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Monterrey gains slight advantage over Tigres in CONCACAF Champions League final

Nico Sanchez scored the only goal of the game in the first leg of the final.

Monterrey flipped home-field advantage by pulling off a massive victory over Tigres, grabbing a 1-0 result in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final at the Estadio Universitario. Here are three takeaways from the first 90 minutes of the championship decider:

Monterrey's dominant first-half yields lead

Both managers agreed in their postmatch press conferences that Monterrey was superior in the game's first 45 minutes. "We can't cede 45 minutes like we did today," Tigres boss Ricardo Ferretti said after the match. "We needed to be more intelligent and decipher what the opposing team was doing."

On the other side, Monterrey coach Diego Alonso said he was proud of his team coming strong out of the gate and turning their dominance into a positive result. Indeed,

Monterrey took full advantage of a Tigres starting lineup without struggling star forward Andre-Pierre Gignac, pushing their defensive line up the pitch and pressing on offense with little fear of counterattacks. On more than one occasion, UANL goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman had to parry away shots from Rayados attackers. Nico Sanchez hit the post minutes before he headed home a corner for the game's only goal.

After the half, Tigres levelled the game's flow when Gignac came off the bench after an hour, though they were not able to equalize. The home team ended with 13 shots to Monterrey's nine, as well as dominating possession 71 to 29 percent. Guido Pizarro wasted a header wide of the post in the game's final minutes, while Rayados goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero pushed a Gignac shot behind for a corner. 

Overall, Monterrey will have a hint of regret at not turning their superiority into more goals in the first 45 minutes. "We deserved to create a bigger advantage," said Rayados midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro.

Can Monterrey break their home stadium hex?

One would think, especially in a derby, that home-field advantage would be a massive plus for any team in a two-legged tie. Monterrey, however, have struggled mightily with doing so in years past at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer. Next week, Rayados will have another opportunity to win silverware in front of their own crowd, hoping to avoid some of the pitfalls of the past.

In fact, since their new stadium opened in 2015, Monterrey has gone 1-for-4 at home in finals. The 2016 Liga MX Clausura final against Pachuca saw Victor Guzman score in the game's final seconds to give Los Tuzos the league crown in dramatic fashion. Twice after that, Tigres has been responsible for dashing their rival's hopes. The 2017 Apertura final saw Aviles Hurtado miss a crucial penalty late in the game, gifting UANL the championship. A year later, Monterrey's women's side lost a Liga MX final in penalty kicks to Tigres.

Though Rayados did notch a Copa MX title against Pachuca in the 2017 Apertura, the perception remains. One stat might soothe Monterrey fans moving forward, however: in three matchups between Tigres and Rayados since Alonso took over as head coach, UANL has only scored once (in their 1-1 Liga MX draw last month), prompting some confidence in Monterrey's ability to freeze out their local rivals.

Andre-Pierre Gignac has struggled for fitness throughout 2019.

Gignac's health still a question mark for Tigres

Gignac's absence from the starting lineup was a huge factor in Monterrey's favor, allowing them tactical freedom to move up front and attempt to press their way to eventual victory. The Frenchman almost swung the pendulum back his team's way despite only playing in the game's final third, and was denied the game-tying goal by a spectacular Marcelo Barovero save.

Throughout the first half of 2019, Gignac has struggled with a knee injury he picked up in February. The issue nagged him enough to miss several Liga MX and CONCACAF Champions League games since then, including the Monterrey derby last month.

It's clear Gignac is not yet fully healthy, as Ferretti does not need to use him in the latter stages of Liga MX's regular season, where Tigres have already qualified for the playoffs. However, the 33-year-old has been limited to just three appearances in all competitions since Feb. 23. Considering there's still all to play for on the domestic side, a start and full 90 minutes in the CCL final's second leg is not yet a given for the star striker, as a heavy load could potentially cause the injury to flare up again.

Though replacements like Enner Valencia, Eduardo Vargas and Julian Quinones have mostly been up to the task for Tigres in Gignac's absence, the trio was shut out completely by a stingy Monterrey defense on Tuesday night, giving UANL fans plenty to think about before next week's second leg.

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