Battle of styles as Monterrey meet Tigres in CONCACAF Champions League final
MONTERREY -- Ricardo Ferretti said on Tuesday that Tigres and Monterrey are the two best sides in CONCACAF right now. It's difficult to argue against that, with the same sentiment repeated by Andre-Pierre Gignac in his interview with ESPN's Futbol Picante and other players from both teams at the media day ahead of the CONCACAF Champions League final second leg in Estadio BBVA Bancomer on Wednesday.
But while the two teams from Nuevo Leon have commonalities in the way they have strengthened in the transfer market, attract fans into their stadiums and are regulars in the Liga MX playoffs, their style of play contrasts significantly.
"They have a very set style and we do too, and our characteristics are a high press and verticality," Monterrey coach Diego Alonso said at at news conference on Tuesday.
It's rare that Tigres don't have the majority of possession over 90 minutes. In fact, if you compare Tigres' 61.3 percent possession per game in Liga MX over 2018-19 to clubs in Europe's "big five" -- England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France -- only eight teams have had a higher percentage and, aside from Real Betis, all the rest are elite institutions.
"As is custom with us at Tigres, having possession of the ball is the priority," Jurgen Damm told ESPN FC. "We'll try to play as we always do and the way which has given us so much over these last years.
"[Rayados] obviously with a goal advantage [from the first leg] have the advantage of being able to wait for us and counter, but we've got all that in mind and we'll try to annul them and play an intelligent game."
There are many ways to define success for Ferretti's almost 10-year spell in charge of Tigres, but instilling a style of play has to be one of the criteria. It's refreshing to see a coach get the time to ingrain a philosophy which the players have to fit into. For example, of the six players with most touches of the ball over the 2018-19 season in Liga MX, four are from Tigres, with right-back Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez leading the pack.
Monterrey, in comparison, are 16th in Liga MX over that same period with 46.3 percent of possession per match. Diego Alonso's side don't seek to dominate play via the ball. Average possession time for Tigres is 28.7 seconds, compared to 21.6 seconds for Monterrey. But then Tigres have the lowest percentage of passes moving forward (28.7 percent -- the least in al Liga MX), compared to 37.8 percent for Monterrey.
In Mexico, there has been criticism of Alonso for what is perceived as a defensive style. It's not totally fair. In the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final, Monterrey pressed high in the first half, but were forced to sit deep in the second and hold on to their one-goal lead, which came from a Nico Sanchez header from a set piece.
But it's not as though Monterrey haven't found success. Rayados have scored more goals in Liga MX in 2019 than any team aside from Leon and are second in expected goals.
Alonso has adapted his style to the players at his disposal, particularly Dorlan Pabon and Aviles Hurtado. That duo are good on the counter-attack, although it's not like there aren't any creative elements in the team: Rodolfo Pizarro and Maxi Meza provide plenty of that, while Rogelio Funes Mori is the focal point of the attack, holding up direct balls.
Monterrey are a team defined by the high press, which is the opposite of a Tigres team that tend to drop off when they loses the ball, seeking to remain balance to cut off counters. Rayados' success in restricting Tigres playing out from the back will be important in lifting the trophy.
Also crucial will be how intelligent Monterrey are when they get the ball. It's clear Alonso wasn't happy with how his team lost possession in the second half of the first leg of the final.
"I think what we lacked in the last game was attacking spaces and off the defenders' shoulders more in the second half and, above all, hold the ball better," he said. "It's something we've got to improve for this game."
Set pieces and the aerial game could also make the difference in what is likely to be a tight 90 minutes. Monterrey have the highest percentage of successful aerial duals and are a team with a physical spine, although Rayados are only ahead of Tigres 14-12 in goals from set pieces in 2018-19 in Liga MX.
"Clasico Regio 120" is a clash of two city rivals in one of Monterrey's most important games in its history, but also a confrontation of two differing footballing philosophies.