Monterrey clubs advance to Apertura final, way ahead of rest of Liga MX
Monterrey overcame Morelia 5-0 on aggregate and Tigres beat Club America 4-0 over the two legs of the Liga MX 2017 Apertura semis to set up the first-ever Clasico Regio final.
Here's what we learned this weekend:
1. Liga MX power lies Monterrey
This 2017 Apertura has been one long reminder that the real powerhouses in Liga MX reside in the northern state of Nuevo Leon. It feels right that it should culminate with a Monterrey against Tigres final, and it would be a surprise if there isn't a repeat in the near future, given the strength and spending ability of the two clubs.
The Liga MX Apertura Clasico Regio final pits the best two teams in Mexico in terms of quality and consistent support, with Monterrey and Tigres finishing first and second in the regular season table and first and second in average attendance.
A look at the average attendances for the Liga MX regular season gives you an idea of the dominance of the clubs from the Monterrey area. The "4 grandes" are in 4th, 5th, 8th and 14th #ligamxeng pic.twitter.com/0nd6By5eWa— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) December 4, 2017
The ease of the semifinal wins was further evidence of the teams from Nuevo Leon setting the benchmark in Liga MX.
Tigres overcame Club America with consummate ease, not conceding a single goal against Las Aguilas over the 180 minutes. The difference in quality on the field was evident, but on the bench Tigres possessed the likes of Mexico international Jurgen Damm, Argentine Ismael Sosa and French defender Timothee Kolodziejczak. Compared to America coach Miguel Herrera throwing on young forwards like Alejandro Diaz and Diego Lainez -- who have just one Liga MX goal between them -- it was simply no contest.
Monterrey stepped up on Sunday and it was a similar story. Rayados were 3-0 up against Morelia after 30 minutes and strolled to a 4-0 win, with Rogelio Funes Mori starring with a hat trick. The gulf in class was visible all over the field and arguably not a single Morelia player would start regularly for Monterrey. As if to rub in the difference, Rayados' bench in the second leg boasted four players with experience playing for the Mexican national team.
Looking ahead to the final, it's hard to split the two Clasico Regio rivals. What can be stated with certainty is there can be no better final to end the year for Liga MX than Monterrey against Tigres.
2. Monterrey almost perfect in Apertura
As seasons go, this one has been almost perfect for Monterrey. They have won 15 of their 21 games, scored 40 goals and given away only 14. Argentine coach Antonio Mohamed has the team playing a more direct brand of football than the Liga MX is used to seeing, but it has proved effective.
As good as the team has been collectively in carrying out the manager's orders, key players have also found form individually. In goal, Hugo Gonzalez is deserving of a Mexico call-up; midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez has been the outstanding young player in the league; Funes Mori is in the form of his life and Carlos Sanchez has put in the kind of performances that helped River Plate to the Copa Libertadores in 2015.
The only doubt is the injury to Aviles Hurtado -- arguably the Liga MX player of 2017. The Colombian left the semifinal first leg with injury and wasn't in the squad for the second. Monterrey fans will hope that he is ready for the final.
3. Valencia overshadows Gignac as Tigres click
That Tigres managed to finish second in the Apertura regular season is worrying for the rest of the Liga MX moving forward. The truth is that they didn't play particularly well very often. The feeling was that Tigres were cruising in second gear but were still better than everyone besides Monterrey.
Part of the issue was the formation, as Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti tried to harness all his attacking talent. It now looks like he's found the right combination during the playoffs, with a 4-3-3 formation allowing Andre-Pierre Gignac, Enner Valencia and Eduardo Vargas to all play in a fluid front three and Javier Aquino featuring slightly further back than the wing role he is more accustomed to.
Valencia was outstanding against Club America, scoring twice and giving young Club America defender Edson Alvarez the kind of runaround that he won't quickly forget.
All that said, Tigres will be a slight underdog for the title. They play the second leg away and Monterrey has been near perfection this season. But Tigres possess the quality to beat Rayados and head to the final after their best game of the Apertura.
4. Questions hang over America moving forward
America came into the liguilla with players out of form and coach Miguel Herrera wrestling with formations and personnel. Zero goals in four playoff matches meant the criticism rained down on Herrera's team after Saturday's 3-0 loss to Tigres.
Las Aguilas aren't as bad as the result would suggest, but there are issues moving forward.
Paraguayan Cecilio Dominguez seemed to be the revelation of the season back in July and August, but injuries and loss of form have seen him drop below 17-year-old Diego Lainez in Herrera's estimation. And even Lainez hasn't really lived up to the high expectations and played only 260 minutes this season.
Add to all that the doubts over the future of striker Silvio Romero, Oribe Peralta's likely contract renewal and the way Darwin Quintero is linked with moves away from America every transfer window and there are lots of issues to resolve in the offseason.
A record of 16 wins, 14 losses and eight ties in Liga MX play during 2017 isn't great for a club that purports to be Mexico's biggest. The gap between Las Aguilas and the Monterrey clubs needs to be addressed, as does the old disciplinary problem, which saw America finish the game against Tigres with nine players.
5. Morelia tripped up after memorable season
The second leg of the semifinal against Monterrey was a step too far for Morelia. Monarcas looked nervous defensively and Monterrey pounced to seal the second leg.
Nevertheless, Morelia outdid all rational expectations by going so deep in the Apertura and this will go down as a successful season for the club from Michoacan.
Coach Roberto Hernandez deserves to be in the running for manager of the season and the big question moving forward is if Morelia's ownership can build around and strengthen around the likes of Diego Valdes, Raul Ruidiaz and Sebastian Vegas, or whether a good side will be dismantled -- something we see all too often in Liga MX.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.