The life of a manager is often a turbulent one. A few games without a win or a period of hardship can feed the managerial merry-go-round. 12 of the current managers in Liga MX have only been in the post for less than a year. The Mexican fans love football and if their team isn’t producing results the managers get the chop. Tigres UANL coach, Ricardo Ferretti, is someone who defies these odds. The Brazilian often referred to as Tuca, has been in his current post for over 10 years. This is Ferretti’s second time in charge of Tigres, and in this time he has produced five championships.
Tuca is one of only two managers to coach over 1000 games in Mexico. The Brazilian had a successful career as a player in Mexico and gained his Mexican citizenship in 2006. He was also placed in charge of the Mexican national team during 2015 and led them to victory in the CONCACAF Cup. Despite managing for over 25 years, Tuca has not become stuck in his ways and is willing to adapt his style to suit his players.
In this tactical analysis, we will reflect on the tactical approach Ferretti has imposed at Tigres this season and how his philosophy has been instilled to make them a giant of Liga MX.
System and style
Over the 2019/20 season, we saw Ferretti employ two main formations. In the earlier season, the Apertura, Tuca used as 4-2-3-1 formation. However, towards the end of the Apertura and for a majority of the Clausura, Ferretti preferred a 4-4-2 formation.
In the ten Clausura games, only once did Ferretti diverge from a 4-4-2 formation. The 4-4-2 formation Ferretti employs usually involves the tactics of using a double six. Both central midfielders are instructed to protect the defensive line to add further solidity.
This formation allows Tigres to dominate a lot of their games. Tigres have the greatest number of passes in the league this season, averaging 431 per game. Whilst slightly slower than European experts such as Manchester City and Barcelona, who average over 650 per game, they are still way ahead of anyone else in Liga MX. Whilst having a large majority of the ball, they have found it difficult to create as many chances as they would like this year, only producing an xG value of 40.63, the 10th highest in the league.
As previously mentioned, Tigres have the highest number of passes per game. This style has led to Ferretti having his own brand of football, known as ‘Tuca-Taka’. Ferretti’s team use a patient approach by keeping the ball and looking for any mistake in the opposition. Much of the game statistics support this notion, as they have the highest number of forward passes (128.5 per 90) and lateral passes (178.1 per 90) in the league. This is accompanied by their league-high 58% possession per game.
The lateral passes are an interesting one as it shows Ferretti looks to move the ball laterally to stretch his opponent. Above is a great example of how they use this effectively and frequently. We can see three different instances where Tigres are recycling the ball. All of these phases were within one minute of each other as they aimed to break through Puebla. Each time the opposition cleared the ball Ferretti’s team would recycle it by moving it across their defensive line. The movement of the ball was to try and stretch the Puebla defence to open up gaps for the attackers.
Ferretti is very successful in using this approach by the positioning of his full-backs. Tigres do not simply pass the ball between the four defenders. The two centre-backs, and sometimes central midfielders, will be the ones to move the ball out wide. We can see above, in all of these phases, the full-backs are very high up the pitch. Opposition teams aim to be very narrow to remove any space, therefore having their full-backs high up the pitch works to their advantage. If a Tigres defender can find a full-back, they have a lot of space to move in to due to the compactness of the opposition. Again, having wide full-backs will mean the opposition will need to come out to close them down, therefore creating space for other players.
As mentioned, sometimes Ferretti will have his central midfielder drop in to change the approach. Instead of moving the ball laterally a midfielder, usually, Guido Pizarro will drop in an act as a ‘quarterback’. This quarterback role is something we see a lot more of now, and it is something Tuca has incorporated into his game. Pizarro will come short to receive the ball and then has several options. We know that Ferretti likes his team to use ball laterally, however, using this method opens up other possibilities.
Above we can Pizarro dropping deep, but the options he creates are what’s most interesting. Pizarro is now able to progress the ball forward into the highlighted zone or recycle it again within the defensive line. This movement creates extra space for the attacking players as Pizarro has removed himself from the middle of the pitch. The Argentine is now able to break the lines with a pass to the forwards or remain patient and keep the ball. This flowing movement Ferretti has instilled has made it difficult for teams to know when to stay or press the ball.
We can see above the type of passes Pizarro often makes. Even though he removes himself from the middle of the pitch he still looks to spread the ball to the wings. A high number of his passes go to the full-backs and we can see he makes most of them in-between the two central defenders.
Tuca has selected Pizarro as his quarterback, as it allows him to come deep and gain a greater view of the pitch. Ferretti is content with his team keeping the ball and does not become frustrated if they are unable to progress it on the first attempt.
