After the abrupt end a few months ago, the Liga MX is finally returning this week. In the opening week there is a host of interesting fixtures, however none more exciting than Necaxa vs Tigres UANL. Both clubs had very impressive Apertura’s last season, so each team will be looking for a good start.
Both teams play employ contrasting tactics, with Tigres enjoying a possession-based approach (58.9% average). Necaxa are defensively very solid, winning the most defensive duels in the league with 70.95 per 90, and will look to be direct where possible. These individual styles will certainly mean one of the teams will need to be clever to break the other down.
This preview, in the form of a tactical analysis, will aim to examine how each team will approach the game to win their first points of the season.
Tigres to dominate the ball
As mentioned Tigres will more than likely dominate the ball for the majority of the game. Last season they had the highest average possession, 58.9%, and the most passes in the league with 431 per 90. Tigres will not aimlessly keep possession, but instead will look to use it to disorganise Necaxa.
Above is evidence of how Tigres use the ball effectively. We can see they dominate the opponent and camp themselves in their half. As Tigres build up and move towards goal, they often recycle the ball laterally. If an attack breaks down Tigres reclaim the ball and again look to move it wide. By doing so, they disorganise the defence and open up pockets for other attacking players. Tigres are extremely patient in their build-up and won’t look to force anything. This ability to dominate games is due to their fluidity in formation.
The graphic above represents a usual formation Tigres find themselves in. With it being the start of the season, predicting the formations is difficult. However, Tigres are very familiar with starting in a 4-4-2 formation. Whilst, that’s the formation they use on paper, it is very different when on the ball.
We can see above that Tigres move into a 3-3-1-3 formation. A central midfielder, usually Guido Pizarro, drops into the defensive line to create a back three. This then allows the Tigres full-backs to push forward and act as wide midfielders. The two main strikers become one, as one of them will drop deeper to support the midfield, this is usually Enner Valencia. The original wide midfielders will then get much closer to the lone striker to provide support. All of this allows Tigres to utilise wide areas. Their full-backs are much higher up the pitch, therefore stretching the opposition defence.
The analysis above shows an in-game example of how Tigres use this method. This example is from their last encounter with Necaxa. As explained, Pizarro will drop in as the full-backs push high. We can see the type of space this creates for the full-back and allows Tigres to bypass their midfield to progress the ball up the pitch.
If Necaxa allows Tigres to dominate the ball in this way, they could be in for a long evening. Pizarro had success all last season playing this style so it’s important for Necaxa to not allow Tigres to dictate the play.
How can Necaxa suppress Tigres?
So Necaxa will be looking for ways to stop Tigres playing how they want. We have highlighted Pizarro as a key man for Tigres, so Necaxa will need to start here.
The map of Pizarro’s passes shows a theme I highlighted in a previous analysis. The former La Liga man has adopted a quarterback like role, where he drops deep, scans the pitch and finds his ideal pass. To put it blankly, Necaxa need to look to ‘sack the quarterback’. If Necaxa allow Pizarro to collect the ball and play passes, Tigres will dictate the game and dominate throughout.
The last time these two teams faced, Tigres came out on top with a convincing 3-1 victory. Within the first 25 minutes, Tigres were already 3-0 up, as they had full control of the game. The analysis above is a prime example of the space and respect given to Tigres by Necaxa. Pizarro dropped deep for the ball and was able to carry it 15+ yards into space. Necaxa were unsure on whether a central midfielder should press him, or whether a striker should engage. Ultimately, Necaxa sat off and allowed Pizarro to dictate the tempo.
The second half of the game was a big improvement for Necaxa, whilst, the game was already won for Tigres, Necaxa showed positive signs that they could go toe to toe. The graphic above shows Necaxa were much improved in the second half and did not allow Tigres to enjoy the ball as much as they’d like. During the second third of the first half, Necaxa had an astonishing 61 passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA), whereas in the second half Necaxa averaged a PPDA of 8.1.
And this analysis shows why Necaxa were much improved. There were a lot braver in their approach and were willing to come out of their own half. The analysis shows that Necaxa had several players pressing to limit Pizarro’s options. Pizarro, circled, did not have the freedom to spray passes across the pitch and had to resort to passing backwards. Tigres ended up going long and losing possession.
If Necaxa are to get anything from the game on Thursday night, they need to show more of this. Tigres are not simply defined by what Pizarro does, however, if Necaxa can suppress him and disrupt Tigres flow, they have a chance of taking something from the game.
How can Necaxa trouble Tigres defensively?
Whilst Necaxa are very good defensively, they also had no issues in scoring goals. Ex-striker Mauro Quiroga was the second top goal scorer last season with 18 goals, however, his departure will question if Necaxa have the tools to break Tigres down. Tigres are also very resolute in their defending. The statistics show that Tigres are very good at limiting other teams, only allowing 9.15 shots per 90, the second best in the league. Tigres are also fantastic at not allowing teams to penetrate their box, with their average shot against distance being 20.09m. This is the third highest in the league so breaking through Tigres will be a difficult task.
