A Blank Slate for the Liguilla Semifinals

The Liguilla quarterfinals taught us much about the eight teams involved. Rayados are a dominant force ready to steamroll anyone who dare step in to their path, while Atlas is not ready to challenge for a title. America can win ugly, while Cruz Azul simply can’t win. Tigres, the victors, aren’t playing to their full potential, while Leon, the defeated, did just that.   And finally Morelia has come a long way from relegation avoidance, while Toluca continue to be a good but not great side.

These are some good lessons. They could be valuable reminders going forward. Just not right now. When thinking of the upcoming semifinals, it's best that you forget everything you have seen in the recently completed opening round. Erase it from the brain.

It’s not that everything we witnessed was false. It did happen. However, much of the way the quarterfinals played out will be counter to what we will see in the semifinals. As is often the case in sport in general, it’s all about the match-ups.

Monterey absolutely obliterated Atlas. It was embarrassing. This entire season has actually been a string of embarrassments for the rest of the league at the hands of Rayados. They have been consistently strong, in a league that is more known for its parity. There aren’t many chinks in the armor at this point. They are intimidating and should be that for this Monarcas side. Monterrey are clearly the stronger team.

However, the disparity that we witnessed between Rayados and Atlas will not be repeated in the semifinal. Morelia are not equals with Monterrey at this point, but they should offer something competitively that will make these fixtures much more interesting.  

Morelia feature a deadly attack including the orchestrator, Diego Valdes and the punisher, Raul Ruidiaz. The latter is in what is probably the finest form of his career for both club and country while the former is still on the rise and already at a playing level that tells of a big future for an even bigger club. With the further complement of resurgent Angel Sepulveda, Morelia will be able to score on the Rayados defense. They are further bolstered by one of the best keepers in Mexico at the moment, Sebastian Sosa.

Monterrey will likely come out on top after these two matches, but it will be much closer than most would expect.

Perceptions aren’t as firm on the second semifinal, but it is still the case that what we saw from Club America and Tigres is unlikely to be repeated.  In the Clasico Joven, America sat back and allowed Cruz Azul possession. They were smart enough to recognize that Cruz Azul would be unable to break down a team primarily focused on the defensive third. They used their speed in attack to counter and try to catch Cruz Azul with too many men forward, which nearly resulted in several goals. It was the perfect approach to play their crosstown rivals. It won’t work against Tigres.

Tigres played the feisty Leon in their opening round fixtures. Leon gave the Nuevo Leon side everything they could handle forcing Tigres to advance from the aggregate draw. Tigres didn’t look great, and they haven’t looked up to their standards for most of the season. Yet, it was clear last season that they saved something for the Liguilla and I suspect they may just be up to this type of chicanery once again. I also suspect the reason Tigres didn’t look great against Leon had a lot to do with Leon. In another familiar pattern, Leon entered the Liguilla with a much stronger team than the one that began the season. Leon arguably played their two finest matches of the season in these quarterfinals and came up just short. Tigres weren’t at their best, but their opposition sure were. In spite of this, Tigres found a way through.

Tigres now have one opponent to defeat to set up what most would expect to be a final with their biggest rival. Tigres, unlike Cruz Azul, would have a much easier time breaking down defensive posturing from Club America. If their players were given space outside the box to fire in shots from medium range, Marchesin would not be able to save them.

This same approach won’t fly for America. I suspect Miguel Herrera understands this as well. Hence, America will need to push farther forward and aim to retain more possession. In doing so, Tigres will have an equal chance of success, but America increase their likelihood of scoring and competing. This should result in a much more open fixture than either of the teams’ quarterfinals.

If these semifinals play out as I suspect (and why wouldn’t they?), we are in store for some compelling matches with plenty of excitement. Enjoy!  






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