Tigres face America in CONCACAF Champions League amid tailspin
Tigres manager Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti doesn't usually give off the impression of being anything other than ultra-confident, but even he must be concerned about the performances of the expensive team he has assembled at present.
Over the next four days, the reigning Liga MX champions will attempt to resurrect a season that promised so much but has nose-dived worryingly since losing the Clasico Regio 1-0 to Monterrey on March 5. Since then Tigres have won just two of its last 11 games.
First up is the huge challenge on Wednesday of mounting a comeback from a 2-0 first leg deficit in the second half of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) final against Club America. A place in the Club World Cup awaits the winner, with Las Aguilas clear favorites in the Estadio Azteca after schooling Tigres in the art of defending and playing on the counter in the first 90 minutes of the final.
The game isn't likely to be much different than the first leg in Estadio Universitario, with Tigres controlling possession and Club America looking to pick them off on the break.
"[America] isn't something that worries me so much," said Ferretti on Monday ahead of the big game. "I'm primarily concerned about my team.
"We need two goals and not to concede any, that's not new. I know it and everyone knows it."
A team boasting eight Mexico internationals, one Argentine international, a U.S. international and several other players that aren't short of talent should not be discounted against Club America. But what has become worrying for Ferretti is the way the players just can't seem to reach the level of performance that took them to a Liga MX title and Copa Libertadores final in 2015.
The two most recent wins came via a 5-2 thrashing of a Dorados de Sinaloa team that played most the game with 10 men and a 2-0 victory in the CCL semifinal second leg against Queretaro, which was actually a lackluster display saved by two moments of brilliance by Andre-Pierre Gignac. There hasn't been much at all to shout about of late for the Tigres faithful.
Fatigue could well be a factor. The side will have played a total of 60 games over the last calendar year by the end of April. A number of players didn't get any real rest over the summer due to international competition and there was less than a month break for Tigres between the end of the Apertura 2015 and the start of the Clausura 2016 over the winter.
It begs the question of why Ferretti hasn't switched up the starting team very often, considering the depth of the squad and the way he used to treat continental competition like reserve team games.
With the heavy investment in players like Javier Aquino, Gignac and Jurgen Damm over the past 12 months, the fans expect results. Obviously, the odds on Wednesday are heavily against Tigres in the Azteca, considering the two-goal disadvantage, but the recent poor run of form -- "It's not a bad run, it's a great big bad run" as Ferretti described it -- has also put Tigres on the brink of elimination from the Liga MX liguilla.
Anything other than a victory in Estadio Universitario against Veracruz on Saturday could ditch Tigres out of the playoffs. That would be a major shock for a side that boasts perhaps the most complete squad in the league. It would arguably be a bigger blow than losing the CCL final against a team in America that deserves respect and was always going to pose a strong challenge. After all, a side as good as Tigres should not be behind Morelia, Santos Laguna and Leon with two rounds of the Clausura regular season to go.
Some of the blame will fall on Ferretti's shoulders, although his almost six-year reign at the Nuevo Leon club is unlikely to grind to a halt.
"He's one of the best coaches in the country," said Tigres president Alejandro Rodriguez this week. "Who would we bring in his place? If you or anyone brings me [someone with] better credentials and results than Ferretti, I'll listen."
Ferretti could do with a bit of magic in coming days to turn the situation around and to quell mounting restlessness from the Tigres fan base about the team's often sterile and bland possession-based brand of football. It can be tolerated when the results come, but when they don't the critics begin to circle as they are now.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.