Monterrey have slight advantage over Tigres in Liga MX Clasico Regio final
The Liga MX 2017 Apertura final between Monterrey and Tigres pits Mexico's best two teams against one another and few regular followers of the division would tell you otherwise.
That alone is appealing for the culmination of the Liga MX year, but then there is the Clasico Regio rivalry and the way the two teams have historically been quite even. Monterrey is looking to level Tigres on five titles, while Tigres has only one more win than Monterrey over the 57-year history of the rivalry.
Add to that the pressure both are under to deliver trophies after some big spending. On top, there's a good argument that the Monterrey area -- Tigres fans make a point of stating their team is from the San Nicolas de los Garza municipality -- is Mexico's true soccer city, with both clubs consistently averaging over 40,000 fans each week in the regular season.
And as the following tale of the tape highlights, there is so little between the teams as of right now that the Soccer Power Index has Monterrey a slender one percent ahead of Tigres in to be champion.
On the bench
Antonio Mohamed (Monterrey) vs. Ricardo Ferretti (Tigres)
The two coaches get on well, but the styles are contrasting. Argentine Mohamed is a pragmatist, concerned less about aesthetics and more about getting results. That said, this Monterrey side has style. It is much more direct than Tigres, playing a vertical game based around winning the ball back quickly (and high up if possible) and moving it forward for Aviles Hurtado, Dorlan Pabon and Rogelio Funes Mori to cause havoc.
Veteran Ferretti's team is substantially different and the most marked in Liga MX, with Tigres well-drilled in retaining possession and patiently waiting for holes in the opponent's defense.
The record between 63-year-old Ferretti and 47-year-old Mohamed in Clasico Regios is four wins each and two draws.
Perhaps Ferretti, who has been at Tigres since 2010, is under slightly more pressure to succeed. Tigres have been going through a golden period in their history, but have lost the Copa Libertadores final, two CONCACAF Champions League finals and one Liga MX final in just over two years. Letting the 2017 Apertura slip against Monterrey would be brutal, although Mohamed's club hasn't won a league title since the 2010 Apertura either.
Tigres stopper Nahuel Guzman is one of the great Liga MX characters and has come up big in finals before, even if there is always the possibility of the exuberance boiling over into calamitous mistakes.
For Monterrey, Hugo Gonzalez has been immense this season and will surely be in Mexico's squad next January. However, when it comes to these really big matches, the 27-year-old doesn't have the experience or presence of the Argentina international.
Monterrey has conceded only 14 goals in 21 matches this Apertura and just about has the upper hand. The Jose Basanta-Nico Sanchez partnership in central defense is difficult to break down and this season the full-backs, Stefan Medina and Leonel Vangioni, have been more stable, especially of late.
Reports suggest that Tigres captain and center-back Juninho will be back for the final alongside Hugo Ayala. With full-backs Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez and Jorge Torres Nilo, Tigres have a solid, if slightly slow defense and Monterrey won't be overawed.
So far this season, Monterrey has conceded 14 goals, compared to Tigres' 18 in 21 games.
Tigres initially struggled to replace Sevilla-bound Guido Pizarro, eventually bringing in Rafael Carioca late in the last transfer window. It's turned out to be a good signing, with the quiet Brazilian growing in confidence over the course of the season to become a crucial part of this Tigres side. Jesus Duenas is starting to regain his form and Javier Aquino has been consistent in a position on the left of midfield that he wasn't accustomed to.
The midfield three over at Monterrey are 18-year-old Jonathan Gonzalez, Uruguayan international Carlos Sanchez and either Neri Cardozo or Celso Ortiz, with the latter providing the more defensive option.
On paper, Tigres is probably stronger, but given Gonzalez's remarkable season and the form Sanchez is currently in, you'd just about lean towards the regular season leader.
If the other positions were difficult, the forward line is almost impossible to split, with one caveat: the fitness of Monterrey's Aviles Hurtado.
If Hurtado is fit -- not just to take part but also to use his explosive speed -- the combination with Funes Mori and Pabon has been lethal this season and the fast breaks have been enjoyable to watch.
Over at Tigres, it has been more of a struggle. But the way Enner Valencia, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Eduardo Vargas interacted in more of a 4-3-3 formation against Club America and Club Leon in the liguilla has been a major positive. Valencia was outstanding in those games, Vargas is living up to the hype and Gignac has proved himself a player for the big occasion.
Monterrey should edge it. Rayados have been on an astonishing run since defeating Tigres 2-0 in the final game of the regular season, scoring 13 goals in five matches and conceding just twice. Tigres will pose a stern test, but Monterrey has been the better team this season and has the kind of counter-attacking style that can cause damage to its neighbor.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.