The past four days haven’t been kind to Tigres. More than their 2-1 road loss to América on Saturday, it was more due to how it went down. Herrera’s club looked belittled, nervous, and in a daze on the big stage the Estadio Azteca is and against a club like América. Diego Reyes’ mistake resulting in América retaking the lead summed it up pretty well. It was surprising and disappointing to say the very least. On top of that, they moved further away from their goal of finishing within the top 4 to avoid the Repechaje round.
Fast-forward to yesterday, where Gignac and company had another tall task in front of them: Toluca. Despite their recent struggles and going winless over their past 4 matches (2D, 2L), the Diablos Rojos came into last night’s match a point above Tigres in the league table with a much improved team compared to last season. The addition of players like Tiago Volpi and Andrés Mosquera on defense, along with Fernando Navarro and Carlos González up front has really strengthened this squad and made them title contenders for sure. And their hot start to the season proved it, having won 6 out of their first 9 matches, scoring at least three goals in 5 of those six victories, and looking a lot like that joyous León squad Ambriz led a couple years back.
Yesterday, however, it was all Tigres from the start. They had already completed two dangerous approaches on goal by the 7th minute of action and were clearly on a mission. A high quality, long distance response by ex-Tigres player Leo Fernández came close, but Nahuel barely deflected the on-target shot. And after Tigres kept the pressure on, a beautifully executed free kick in the 41st minute by Sebastián Córdova into the top right corner finally gave the home side a much deserved lead which they took into halftime.
In the second half, Tigres continued to be the better team. In the 62nd minute, Thauvin intercepted an ill-advised pass from Mosquera himself, resulting in a back and forth play between the Frenchmen, ultimately ending with who else but Gignac putting the ball in the back of the net for the 2-0. It was initially ruled offside, but VAR confirmed it was legit. A great response 5 minutes later put Toluca on the board when Marcel Ruiz sent a through ball into Sanvezzo, who then crossed the ball in with his left foot to a wide open Jean Meneses who simply pushed the ball in. If there was ever a faltering moment for Tigres in the match, it was here.
In the 77th minute, with Toluca surging, a great combination between Navarro and Sanvezzo resulted in a wide open Navarro who was 1-on-1 against Nahuel. Letting nerves get the better of him, he accidentally touched the ball with his right foot as he swung his left leg, causing the ball to move, resulting in a squib kick, seeing the ball simply roll over the byline for a goal kick. And that really ended Toluca’s assault. Tigres were lucky. Three minutes later, a heads up free kick take by Córdova gave Tigres a dangerous counter attack, culminated by a brilliant Thauvin, who proved lethal when given space, to seal it for Tigres at 3-1.
A great victory for Herrera’s side who continue to display great stretches of soccer, but must understand how to play certain situations better. That being said, his squad were quick, witty and creative with the ball yesterday, and dominated a very good soccer team from start to finish, despite a second half mini surge by Toluca. The win puts tigres 5th overall at 24 points, just 1 behind 4th seed Pachuca with four games to go. More importantly though, Gignac is clicking, Córdova is looking sharper in this offense, and Thauvin is proving why he made noise with his arrival. Not to mention, they own the league’s second best defense with just 10 goals allowed. A strong title contender, Tigres have yet again proven their case.