Tuca's typical Tigres top Santos to take series advantage

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Azael Rodriguez
The veteran manager once again had his team in top form after an average regular season with the reigning champion getting the upper hand

This was definitely Tigres.

It has all the makings of pretty much every other season from Tigres. The Monterrey-based club headed into the postseason as the No. 5 in the regular season and hadn't won a league match in the last month. Technically, they're the underdog to No. 4 seed Santos Laguna. If the teams tie on aggregate and no away goals are scored in the series, Santos goes through.

After Thursday's 2-0 Tigres win at El Volcan, it doesn't seem likely.

Tigres manager Tuca Ferretti knows how to get the most out of his team in the playoffs, and Thursday night it was the same Tigres team we're used to seeing. Even with the reigning champions lining up with a three-man back line, as they've worked into their arsenal this season, the team had Tuca's thumbprint on it. Tigres kept the ball, stayed compact and largely made the most of their chances. Ferretti didn't use all of his substitutions (one of his many quirks), didn't so much as crack a smile when his team scored and wanted more from his team despite the positive result.

Yes, everything is right in Nuevo Leon.

Tigres have come in as the two and three seed in their previous two titles, but Ferretti's teams have become famous for sleepwalking through the regular season before snapping to attention and rolling through the playoffs. They delivered a typical performance Thursday with Hugo Ayala nodding in the goal to give them the advantage going into the break and Andre-Pierre Gignac converting from the spot for a critical second.

While Tigres will feel comfortable after the first leg, the ostensible favorite in the series may go into a panic. Santos fell to its fourth consecutive defeat and will have a tremendous task int he second leg, not only in scoring two goals but in keeping Tigres from finding the back of the net. Both goals were from set pieces, so the Guerreros can take a bit of comfort in that. Knowing that Gignac is on the other side, though, with his habit of scoring in the Liguilla, may have any calm feelings fading away. 

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Tigres Santos Laguna Liga MX playoffs

After all, they've seen this movie before. Everyone in the league has. There's a reason Ferretti is the longest-tenured manager in the league by nearly five years. It's not because he has compromising photos of a director saved on his cell phone. Ferretti gets how the game is played. Make the playoffs, and then the fun begins. With his changes in the attack during the season and tweaks to his formation, Ferretti tried things and figured out what he could get away with in the Liguilla and what wouldn't play. Now Tigres are once again playing as a unit.

The series isn't over. Santos never had a ton of hope heading into the first leg. Tigres have avoided defeat in 27 consecutive home league games, a streak stretching back more than a year. That's one reason the regular season finish was important, though. Now the deciding leg takes place in Torreon, in the Estadio Corona where Santos have lost just once in 2018. To get through, Santos will need to disrupt a Tigres team doing what it knows how to do best and finding its rhythm, just like it always seems to do around this time of year.

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