Chivas vs. Tigres: Everything you need to know about the Liga MX final
Looking for a breakdown of what could be a classic Liga MX final? Look no further! ESPN FC goes through it all ahead of Thursday's final first leg between Tigres and Chivas at Estadio Universitario (10 p.m. ET).
Chivas (D-D-W-L-D): It's only down to a peculiarity of the Liga MX system that Chivas still have a shot at the title. The team from Guadalajara, which only fields Mexican players as a matter of club policy, has only one win in its past nine Liga MX games and advanced from both the quarterfinals and semifinals due to a higher regular-season finishing position.
Tigres (W-W-W-W-W): Over their past six games, the reigning champions have scored 18 goals and conceded just twice. This is a team in peak form.
Chivas' 2017 Clausura season
Chivas were quite brilliant in the first half of the Clausura. The football was easy on the eye, and Guadalajara was fighting for first position. But injuries to Isaac Brizuela, Rodolfo Pizarro, Angel Zaldivar and Jair Pereira really put the brakes on the momentum that Matias Almeyda's side had been gathering. Reaching the final has been more to do with sheer willpower and grit than a team being at the top of its powers, although there has been an uptick since Pizarro returned.
Tigres' 2017 Clausura season
It has been almost the opposite of Chivas. Tigres started very slowly -- in part due to not having a preseason because the 2016 Apertura final was postponed until Christmas Day -- and really only started to click after they lost the CONCACAF Champions League final on April 26.
The side from Nuevo Leon only scraped into the playoffs in the last weekend of the regular season.
Teams' efforts in the Liguilla
Chivas have got the job done so far in the playoffs, without really clicking. There have been signs of a return to form, especially when Pizarro has been in the team, but scoring goals remains a problem. Chivas have only netted three times in four Liguilla matches and haven't scored two or more in a game since April 8.
In stark contrast, Tigres swatted away city rival Monterrey and regular-season leader Tijuana -- on paper, a much more difficult path to the final than for Chivas -- almost as if they weren't there. Tigres have made the playoffs seem easy, and as a result, they appear to be on an unstoppable charge to the title.
Importance of Liga MX title
For Chivas, league championships have been sparse ever since the campeonisimo period of the 1950s and 1960s. Since 1970, Chivas have won only three titles in 70 seasons. For a club that boasts 40 million fans, it's simply not good enough. Winning the Clausura would both be recognition that Chivas are back and that Mexican players can succeed in a league in which around 50 percent of the players getting minutes are foreign. And on top of all that, Copa MX holders Chivas are going for Mexican football's first league/cup double since Necaxa in 1995.
Tigres are defining an era in Mexican football. This team is set to go down in history, but just what status Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's team holds depends on how many trophies it picks up during this golden spell. There has been huge investment in bringing players such as Andre-Pierre Gignac, Eduardo Vargas, Javier Aquino, Ismael Sosa and Jurgen Damm, and the club's hierarchy will want to see continued return, especially after the club lost the CCL final to Pachuca. A victory in the final would mean the first "bicampeonato" since Leon in 2014 and would bring Tigres to three titles over the past four seasons.
Head-to-head record this season
Tigres won 3-0 in Estadio Universitario on April 11, but Almeyda had rested some key players due to the accumulation of games caused by their Copa MX run.
The good news for Chivas is that Carlos Salcido's back injury from the semifinal second leg doesn't appear to be serious and he should be ready to captain the team in the final. On the negative side, Zaldivar limped off in the second half, and it would be very surprising if he featured in the final. Carlos Fierro is another concern for Almeyda, while Brizuela is definitely out and Pereira is highly doubtful.
Tigres don't have as many problems, especially now that Vargas is once again fit. Jorge Torres Nilo has been out with a thigh injury but is back in full training, while Manuel Viniegra and Israel Jimenez are doubts.
If Chivas need to change the game in an attacking sense, the go-to option will likely be Eduardo "Chofis" Lopez. The young, left-footed forward has bags of ability but isn't exactly in the best form at the moment.
The depth of the squad is one of the defining features of Tigres at present. Winger Jurgen Damm can change a game. Chilean international Vargas is probably going to start on the bench. Crowd favorite Damian Alvarez still has a few tricks up his sleeve at age 38.
This is an intriguing one. Chivas' Almeyda has rejuvenated the whole club and has fans believing. He also has made some good tactical decisions and substitutions so far in the Liguilla.
On the other side is Tigres' "Tuca" Ferretti (who incidentally is one of three coaches to have helped Chivas to a title since 1970, when he won the 1997 Verano season). Ferretti has his team playing the possession-based style he has instilled over seven years at the club.
The Argentine and Brazilian are two big personalities, and the news conferences during the series promise to be fascinating.
X factor players
It would be easy to look at Pizarro for Chivas, but given the lack of goals and his past for Tigres, it is Alan Pulido who stands out when assessing the game. The 26-year-old has been playing well and working extremely hard for the team, but a couple of goals against his old club -- which he left with a contractual dispute hanging -- would mean a lot to both him and Chivas.
For Tigres, how can you look beyond Gignac? The French striker has 10 goals since April 12, and his all-round game is brimming with confidence. Gignac is fast becoming one of the best imports in the history of the league.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.