Who should Osorio start for Mexico vs. Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying?
It's that time again! CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers are upon on, and with Mexico's 25-man squad for the games against Costa Rica (March 24, Estadio Azteca) and Trinidad and Tobago (March 28, Port of Spain) set, we asked our experts Tom Marshall, Nayib Moran and Cesar Hernandez who should feature in Juan Carlos Osorio's starting XI.
Editors Note: Andres Guardado was late ruled out for the match against Costa Rica due to an unspecified right leg injury.
Osorio's basic line of thinking is that when an opponent plays with two strikers, Mexico should play with three center-backs, always leaving a spare defender. But it isn't always that simple. The manager's experimental 3-4-3 against Iceland pointed to a new system designed to counter El Tri's Achilles' heel in CONCACAF play: teams that pack the defense, congest the midfield and invite Mexico to throw players forward and hit fast on the counter.
I think Osorio will go for the 3-4-3 formation, even against Costa Rica's 5-4-1. The caveat is that if Oscar Ramirez's side only fields one striker, libero Rafael Marquez will step up to create almost a 2-3-2-3 (which sounds bizarre, but is arguably the formation that Pep Guardiola's Manchester City have recently been using).
As for the actual personnel, Osorio's team to face Costa Rica shouldn't be too difficult to decipher, particular with Giovani dos Santos, Hirving Lozano and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona all out. A trip to Trinidad and Tobago afterwards is when Osorio will likely switch away from his normal starters.
Figuring out Osorio's tactics has been quite an adventure since he took over Mexico's managerial post. However, as we near El Tri's first Hexagonal game at Estadio Azteca since the embarrassing Aztecazo of 2013, there are certain players who have been consistent in Osorio's lineups: Hector Moreno, Andres Guardado, Miguel Layun, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Marquez, Corona and Hector Herrera.
Although Herrera is one of Porto's captains, players like Jonathan dos Santos and Orbelin Pineda are in better form than the former Pachuca midfielder.
A 3-4-3 is likely, with Marquez and Jona orchestrating the side from the center. Against a Costa Rica team that will look to close as many spaces as possible, Mexico needs order in the midfield and players who are capable of breaking free after one-on-ones. Carlos Vela and Pineda are therefore picks to be considered to start attacks from the flanks.
Going with a back line of three is expected and the right call, but it's time for Marquez to be left out of the starting XI. Despite his recent historic goal in the 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory over the United States, the veteran is a liability in the defense due to his lack of mobility. In his place, Espanyol's Diego Reyes should easily be able to take over.
In the midfield, Guardado is an undisputed starter who will need to break up opposition pressure and help to create going forward. Jona, who has thrived as right midfielder for Villarreal, is also deserving of a place in the starting lineup.
The only real problem position for Osorio will be in that left-winger/striker role. Without Lozano and Corona, the coach will have to consider some interesting options. Although he doesn't have much experience at national team level, it would be exciting to see 22-year-old Jesus Gallardo given a chance to shine.
On the bench, Raul Jimenez, Jurgen Damm and Pineda should all be serious second-half considerations if Mexico is still looking for a goal.
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