Just like MLS, Mexican top-division football starts at the beginning of the calendar year. The two big teams of Mexico, Club América and U.A.N.L. Tigres were playing their first matches in this year’s tournament. The match ended in a tight victory for América, who squeezed their goal in the 70th minute and began their pursuit of the title. In this tactical analysis, we will examine the tactics of both teams, the influence of certain players and how the similar build-up approach can be used differently by two opposing teams.
Club América’s coach, Miguel Herrera, lined-up his team in 5-3-2 formation, with Guillermo Ochoa in goal and Giovani Dos Santos up front. Ricardo Ferretti, on the other hand, decided to play in 4-4-2 formation with the U.A.N.L. Tigres legendary centre-back Hugo Ayala leading the defence and an attacking threat of Enner Valencia and Eduardo Vargas going forward. The Tigers midfielder Rafael Carioca had to leave the pitch after ten minutes because of injury.
In this analysis, we will see how different formations can have similar approaches during certain phases of the game.
Club América build-up play
The initial 5-3-2 formation transformed drastically when Club America were having the ball. It was changing to 3-5-2 or even 3-1-6 with two full-backs and two midfielders joining the attacking duo. The only midfielder left was González, so it was a lot of pressure on him defensively but he did his job well during the match. We can see how América structured their build-up in the image below:
While González was staying behind, two other central midfielders, Escoboza and Sánchez, were positioning themselves very close to strikers, and they were either drafting wide or staying narrow. So, it was an attacking group of six players, with two strikers, two midfielders, and two full-backs. The image below represents how the players positioned during the attacks for the most part of the match:
Such an adventurous attacking output created a lot of danger if the ball was lost. The full-backs were leaving huge spaces behind them and the midfielders wouldn’t have the time to come back. So there was enormous reliance on counter-pressing to get the ball back as quick as possible.
While attacking, Sánchez and Escoboza were often behind opposition midfielders, which created situations like this:
This positioning and movement allowed Club America to disrupt the opposition defence with runs in behind not only from Dos Santos and Martín but also two midfielders. The mobility of this América team as a whole and especially the agility and hard-working mentality of Sánchez and Escoboza prevented any serious chances created by opposition from this movement. So, the offensive group was versatile enough to go forward and then regroup and defend, which caused a lot of problems for Tigres.
América defensive play
América’s midfield played a huge role while attacking, showing their agility and work ethic. This pattern didn’t change in defending matters. When defending, the likes of Escoboza, Sánchez and González were close to the ball, creating the numerical superiority and limiting the passing options. The midfield trio were putting pressure on the opponents with the ball, while all five defenders were limiting the danger in case the midfield would be outplayed. We can see the example below:
There was a major downside to such positioning: if the long balls were played from one flank to another, the Tigres player had huge space ahead of him and a lot of time on the ball. Like in the example above, if the ball gets on the feet of Rodríguez, the left-back of América has to leave the defensive line to cover him. This will create more space for Enner Valencia to run into. Tigres didn’t use this quick switch during the match, partly because of the constant pressure and the desire to play it safe.
When Tigres had the ball at the beginning of the attack, América were using their initial 5-3-2 formation. There were always five at the back when Tigres were attacking. González, the deep midfielder, was staying in front of the defensive line, while other two midfielders were pressing the full-backs and strikers the centre-backs. Such movement is presented by the image below:
The defence was stale in the sense that they always tried to keep such shape, so the midfielders and strikers had to do a gigantic job up front in terms of pressing.
So, the attacking players had to do a lot of running and covering space, and that allowed the defence to always have more players than the opposition attackers. Using this advantage, América’s defence could man-mark the opposition attackers. The full-backs were marking the wingers, and centre-backs were marking the strikers. So, any of the defenders were allowed to leave the line if they saw the opportunity to do so:
Because Club América had five defenders, they were perfectly fine with stepping out of the line and following the opposition attacker. Most frequently it was happening to full-backs, as Valencia and Vargas were often drifting wide so the full-backs had to mark them.
So, the América team had a lot of agility and energy when going forward and defending, and their unusual shape earned them a victory and a clean sheet. Now we will look into Tigres tactics and what they did to break down the opposition defence.
Tigres build-up and defensive play
Despite having a nominal formation with four at the back with two centre-backs, Tigres were able to copy some principles from America’s build-up play. The first one was with using three players at the beginning of any attack. In order to do that, one of the midfielders, namely Pizarro, was dropping into the defensive line to form a back three. This allowed having more players in the defence. This way, Tigres were pretty resistant to pressure because they always had one more player than the opposition. Using the movement of Pizarro, they were able to bypass the pressing, like in the example below:
This was the main idea of breaking the press of América’s game. Sometimes Pizarro was sticking to his original position when the pressing wasn’t so intense (remember the work volume Américas midfielders and strikers had to do).
To advance the ball forward, Tigres used one simple tactic: long balls. The main pattern was that they would pass the ball around the defence and goalkeeper until the right moment. At that moment, the defender with the ball (or even the goalkeeper) would make a long pass to either Valencia or Vargas, who were trying to establish possession in the attacking third.
The other option would be to pass to the right or left midfielder, who will then try to break the defence using their skills. So, there was huge reliance on long balls and individual skills of the players.
In terms of defensive organisation, Tigres again used a very similar formation to América’s. When defending, they were forming 5-3-2 with Pizarro dropping into the defence. The flank midfielders were moving more centrally to fill the gap while the strikers remained narrow:
The impact of Enner Valencia
If I need to point out one player from this game it will definitely be Valencia. He thrived in the created circumstances when he had to make a lot of runs in behind, fight for the ball in aerial duels, and create chances with his pace. Despite having a disastrous record of not scoring in the last LIGA MX season, now he seems to be getting back in form. However, he hasn’t scored a goal in this game either, but he was an all-around threat to América’s defence. Here is one example:
América’s great defensive organization and having a lot of defenders at all times allowed them to stop the threat caused by Valencia. However, there is a firm belief that 30-year-old Ecuadorian attacker will find goals in the following games pretty soon.
The game ended 1-0 thanks to a goal from Henry Martin of Club América. This game was a tight and well-rounded battle, and that is how it should be in these big games. Both teams showed tactical flexibility and the desire to win, which shows that this LIGA MX season will be very promising. With other teams also having their eyes on the title, it will be interesting to see who will lift the cup in the end.