Tigres rolling at perfect time; Clasico Tapatio showcases Mexican football
Here are five takeaways after Toluca, Tigres, Morelia and Atlas picked up wins in the first leg of their Clausura Liguilla quarterfinal matches.
1. Tigres' loud roar heard across the country
After 20 minutes of play in the 111th edition of the the Clasico Regio, Monterrey's style of play was distinguishable. Carlos Sanchez, Dorlan Pabon and Yimmi Chara were getting quality touches on the ball, while Tigres was having a tough time getting the ball to Andre-Pierre Gignac, who throughout the evening mainly waited inside the box to receive a ball he could put in the back of the net. However, once Gignac got the ball he was looking for and scored in the 20th minute, the stadium erupted and Tigres didn't look back.
Jesus Duenas, who netted twice, and Lucas Zelarayan, who drove Los Rayados' defense crazy, were the players of the match. Duenas gave a performance worthy of praise because his influence in the attack was equalled on the defensive end. Monterrey can still feel that there's a chance to come back in the second leg even though they are down 4-1, but Tigres have picked up steam at the perfect time. In their last six games, the team has scored 19 goals and only conceded three. Gignac has scored five goals in his last two games.
With Tigres enjoying their football right now, there seems to be no right recipe to stop them. Monterrey will have to execute a perfect game plan and hope to score in bunches to turn this tie back in its favor.
2. Small details will determine Clasico Tapatio winner
When comparing the Clasico Regio and Clasico Tapatio that took place on Wednesday and Thursday, the one that looked most disputed was the latter. A Gustavo Alustiza penalty gave Atlas a 1-0 win over Chivas, in a game in which Chivas had total possession of the ball in the second half. At the moment, Chivas doesn't have its best attackers available right now, and that showed in the first 90 minutes of this intense battle.
Los Rojinegros risked a lot in the second half by ceding Chivas possession, but performances by Leiton Jimenez and Clifford Aboagye, who provided needed calm to a team that has many players that think and react quickly like Daniel "Fideo" Alvarez allowed them to take the 1-0 advantage to Estadio Chivas.
Matias Almeyda's Chivas have yet to get a win in the Liguilla, and they can take confidence that the deficit is only one goal as they look to beat Atlas this Sunday to reach the semifinals.
3. Toluca punishes Santos' poor defense
The beating Santos Laguna took on Wednesday night in front of its home crowd was a big surprise. The fans at Torreon expected a hard-fought duel, where Los Guerreros would at least walk away with a draw, but that wasn't the case. Costly defensive errors led them to a hard loss in the first leg.
Toluca's offense, propelled by Enrique Triverio, Gabriel Hauche and Rubens Sambueza, gave one of its best performances in the Clausura. Although Los Diablos Rojos won four away games, they hadn't scored more than three goals in an away match, but they did it at the best possible time. Their 4-1 win over Santos has them with one foot in the semifinals.
Toluca's average age is 30 years, 8 months, and the experience Los Choriceros carry with them was noticeable in the win against Santos. A huge slip up is the only way Toluca will lose this lead, but of the teams in the Liguilla, it's the only one that lost four home games in the Clausura.
4. Morelia takes 1-0 lead to Tijuana
It was an odd 90 minutes between Morelia and Club Tijuana at Estadio Morelos. There seemed to be a desire in Xolos to either get a draw or a 1-0 loss in Morelia. Forward Aviles Hurtado generated most of the visitors' attacking sparks, while Morelia gave a valiant effort and made Tijuana's goalkeeper Gibran Lajud into the main star of the match. Lajud's saves prevented Morelia from taking a bigger lead to Tijuana.
Manager Miguel "Piojo" Herrera confused his players more than once during the match, particularly with the tactics of sitting back and "protecting" a 1-0 deficit. Substitutions -- like taking off striker Milton Caraglio for defender Juan Carlos Nunez -- bewildered the players on the field. Unfortunately for Monarcas, losing Raul Ruidiaz to what looked to be a knee injury will further limit the team's attacking options. However, on Thursday night they showed that even without Ruidiaz available they could score that important away goal, which could end up shocking the entire league, as they did on the last day of the regular season.
5. Nineteen Mexican footballers start Clasico Tapatio
Mexican sports newspaper Record's front cover read "Clasico Lindo y Querido," alluding to the song Mexican fans sing every time El Tri plays, "Mexico Lindo y Querido." The idea that Atlas and Chivas players grow up hating each other could be felt as the game progressed; many of those on the field had played in Clasico Tapatios since their teenage years, and that could be felt. There was a lot of heart and passion in the game, and that adds a lot of color to a Clasico that's the oldest in the Mexican game.
On Thursday night, it proved that it can also be the Clasico that best celebrates Mexican football and its players.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.