Can Chivas stop Andre-Pierre Gignac, Tigres to lift Liga MX trophy?
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Chivas and Tigres go into the 2017 Clausura final second leg level at 2-2 after 90 minutes, with Sunday's tie in Estadio Chivas mixing all the ingredients for a classic.
Here are three key questions ahead of the big game as Chivas seek a league and cup double and Tigres look to win back-to-back Liga MX championships.
1. Where are Chivas at?
The 2-2 draw last Thursday in Estadio Universitario was actually a good result for Chivas. Going to "El Volcan" and emerging with a draw represented a significant achievement in a game and atmosphere many thought the young all-Mexican team would struggle to handle.
Somehow it just didn't feel like a positive afterward. The way Chivas stifled Tigres for so long and then managed to go up the other end of the pitch and score two goals set the Guadalajara club on course for a famous victory. Chivas played like a boxer using a high guard, jabbing away incisively and keeping their distance against a powerful puncher.
It was almost a master class from Chivas and coach Matias Almeyda, but they just couldn't quite follow through to the end.
The pair of late and brilliant goals from Tigres striker Andre-Pierre Gignac were a significant blow to Chivas. Obviously an advantage would have been good, but the way Tigres (and Gignac in particular) just seemed to flick a switch and produce the magic needed may linger in the back of the minds of some Chivas players. Chivas fans online certainly didn't seem to take any comfort from the result, and for some, it even represented a collapse.
Almeyda responded after the game by saying his team is psychologically "perfect" ahead of Sunday's match and described his team as "warriors."
Those last seven or so minutes certainly felt like a significant moment in the series, and ones in which the pendulum swung from Chivas being a favorite for the title to Tigres holding strong and reminding everyone that if the opposition ease up even slightly, the punishment can be severe. And let's not forget this is a side that has won only once now in its last 11 games.
Chivas have been warned and will need to be equally or more tenacious and sharp on Sunday against Tigres. This time, they need to do it for the full 90 minutes.
2. Will Almeyda, Ferretti get the starting XIs right?
There was a feeling on Thursday that Almeyda got one over on Ferretti by employing both Michael Perez and Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez in predominantly shielding roles in front of the Chivas defense. Combined with Orbelin Pineda blocking off service to Tigres defensive midfielder Guido Pizarro, Vazquez and Perez largely neutralized the threats of Lucas Zelarayan and Jesus Duenas.
Almeyda has tended to replace Perez with the more attack-minded Carlos Fierro and drop Pineda into a deeper midfield role for home games, but the attacking might of Tigres, combined with how well Vazquez and Perez worked, may lead the Argentine to be slightly more conservative in Estadio Chivas. It would be a surprise if Almeyda didn't field the same starting XI as in the first leg, although he may think twice about using Miguel Ponce off the bench after his tough performance on Thursday.
Ferretti has his own issues. Peruvian right-back Luis Advincula looked out of sorts as a makeshift left-back. But with Jorge Torres Nilo and Alberto Acosta both out, Ferretti's options are limited to Jose Rivas and Jose "Gringo" Torres, both of whom aren't natural left-backs either.
Up front, Ismael Sosa and Lucas Zelarayan weren't as influential as they could have been in the first leg, which stopped the service to Gignac for most of the game. Winger Jurgen Damm and Chilean international Eduardo Vargas are options to replace them.
The good news for Ferretti is that it looks like Hugo Ayala may play after he was taken off injured in Estadio Universitario.
3. Will Gignac's magic win it for Tigres?
It feels like Gignac's liguilla and the French international's final. The 31-year-old's run of form has seen him score nine goals over six games in the month of May, with just one game left.
Almeyda described Gignac as the best player in Liga MX after the first leg and said you can't lose concentration for a split second when he is on the pitch. Almeyda also suggested a little over a year ago, in an interview with French outlet So Foot, that Gignac was finding it easy in Mexico and shouldn't "conform" by playing here.
It's always overly simplistic to boil down games to one player, but it's hard to take your eyes off Gignac when he is in this kind of form. He certainly appears to be a man on a mission this season.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.