keeper Silva, but more than anything, Tigres gained control of the match; not only with ball possession and play creation, but Puebla didn’t have another approach on Guzmán’s goal again thanks to tigres stripping them of the ball. And that is what Tigres gain with him on the pitch; he can retain ball possession, create space for himself on the dribble, pass with precision, shoot, and most importantly, can score goals. That last one is a rare commodity nowadays. And yet, Tuca fails to acknowledge this.
Tonight, Tigres play hosts to a struggling Mazatlán squad who they should have no problem dealing with. And after Nico’s public display of disgust on his social media last weekend for being benched at Puebla, it appears Tuca could be forced to start the Uruguayan again, due to Dueñas’ left ankle injury. If he indeed responds again, he should not be moved from that starter role for the remainder of the season. Why Tuca sees Carlos González as a better fit than López, or why he insists on playing with two defensive midfielders when he could add a little extra punch with López in the middle is just beyond me, especially having the quality players he does. He prioritizes defense, yet defense is the one thing that hasn’t been there so far.
Tigres were ultimately eliminated by Cruz Azul last season due to their lack of offensive depth. They were unable to create space or opportunities against La Máquina in the second leg of the QF. They looked a lot like that last weekend against Puebla. If Tuca continues to exclude López, there is simply no reason why not to expect the exact same result this season. López could be the missing piece to this team’s puzzle, but if Tuca refuses to believe what everyone else can see so clearly, that just might be the cause for another Tigres demise.