Tom Marshall: Working through Mexico’s attacking options

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Tom Marshall: Working through Mexico’s attacking options
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Tom Marshall: Working through Mexico’s attacking options

Which players should be charged with firing Mexico’s attack going into World Cup qualifying? How should the Mexican offense be set up?

Those are questions that have been the subject of much debate, especially off the back of recent games when El Tri has struggled against teams “parking the bus.” This Wednesday in the Estadio Azteca, you can bet your bottom dollar that Jamaica will employ a similar tactic, while trying to hit El Tri on the break with swift counter-attacks.

How can Mexico break down such teams?

The crux of the debate for Mexico is whether it should play two strikers, or set up as Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre used to, with one main striker and a creative attacking midfielder floating behind.

It was the 1-0 defeat to the United States in the Estadio Azteca in August that changed something for Chepo.

Before that game, Mexico played Javier Hernandez as the goal-scoring poacher, with Giovani Dos Santos, Andres Guardado and Pablo Barrera the attacking accomplices charged with providing chances for the Manchester United man.

That was how El Tri set up against the United States and dominated the game. Even hardcore U.S. fans would admit as much. But poor finishing and a lack of cohesion led to frustration for El Tri in the final third. Then a late, swift U.S. counter handed Mexico’s northern neighbors an important psychological victory.

Those kinds of games happen and will continue to happen. Even Barcelona sometimes has off days and can’t break teams down, like in the Champions League this season against Benfica and Celtic.

But Chepo reacted tactically to that defeat against the U.S., despite the Mexico camp stressing that the game was only a friendly. Since then, Chepo has been searching for a Plan B, another another way of breaking teams down that face Mexico with the intention of doing exactly what the Stars and Stripes did back in August.

In all of the five games since, El Tri has started with two out-and-out strikers (two of either Javier Hernandez, Oribe Peralta, and Aldo de Nigris). The team has scored 11 goals and conceded only once. That’s an enviable record, on paper.

But the other reality is that El Tri has scored just once in the first half of those games and has produced some frustrating displays against below-average opposition.

Connecting midfield to the forwards has been problematic, with Mexico’s play often predictable.

One of the biggest headaches Chepo wrestles with is Oribe Peralta, with the indisputable talent and quality the Santos Laguna player has. The coach has attempted to play Peralta alongside another striker, but the chemistry between him and Chicharito hasn’t been on display, at least so far.

A more fluid 4-2-3-1 adds a sense of unpredictability about Mexico in the final third.

It’s not that Peralta has done anything wrong, but he should be sacrificed to the substitutes bench for the upcoming qualifiers to restore a system that better suits Mexico’s talent pool.

Chicharito’s movement as the main striker is sufficient to keep two center backs occupied and allows the trio behind him to wreak havoc.

Andres Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos and Javier Aquino have the speed, creativity and technical ability to make CONCACAF defenses dizzy.

Playing with Hector Herrera in the center of midfield would fit perfectly, adding a player that compliments the attack, has excellent vision to provide assists, and possesses the stamina and speed to get up and down the pitch.

Of course, the Peralta option is always there and it’s a luxury to have a player of his quality on the bench. For now though, the 4-2-3-1 seems the best option for Mexico going into the 2013 World Cup qualification campaign.


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