Beating the press
Having so much possession can sometimes go against Tigres and Ferretti. Teams often look to dig in and try and counter when winning the ball. This means it can be difficult for Tigres to break teams down. Despite having the top scorer in the league, in former Ligue 1 man André-Pierre Gignac, Tigres have a low xG, with 1.45 per match. This is only the 10th highest in the league.
However, Ferretti has his style of play and he will stick to it. Therefore, Tuca has had to find a way to use his style to break through teams, when they’re happy to sit back and soak up pressure.
Above, we can see a usual position Ferretti finds his team in. His team is patiently building up by recycling the ball. Whilst, many teams will allow Tigres to keep the ball eventually they will need to move up and try and win the ball back. This is something Tuca has identified and has used to his team’s advantage. We can see above that UNAM have decided to press the defence. They have almost six men in the Tigres half, to only Tigres’ four. Each UNAM player presses an individual player and the others block the space in-between the midfield and attackers.
This would seem difficult for Tigres as they have limited options. However, they have been very effective in using a long ball approach this year. Tigres have the most long passes in the league with 45.23 per 90. Due to their high number of passes they only have the 14th highest long passes per 100, showing it is not a constant feature of their game. In the example above they do decide to use it, however. As the UNAM defence press forward, the defender opts to play a long pass down the wing. This results in a Tigres player collecting the ball in the final third and puts them in a three v three situation.
This seemed to be a common theme when playing against teams who were willing to come out at Tigres. Above is an example against New York City FC in the CONCACAF Champions League. This time the example is very late in the game and Tigres are slightly deeper in their own half.
Again, New York commit six men in the Tigres half. With no options, the defender goes long and finds a teammate in the final third. Tigres created many opportunities from this method. Whilst Tuca looks to keep the ball, his team knows when to utilise the open space and go long.
Above we can see Hugo Ayala has been identified as the man to employ this tactic. Both centre-backs play several passes to their central midfielders as expected. However, we can see Ayala often passes to his two frontmen, Gignac and Valencia. A number of his passes are from his own third to either the middle or opposition third. These passes help progress the ball forward, and above has shown how effective this has been for Tigres.
A few years back Barcelona and Pep Guardiola were famous for their six-second rule. This rule effectively meant when they lost the ball the whole team aims to win it back in six seconds. By doing so they limit the time and space opposition has. Tigres can hardly be compared with the European giants, however, this philosophy is something Tuca has incorporated into his team’s game.
Tigres have the fourth most recoveries in the league, with 64.86 per 90. Further to this, they have the third most recoveries in the final third, with 8.74 per 90, showing they like to win the ball high up the pitch. This is very typical of a team like Ferretti’s. They dominate the ball so much, but when they do lose it they want it back as quickly as possible. We see this very often in Europe with teams like Barcelona and Man City.
The graphic above shows the recoveries for Tigres. Right-winger Raymundo Fulgencio is the man that often starts the press, as we see a large majority on his side. Tigres are also very accomplished at turning these recoveries into attacks, with a high number resulting in attempts at goal.
Above is a good example of how they press high up the pitch. In only the sixth minute Tigres lose the ball and instantly try to win it back. Above we see how they “hunt in packs”. Two Tigres players look to press the full-back. Firstly, this adds extra pressure to the full-back, but it also removes all possible options.
By closing the space down the defender results in clearing the ball. Whilst, Tigres don’t directly win the ball back here they do regain possession from the resulting clearance. This defensive method gets the ball back quickly and allows them to build-up how they like.
The example above is a case of Tigres also using their pressing method deeper in their own half. This example is effective in showing how they force opposing teams away from goal. We see the ball comes into the opposition player’s feet, however, Tigres use their shape to force him away. The player highlighted in blue looks to close the space in front, the red area, to prevent the player from finding a teammate.
The other Tigres player, highlighted orange, looks to get tight to him so he is unable to turn. Again, this shows the hunting in packs method as a one v one situation would be nowhere near as effective. Ferretti has his team work extremely hard to sustain this pressure throughout the game, however, it allows them to dominate the ball which is their preferred style.
This analysis shows why Tuca has been so successful in Mexico. He has his teams work extremely hard off the ball so they can dictate the game when on it. Despite managing over 1000 games in Mexico he shows no sign of being stuck in the old days. His philosophy incorporates several tactics employed by some of the greatest coaches in the world and shows he is not afraid to adapt to the ever-changing nature of coaching.
Despite not having the most successful year with Tigres, Ferretti shows why he has won so many championships and why there is likely still more to come.