Liga MX final down to which team – Leon or Tigres – can stay true to identity despite absences

Nacho Ambriz’s team is missing two key attackers but must stick with its style in Thursday’s first leg and Sunday’s return

Jose Juan Macias scored more goals than any Mexican in Liga MX this season. He helped Leon into the Liga MX final. Then, he left.

Macias played in Poland for the Mexico U-20 national team in a 2-1 defeat to Italy. The 19-year-old wasn’t the top scorer for Leon – that honor went to Angel Mena, whose 14 goals made him the league’s top scorer.

Still, Macias was a considerable part of a Leon attack that scored more goals than any other team this season. He added eight goals – none from the penalty spot – and played in 19 games for the No. 1 seed. He won’t be on the field when Leon meets Tigres on Thursday night in the first leg of the Liga MX final. Neither will Rubens Sambueza, who is suspended after seeing a red card in the second leg of the semifinal victory over America. 

His manager, Nacho Ambriz, said he didn’t want to make excuses, but, well, just listen to what he said about missing Macias and Sambueza.

“The team isn’t complete. I have absences, injuries. I would’ve liked to have everybody in shape,’ the coach told Fox Deportes.  “At the same time, I know the XI I’m going to put out there.”

“Obviously I’d really like for the team to once again have those finer details that we were able to show in the regular season. We showed them against Xolos as well, but with America we were stuck a bit.”

There may be a temptation for the former America, Necaxa and Queretaro manager to change things up without Macias up top. Without a forward and with another attacking player who has contributed during the season, perhaps play a more conservative style.

It’d be the biggest mistake he could make. Ambriz’s Leon has been playing soccer this season that hasn’t just been dominant, it’s been beautiful. That’s a marked departure from Ambriz’s previous stops, where he often resorted to sticking men behind the ball and making the game as ugly as possible to grind out a 1-0 victory or even a draw. 

“I have a tactical idea that I’ve been expressing in the team. I’ve achieved that at other clubs as well, but not at this level,” he said. “I’m going to give everything for this title. I’ve been looking at Tigres from A-Z.”

He’ll notice during his analysis that Tigres are missing C and D. Center back Carlos Salcedo isn’t fit for Thursday night’s first leg after leaving the second leg of the semifinal against Monterrey with a knee injury and Jesus Duenas also will miss out as he continues to cope with concussion symptoms from a clash in the first leg of the semis.

Tigres also need to stick with their identity. It’s a club that brought in Salcedo for moments like these and the Concacaf Champions League final. He struggled in those games as he moved from one side to the other of the back line and ultimately Tigres fell to rival Monterrey. 

Even with two defenders missing, Tigres manager Tuca Ferretti needs to stay true to his style as well. That’s less of a doubt for the veteran manager than it is for the itinerant Ambriz. Ferretti’s team will look to keep the ball, to play to the wingers’ feet and look for Andre-Pierre Gignac in center of the field where “Mr. Liguilla” will be waiting.

Francisco Meza has stepped up for Tigres at center back and left back in the past, and the club’s directors built such a deep squad with moments like this in mind. 

“We want to do it, but we know we have to face the team that over 17 rounds played the best football of anyone,” Ferretti said.

He’s right, and there’s no reason for Leon to stop doing that now. Each team must stick with the one that brought it, using the playing style that has formed its identity since the start of the year. If someone switches it up, panicking as they sit just two games away from a title, it will be a critical error the other side can exploit.

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