Who will hoist Liga MX trophy in Estadio Jalisco?

If Julián Quiñones (center) is given space to operate, Atlas will be tough to stop. León's defense proved up to the task in the first leg. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images)
If Julián Quiñones (center) is given space to operate, Atlas will be tough to stop. León's defense proved up to the task in the first leg. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Atlas Leon
Long-time León captain Luis Montes is no longer a starter, but he is capable of sparking some late offense should the Esmeraldas need it. “El Chapo” is aiming for his 4th Liga MX title with “La Fiera.” (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images) /

It’s gut-check time in Liga MX. Can Atlas dig out a two-goal victory at home and end its 70-year title drought? Or will León hoist its second Liga MX trophy in three seasons?

Zorros Nation will be in full throat at a sold-out Estadio Jalisco, urging their heroes onward. Anxious to witness history some fans paid up to $900 dollars for a ducat to the Gran Final. (Yep, scalpers – and their cohorts – appear to be the big winners.)

León has been vulnerable on the road in the playoffs, losing at Puebla 2-1 in the quarterfinals and at Tigres – also 2-1 – in the semifinals. “Los Rojinegros” will surely be confident that they can find the net though they have yet to win at home in the Liguilla (1-1 draw in the quarters vs Monterrey, 1-0 loss to Pumas in the semis).

After a thrilling Esmeraldas comeback win in the first leg, Atlas most overturn a 3-2 deficit. Away-goals do not feature in the Liga MX so the Zorros need a one-goal win to force overtime and a two-goal triumph to win outright.

And the Liga MX champs are …

The hosts will attack with their defense, looking to slow León’s vertical moves and force turnovers. With possession, the Zorros will send balls forward in search of Julio Furch.

The burly Argentine forward was kept in check on Thursday night by William Tesillo and Ramiro González. Despite the tight marking, Furch was still able to bring down most of the balls sent his way, but the smothering defense made it difficult for him to direct them toward the intended target.

Julián Quiñones was also nullified by the Esmeraldas’ back line. He’ll need to create some scoring opportunities if the Zorros are going to have success.

Midfield will be a critical battleground, too. Atlas skipper Aldo Rocha had an uncharacteristically bad game in León. In addition to committing the late penalty, he had several poor turnovers.

Iván Rodríguez and Santiago Columbatto won the battle against Rocha and Jeremy Márquez and the Atlas pair got little help from wingbacks Diego Barbosa or Luis Reyes. Barbosa, especially, was ineffective and that narrowed the Atlas attack, allowing “La Fiera” to more easily defend its area.

Up front, Angel Mena, Jean Meneses and Víctor Dávila are a handful for any back line, and that’s true even for the stingiest defense in Liga MX. Atlas had not given up 3 goals in 27 games before Thursday night

The Zorros’ central three of Jesús Angulo, Hugo Nervo and Anderson Santamaría are certainly capable of shutting down any offense and nobody expects goalie Camilo Vargas to cough up more rebounds.

Odds and Ends

Atlas coach Diego Cocca can knock on wood that his club has enjoyed a season lacking in major injuries. But as a result, his starters have logged heavy minutes throughout the Apertura 2021 and in the playoffs. Will “los Rojinegros” have the stamina to chase down the sprightly Esmeraldas?

— Will the Zorros follow on the heels of the Guardianes 2021 champions Cruz Azul who ended a 23-year title jinx by ending their seven-decade drought? If they do, they can finally open the bottle of Ballantine’s that has been sitting in their trophy cabinet since it was bequeathed to the club in 1954 with the stipulation that it could not be opened until after Atlas won its next Liga MX title. Talk about aged whisky!

— León coach Ariel Holan has a four-man drone crew whose sole job is to film every Esmeraldas practice. The film is then sent to specialists in Argentina who compose a detailed analytics report that Holan and his staff use to game-plan.

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— Grupo Orlegi and Grupo Pachuca have won seven of the past 20 Liga MX titles. Santos Laguna (Grupo Orlegi) has won three, León (Grupo Pachuca) another three and Pachuca one. Since Atlas is owned by Grupo Orlegi, it’s guaranteed that it will be eight of 21 for these two organizations.