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RSL v. Tigres UANL Tactical Preview: What to expect from Liga MX standouts

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Tigres presents a tricky test for Real Salt Lake. Here's what they can expect to face tonight.

Lucas Uebel/Getty Images

Real Salt Lake was expected to face a full-force Tigres going into the first leg of CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, but after news on Monday it appears that will not be the case.  Tigres announced they will be short their first-string left winger Javier Aquino who is definitely a scoring threat.  His absence certainly won't make matters more difficult for RSL who is already facing the competition favorites.

Finding Aquino's replacement

Tigres is full of scoring threats and they will only be missing Aquino in their regular Starting XI.  Usually the Auriazules line up in a 4-5-1 with a central attacking midfield in between two wingers and in front of a central midfield duo.  Regularly on paper at least, they line up as so:

GK: Guzman

DEF: Jimenez, Rivas, Juninho (C), Torres Nilo

MID: Duenas, Pizarro, Damm, Sobis, Aquino*

ATT: Gignac

Although Aquino's absence doesn't exactly make the occasion easier, shifting a new player into the left wing will be a tricky task and represents a diminution of squad chemistry.

The key players that might fill in on the left wing are the young Argentine Lucas Zelarayan (23) and the aging Mexican Damian Alvarez (36).  Aquino's absence will be conspicuous, and any replacement will hurt in light of that.  Perhaps Tigres' manager Ricardo Ferretti will opt for young speed over matured technique, but in any case the wing will not be as potent with Aquino's absence - he is faster than Zelarayan and is a better all-around ball handler.  Neither replacement has played significant minutes during league competition and perhaps this could open up an opportunity for the Claret-and-Cobalt that Liga MX sides have not been able to exploit.

Technicality v. Physicality

Tigres are competing with a team built to play in Copa Libertadores 2015.  This is a significant feature since the team, therefore, was built to counter more technical, less physical styles of play.  Tigres has played found success against technical squads but has not significantly racked up the minutes against physical squads - like those fielded in MLS.  In other words, it is debatable if an intricate squad like Tigres has the attributes to stop the physical play of Yura Movsisyan at the front or Jamison Olave at the back.

A particular interesting match-up will be the one between Guido Pizarro, Tigres' deep-lying playmaker, and Javier Morales.  Morales will likely be expected to but more pressure on Pizarro than he would normally.  This is because when Pizarro has been pressured this year, he has given the ball away cheaply - something a No. 6 does not do.  So instead of thinking of Pizarro as a defensive midfielder, despite that is what we will be led to believe, think of him more as the Michael Bradley of the team.  And without a Kyle Beckerman-esque player next to him, which Jesus Dueñas is most definitely not, this type of partnership struggles under pressure.

Vanquishing the demons of Mexico

This is less of a tactical adjustment, per se, and one that's rather intuitive.  The Claret-and-Cobalt must acutely focus on the task at hand, rather than reliving the past, and with the club facing the tournament favorites, that's not exactly going to be the easiest of feats.  With Tigres entering a bit of a rough patch after a strong start, having lost to mid-table Tijuana and drawing with struggling Queretaro just this past week, the opportunity might be there for the taking.

Despite Andre-Pierre Gignac being a prolific goalscorer - seven goals in the last seven matches - a soccer match is always about a team and not an individual.  Sure Gignac is favored to score at home but a single chance that RSL is able to capitalize on can turn the tide.  Both Tijuana and Queretaro have already done this in the past two weeks and with Aquino's absence the Claret-and-Cobalt could have slightly better odds at doing the same.  RSL has already rode the Team is the Star mantra to a CONCACAF Champions League, and even  with the cards stacked against them, the odds are seemingly getting better and better with each passing moment.

Expected Lineups

Tigres (4-5-1)

GK: Guzman

DEF: Jimenez, Rivas, Juninho (C), Torres Nilo

MID: Duenas, Pizarro, Damm, Sobis, Zelarayan

ATT: Gignac

RSL (4-3-3)

GK: Rimando

DEF: Beltran, Olave, Maund, Phillips

MID: Beckerman, Sunny, Morales

ATT: Burrito, Movsisyan, Plata

Keys to the match:

  • Play physical/put pressure on the opposition
  • Counter-attack
  • Exploit the lack of chemistry