Apertura 2021 final: No. 2 Atlas visits No. 3 León

León must keep Atlas forward Julio Furch (left) in check if it hopes to claim the Apertura 2021 trophy. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images)
León must keep Atlas forward Julio Furch (left) in check if it hopes to claim the Apertura 2021 trophy. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images) /
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León skipper Luis Montes will be playing in his fifth Liga MX Finals. That’s more than the entire Atlas team put together. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /

Will Liga MX playoff experience have an impact?

León has a distinct advantage in postseason experience. Eight potential León starters played in the Guardianes 2020 final against UNAM, while only three Zorros have played in a Liga MX Final, and only two of those – Jesús Angulo and Julio Furch – are starters for Cocca.

León captain Luis Montes is expected to be fit for the Finals after missing 11 regular season games and seeing minimal action thus far in the playoffs. This is the fifth Liga MX Final for “El Chapo.” Eight other players on the Esmeraldas’ roster also played in the Clausura 2019 Finals loss to the Tigres.

In the other dugout, Atlas leans on several academy products, three of whom were not even born when the Zorros last played in a Liga MX Final (that came back in May 1999). Winger Jairo Torres, 21, midfielder Jeremy Márquez, 21, and substitute Christopher Trejo, 22 came up through the Atlas “School.”

Right back Diego Barbosa is also a system product, but at 25, he was nearly 3 when the Zorros lost to the Diablos Rojos in a penalty-kick shootout to miss out on the Verano 1999 trophy.

León’s roster averages 29 years of age while Atlas’ average is 25.7.

Atlas had not even been to a Liga MX semifinal series since 2004, so few Zorros players have ever been so deep into the playoffs.

Formation variations

Playing at home, León is likely to press the accelerator but coach Holan will decide the formation. The principle decision will be whether or not to use a center forward.

If the Esmeraldas use a true No. 9 (Santi Ormeño or Emmanuel Gigliotti), the line-up will be a 4-2-3-1 with the three attacking midfielders chosen from among Mena, Meneses, Fernández or Dávila. “El Chapo” Montes, Navarro and “Avión” Ramírez are alternatives.

Iván Rodríguez and Santiago Columbatti form a double pivot in front of the back four in this line-up.

Without a center forward, Holan has opted for Dávila as a False 9 and he works in tandem with Mena and Meneses (or Fernández) with the trio weaving through the defense and constantly shifting positions.

This 4-3-3 formation asks Ramírez and Columbatto to lean forward a bit more with Rodríguez shielding the back line.

As for Atlas, the variations are more subtle. The 5-2-3 features Furch in the middle of the attack, with Quiñones and Torres flanking him. Reyes on the left and Barbosa on the right press forward while the Rocha-Márquez duo attacks anything in a different color jersey going through the middle while the three-man central defense has become a fluid unit.

The modified line-up Cocca uses sees Angulo slide to left back with Reyes becoming more of a winger in a 4-4-2 with Furch and Quiñones playing off each other in attack and Jairo Torres serving as a right winger.

Next. El Tri ends year with desultory draw. dark

Cocca typically uses only two or three subs late, usually to protect the lead. Edgar Zaldivar spells Márquez while Christopher Trejo subs in for Quiñones. Anibal Chalá is available to add speed to the left side if the Zorros are chasing a goal.