Picking a starting XI for Mexico against Poland will not be an easy exercise for Juan Carlos Osorio.
The Mexico manager is without five outfield players he called to the original squad that clinched a 3-3 draw with Belgium. To add to the challenge, he also faces a Poland team that poses totally different threats than Belgium did, and El Tri will do so with only two days of rest between the two contests.
During his pre-match news conference, Osorio said he and his coaching staff are considering playing with a three or five-man back line. Osorio also said Hirving Lozano may not be guaranteed a start, despite his fine performance against Belgium. "El Chucky" wasn't substituted out of that game until stoppage time and needs to return fresh to PSV to continue his excellent start to the season. A substitute role may be more likely.
This also looks like a game that would suit Jesus Corona in goal, but with the home side also possessing size and being good in the air he could hand a second consecutive start to Guillermo Ochoa.
Let's see how Mexico could line up against Poland on Monday:
Reyes stays in midfield
Mexico has seen a large variety of players come into the defense when it has played with three at the back. It was just over a year ago that Yasser Corona was starting at left center back during a major tournament. Oswaldo Alanis did the same this summer. Neither worked out particularly well. This grouping of Hector Moreno, Nestor Araujo and Carlos Salcedo may be the best back three on paper — though maybe you'd worry about Araujo being in the center — that Mexico can offer.
If Porto's Diego Reyes pushes into the middle, he can provide support. He also, despite playing there for both country and club at various points for years, still never looks totally comfortable in front of the back line but improved as the game against Belgium wore on. Giving him more minutes could help him finally lock in as a midfielder at the national team level. If he falters, both Andres Guardado and Jonathan dos Santos around him can provide defensive assistance.
We have an interesting issue at wingback, though. Salcedo may stay further wide with another center back like Tigres defender Hugo Ayala coming into the back three. But Salcedo has been playing right center back with Frankfurt, and Pumas winger/left back Jesus Gallardo continues to show progress as a defender. It might be worth flipping Miguel Layun from the left side to the right side and giving Gallardo his biggest test since the coaching staff started the defender experiment with the Pumas man.
Return to 3-4-3
El Tri tried a formation similar to this against New Zealand at the Confederations Cup a few months ago and experienced limited success. Still, there aren't a ton of options, and Osorio may want to see if this could be viable for future tournaments.
The back line has Diego Reyes dropping back into the middle of a three-man back line with Hector Moreno and Nestor Araujo around him. Carlos Salcedo could be an option as the RCB as well, but for now we have him out wide.
Osorio even could drop Layun and Salcedo and go with more attacking players out wide. That would mean a start for Tigres winger Javier Aquino, who was on the left wing when Mexico faced New Zealand in this alignment, or perhaps time for Jurgen Damm on the left. Poland is a better attacking team than New Zealand, though, so if he does use this formation he may be tempted to keep more defensive players on the wings to make sure Poland doesn't break loose.
Stay with four
This may be as close as Osorio gets to the team he started with Friday against Belgium, but instead of a 4-2-3-1 shape the team would begin working in its traditional 4-3-3. While Poland does have attacking threats, the absence of Robert Lewandowski or Arkadiusz Milik means less pressure on his defenders - and less of a need to have two holding players in front of them.
It gives Reyes an even bigger role in defensive midfield than he had three days ago, with Guardado playing further forward instead of pairing with him in the middle. Salcedo would get additional reps as a pure right back, rather than the RCB spot where he plays with his club.
We have Lozano back in the starting XI, which may not happen because of fatigue and concerns about sending him back to PSV having played such a heavy workload. Oribe Peralta could start wide, or Jimenez may push to the right, Vela swap to the left and "El Cepillo" up top if Osorio is concerned about "El Chucky" Lozano getting enough rest.