Chivas, Tigres seeking repeat titles in Liga MX final

Hector Guerrero
The Guadalajara side is looking for a double while Tuca Ferretti is hoping his team can become bicampeon in a scintillating final

The Liga MX semifinals produced just results, with the better teams over the two legs meeting in this week's final.

Chivas struggled to truly dispatch Toluca and, for the second straight round, move through by virtue of a better regular season finish than their opponents (Liga MX's second tiebreaker). There was little question about Tigres' superiority, with 2-0 wins in both legs producing a 4-0 aggregate victory over Tijuana that has Tigres looking like the team to beat in the final.

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But when the two clubs meet in Thursday's first leg at El Volcan and in Sunday's second leg at Estadio Chivas, both will be looking to compound recent success. Chivas are going for a double after winning the Copa MX this tournament and would become the first team to achieve that feat since the Copa MX was reinstated in 2012. Necaxa, which won both trophies in 1994-95, was the most recent team to hold both titles.

While Tigres started off 2017 in horrible form, they've bounced back and are now playing like a true reigning champion. Coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's side is looking to win back-to-back titles and become "bicampeones" — something only Pumas and Leon have achieved since the league switched to short tournaments in 1996.

Either way, we'll have a team making history, and the weight of that history — and the opportunity to be a team remembered well past this summer — will weigh heavily on players' minds in the lead-up to the two matches.

"Under pressure, no, but we're excited about the chance to be able to make history," Chivas defender Edwin Hernandez said at a news conference. "It's a dream to be here and we don't want to let this opportunity go without taking advantage of it. I came here to make a mark and this is the chance to do it. I know we'll be able to achieve it."

Another championship would also put Chivas back into a tie with rival Club America with the most titles during the professional era with 12. While the desire certainly will be there, coach Matias Almeyda will have plenty of concerns this week.

Already missing center back Jair Pereira with an injury, Chivas saw center back Carlos Salcido go off injured in Sunday's second leg. Angel Zaldivar, in his second appearance since missing a month with an injury, entered Sunday to relieve injured Carlos Fierro, only for Zaldivar to tweak his hamstring and also have to come off. That's on top of Rodolfo Pizarro coming off an injury as well, though the playmaker's contributions make it look as though he's back to full strength.

"Since the preseason, I've said that I'm going to need everybody. It wasn't just words but also actions," Almeyda said. "They've participated and met expectations. Today we're going to enjoy and keep working because there's still one step left."

That step will undoubtedly be the most difficult Chivas have taken. The club has found difficulty scoring goals, relying on a Nestor Calderon set piece to get past Toluca after a generous deflection handed it an important away goal. Tigres haven't allowed multiple goals in 24 matches across all competitions, boasting one of the most consistent back lines in the Americas, even with Jorge Torres Nilo's injury changing the chemistry.

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Despite those factors in their favor, they're well aware the second leg will be in Guadalajara, where Chivas are very difficult to beat.

"(It's going to be) very tough, very hard fought," Tigres center back Juninho told reporters in Tijuana. "Chivas have been growing each season, they've got a really good playing style and they have very dynamic players and a great coach. We have to do everything possible to win."

Each team will have a fight on its hands — one the players hope will lead to history being made and their names going into an elite group of Mexican clubs.