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Match preview: Santos Laguna vs. Tigres UANL

Two of the better clubs from last season emerge from the winter needing to figure out how they’re going to play after big off-season changes.

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Players of Santos leave the field at halftime during the quarterfinals first leg match between Toluca and Santos Laguna as part of the Torneo Apertura 2022 Liga MX at Nemesio Diez Stadium on October 13, 2022 in Toluca, Mexico. Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images

Game: Club Santos Laguna S.A. de C.V. vs. Club de Fútbol Tigres de la Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León

Date: Sunday, January 8th

Time: 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Central, 5:00 p.m. Pacific, 12:00 a.m. UTC

Venue: Estadio Corona TSM (Torreón, Coah.)

Referees: REF: Oscar Mejia Garcia, AR1: Jorge Antonio Sánchez Espinoza, AR2: Jesus Lorenzo Soto Davila, 4TH: Mario Terrazas Chávez, VAR: Ismael Rosario Lopez Peñuelas, AVAR: Michel Caballero Galicia

Television: United States - FOX Sports 1, FOX Deportes; Mexico - ViX+

Streaming: fuboTV (Subscription), Sling TV (Subscription), FOX Sports app (United States), ViX+

All-time record: Across all competitions, Tigres holds the lead with 31 wins to Santos’ 26 with 30 draws between them. In Liga MX play, Tigres has won 26 to Santos’ 23 with 30 draws. Most notably, Tigres beat Santos in the 2011 Apertura Final for their third championship, while Santos advanced past Tigres in the 2012 Clausura semifinal en route to their fourth championship. Tigres also defeated Santos in the 2018 Campeon de Campeones and in the 2018-19 Concacaf Champions League semifinal round. Tigres eliminated Santos from the 2021 Clausura Quarterfinals with a 1-0 win at El Volcán on a goal from Carlos Salcedo. In their last regular season meeting, Tigres won 2-0 at El Volcán in August thanks to goals from Sebastián Córdova and Luis Quiñones. The last time the teams faced off in Torreón, the clubs played to a 1-1 draw with goals from Brian Lozano and Salcedo in Week 1 of the 2022 Clausura.

Eduardo Fentanes, coach of Santos Laguna looks on during the 5th round match between America and Santos Laguna as part of the Torneo Apertura 2022 Liga MX at Azteca Stadium on September 14, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico.
Santos Laguna manager Eduardo Fentanes will be leading a very different team than the one that wound up third place during the 2022 Apertura regular season.
Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

The long winter slumber is over as Liga MX teams return to the pitch this weekend. Like animals awakening from hibernation, there will be a lot of re-assessing their faculties; learning to walk before they can run, with herky-jerky movements like those of a poorly programmed automaton. But the learning curves will need be quick, as time stops for no one.

Santos will need to learn how to run without midfielder Fernando Gorriarán and figure out a way to stop him at the same time. Formerly the non-stop engine at the heart of Santos’ offense and defense, Gorriarán will line up opposite his old team in the gold and blue of Tigres. In the lone match he was unavailable last season, Santos started Aldo López against Atlético San Luis in a match that Santos won 4-1.

Gorriarán however isn’t the only player who left Santos during the off-season. Little-used players like Franco Pizzichillo, promising young prospect Edgar Games, and Jonathan Díaz left, but also significant contributors like David Andrade, Carlos Orrantia, and Luis Suárez as well. The club however still has a strong defensive corps, with Félix Torres and Matheus Dória in front of talismanic goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo. On the offensive side of the ball, Santos returns Juan Brunetta, Harold Preciado, and Eduardo “Mudo” Aguirre, who combined for 13 goals during the 2022 Apertura regular season.

Diego Cocca speaks during his unveiling as new coach of Tigres UANL at Universitario Stadium on November 16, 2022 in Monterrey, Mexico.     Mark image as sensitive
New Tigres manager Diego Cocca’s style of play will be a big departure from the more free-wheeling styles of Miguel Herrera and Tuca Ferretti.
Photo by Alfredo Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images

Tigres meanwhile was much more stable in terms of their roster. They brought in Gorriarán while letting Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez, Hugo Ayala, and Francisco Venegas go during the off-season. They did however take a page from Tijuana’s history by bringing in Diego Cocca to succeed Miguel “Piojo” Herrera after the latter was let go in November. Cocca similarly took over Xolos after Piojo left in 2017, although this time there wasn’t an eight month gap.

Cocca’s style of play is best described as pragmatic, focusing primarily on defensive responsibilities with the goals expected to come when opportunities present themselves. Tigres is still stacked offensively, with Sebastián Córdova, Florian Thauvin, Luis Quiñones, and Nicolás “Diente” López augmenting the ageless wonder André-Pierre Gignac.

Both teams will need to figure out who they are, and quickly. Santos has a bunch of new players who will need to show they can play in Eduardo Fentanes’ system. Tigres’ veteran bunch needs to show they can adapt to fit Cocca’s system. Whoever can get their footing underneath of them and shake off the cold rigor of winter’s lethargy the fastest will have the best chance of starting the season off with a win.