León must pass tough Tigres test to reach Liga MX Final

Juan Pablo Vigón (left) led a successful Tigres press that harried and flustered León players looking for outlet passes. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Juan Pablo Vigón (left) led a successful Tigres press that harried and flustered León players looking for outlet passes. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /
Liga MX semifinal LeonTigres
William Tesillo (left) and the León defense kept Liga MX scoring champ Nico López (right) under wraps in the first leg. They’ll have to keep him quiet during the second leg, too. (Photo by JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images) /

The first Apertura 2021 finalist will be revealed tonight when No. 3 seed León hosts the No. 4 Tigres in a decisive Liga MX semifinal. The visitors hold a 2-1 lead heading into the return leg after stealing a victory at the Estadio Universitario in dramatic fashion.

The Esmeraldas must win to advance to their 15th Liga MX Final where they would be looking for their ninth title. The Tigres would reach their 13th Liga MX final with a win or a draw. League rules award an aggregate tie (this would occur should León win by a one-goal margin) to the higher-seeded team.

León knows it must set the tone for the match from the outset and do a better job of controlling tempo. León will have to puzzle out how best to attack the Tigres in the offensive third after being smothered by Miguel Herrera’s aggressive pressing tactics in “El Volcán.” The Esmeraldas were held to just 38 percent possession and only 8 shots.

Coach Ariel Holan might be inclined to tweak his starting line-up, especially if skipper Luis Montes is fully fit. “El Chapo” missed 11 games this season, reappearing in the past two as a sub. If Montes can go 60 minutes, I say start him and see if he can spark the offense and decipher the Tigres defense.

If the decision is to open with Montes in midfield, Holan might move Víctor Dávila forward into the point of attack in place of Santi Ormeño. He’ll also hope for better performances from defensive midfielder Santiago Columbatto and left back Osvaldo Rodríguez, both of whom were victimized by high pressure. Their turnovers allowed the Tigres to regain possession quickly and win the field position battle.

As for the Tigres, their captain – Guido Pizarro – is set to return after failing a pre-game fitness test ahead of the first leg. The midfielder was replaced by Juan José Sánchez Purata in a more legitimate 5-man back line (Pizarro lines up in midfield to create a 4-3-3 but often drops back into the center of defense as the Tigres morph into a 5-1-3-1 without the ball).

Herrera is not likely to make any additional line-up changes, though the evolution of the game will affect his substitution pattern. With the likes of Leo Fernández, Florian Thauvin and Carlos González available to chase goals, as well as Jesús Dueñas and Hugo Ayala to play defense, “El Piojo” has the pieces to address any necessity.

Striker André-Pierre Gignac missed Friday’s practice complaining of a stomach ailment, but he is expected to be on the pitch at the opening whistle.

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Ref César Ramos will be in charge at the Camp Nou and we’re hoping he’ll not be asked to make any significant decisions because Liga MX officials have not been up to snuff throughout the Apertura 2021, including the playoffs.