This theme was very apparent the last time these two teams faced. Necaxa had nine shots in the game, however, six were from outside the area. Above the analysis shows a prime example of Necaxa opting for long shots. They are unable to break through Tigres’ defence so try their luck from distance. Tigres force Necaxa to do this by not allowing any space around the edge of the box. They have players around the ball, all within a small area. Necaxa attackers are unable to lose their markers and see this option as the only one on.
Necaxa did not have much success with this approach last time and if they continue to play this way, they will find it difficult to penetrate Tigres. So how can Necaxa seize opportunities and exploit Tigres without shooting from distance?
From watching their last encounter, set pieces seemed to be Necaxa’s best goal threat. Last season Necaxa created 54 chances from set-pieces and scored eight goals from them. This is one of the highest in the league. The analysis above shows that Tigres identified this a chink in their armour. This analysis was one of Necaxa’s first set pieces of the match. As the ball is to be delivered Tigres try to step up and catch the Necaxa attack offside. We can see that Tigres move from the red line to the orange line. Tigres clearly thought they were better off catching Necaxa out instead of trying to defend against it.
However, not long after Necaxa were rewarded with a goal from a set-piece. Whilst Necaxa did not change much, it was Tigres approach that allowed this goal. We can see, with the red circle, where the last Necaxa set-piece was taken from. The red line indicates the Tigres defensive line on the last set-piece. What is interesting here is how much deeper they are, as highlighted by the orange line, on the next set-piece which is effectively from a similar position. Tigres went from a high-line and trying to step up, to being very deep in their own box. The latter was to the benefit of Necaxa as it was much easier to attack the ball and Ventura Alvarado, circled, was able to head the ball in.
To get anything from this game Necaxa will need to utilise all the set-pieces they can. It has been a key focus for much of their season and especially when they faced Tigres.
How can Tigres stop Necaxa growing into the game?
We have focused on how Tigres will dominate the ball and how Necaxa can create opportunities. However, Tigres will need to ensure they stop Necaxa from growing into the game. The focus has looked at how Necaxa will need to utilise set pieces, but they are still a good footballing team, having an xG of 1.56 per match. So Tigres will need to make sure they prevent Necaxa from getting a foothold in the game.
As discussed earlier, Necaxa were much improved in the second half in the last encounter. And whilst this may have been due to improvement on their part, it was also due to a lack of intensity from Tigres. In a previous analysis, we looked at how Tigres use a six-second rule like European giants Barcelona. Tigres aim to win the ball back very quickly after losing it, to ensure they keep dominating the ball.
Above we see how this method was executed in the first half but became laboured in the second half. Tigres had 13 recoveries in the opposition half, in the first 45 minutes. However, in the second half, they only mustered seven. Whether this was because they were 3-1 up and felt the game was won, was unknown. But if Tigres do not start as well as they did last time, they will need to ensure they stay on the gas throughout the game.
The analysis above shows how Tigres using this pressing method so effectively. Even early on in a match, as soon as the opposition win the ball Tigres look to win it back high up the pitch. The analysis above shows a tactic they employ when pressing high. Tigres look to hunt in packs by using several players to press one opposition player. This puts more pressure on the opposition and helps Tigres win the ball back easier.
Tigres can use this tactic to starve Necaxa of the ball. Necaxa will only have limited opportunities to get on the ball, so if Tigres can disrupt this they will affect the flow of the game.
How can Necaxa stop Gignac?
The last meeting between these two, resulted in André-Pierre Gignac having a hat-trick within 23 minutes. If Necaxa are to take points from this game, they will need to stop the former Ligue 1 man.
Two of Gignac’s goals were almost identical. The Frenchman found himself in the position above. Firstly, Necaxa will need to ensure they do not allow him this much space. Allowing a player who scores 20+ goals a season this much space in the box is always going to result in issues. Gignac was easily able to cut inside and curl the ball into the bottom corner on both occasions. Necaxa will firstly need to be much tighter to Gignac around the penalty area, preventing him from having any space. Secondly, the Necaxa defence will need to make it much more difficult for Gignac. In both these cases, they could have forced him on to his left foot and prevented a shot.
Necaxa will need to be switched on throughout the game to ensure they don’t allow Gignac any time or space, or ultimately, he will punish them.
The key to this game is how each team can deploy their preferred tactics. If Tigres are able to start dominating the ball they will make it very difficult for Necaxa. Necaxa will have to try and take the opportunities where possible, especially through set-pieces. However, with Tigres’ build-up and star man Gignac upfront, it is difficult to see how Tigres don’t start the season with all three points.