Liga MX final: Leon looking to cap storybook season vs. Tigres
Club Leon (1) vs. Tigres (2)
First leg: Thursday, 9:45 p.m. ET, Estadio Universitario
Second leg: Sunday, 9:06 p.m. ET, Estadio Leon
The 2019 Clausura final pits the undisputed team of the season, Leon, against the team of the decade, Tigres, in a battle between the two highest finishers in the regular season. If you go on form, Leon just about has the edge, but if the criteria is pedigree, then there is no doubt that Tigres have the advantage.
Here's how the two teams shape up ahead of the 2019 Clausura final:
Standard formation: 4-4-2/4-2-3-1
Most important player: Angel Mena
SPI to lift trophy: 48 percent
Leon will be going for title number eight to take it past Pumas and level with Cruz Azul, two of Mexico's grandes. The one-team city in the state of Guanajuato will be buzzing with anticipation ahead of the final.
La Fiera has won 16 of 21 games this season in what has been the major surprise performance in Liga MX, although Leon will have to improve on the semifinal showing against Club America to lift the trophy. Las Aguilas pushed Leon close in the second leg and were slightly unfortunate to end the first leg 1-0 down.
Coach "Nacho" Ambriz is going for his first Liga MX title -- although he has won a CONCACAF Champions League title with America, defeating Tigres in the final -- and faces some tough decisions ahead of the first leg. Leon will be without the suspended Rubens Sambueza in Estadio Universitario, as well as striker Jose Juan Macias, who joined up with the Mexican national team for the Under-20 World Cup.
Macias' absence is likely to be most keenly felt and puts the onus on Angel Mena to continue his wondrous season. So far, the 31-year-old has 14 goals and 12 assists in 21 matches.
There'll also be a dilemma for Ambriz about how to approach the first leg away. Leon has had average of 57.1 percent possession in Liga MX games this season, surpassed only by Tigres' 59.3 percent. With no away goal rule in the final, there's not a huge incentive to go and chase the game, although Leon's strength is its offense and he may feel that attack is the best form of defense.
Standard formation: 4-2-3-1/4-4-2
Most important player: Andre-Pierre Gignac
SPI to lift trophy: 52 percent
Tigres have reached the final without fully flexing their muscles. Ricardo Ferretti's team snuck past Pachuca in the quarterfinal and Monterrey in the semi due to its higher regular season finishing position, after both series had finished all square on aggregate.
But sneaking through to finals is what big teams do and for all the talk in Mexico about what constitutes a grande, Tigres are the team of the decade in Liga MX. The team is in its seventh final since 2010 and has four Liga MX titles in that time. This Tigres team is well-drilled and will pounce on any nerves that Leon show.
You know exactly what you are going to get with Tigres. Ferretti completed nine years in charge this week and Tigres remain the most defined team stylistically in Liga MX. Ferretti's philosophy of dominating possession and being patient in creating opportunities is well-known.
The first leg inside Estadio Universitario offers Tigres an opportunity to put Leon under some real pressure and the question will be whether Liga MX's form team can stand up to the heat.