Just how should Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre set up his team for what has become a must-win games against bitter rival the United States on Tuesday?
The pressure is on after the 2-2 tie last Friday against Honduras and regular starting center back Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez and left back Jorge Torres Nilo are both out through suspension, necessitating some changes from Chepo, as he seeks his first victory in the Hexagonal phase of World Cup qualifying.
The choice at center back position is between 20-year-old Diego Reyes, the experienced Jonny Magallon and Tigres’ Hugo Ayala.
Playing Magallon would be a huge decision after his three-and-a-half year hiatus from the national team, while Reyes hasn’t even made his full international debut yet.
With that in mind, everything seems to point to Ayala making his first competitive start for El Tri. He seems the natural choice given that he was picked ahead of Reyes in January’s 1-1 friendly draw against Denmark.
Moving to left back, Chepo didn’t name any direct replacement for Torres Nilo in his squad, likely signaling he believes Carlos Salcido can slot right into his old, and many would say natural, position.
The other option is moving Andres Guardado into defense from the left wing, but considering he posed one of the greatest threats going forward against Honduras, the tendency may just to be to leave the Valencia player in the more attacking position. It’s worth noting that Salcido and Guardado have shown much on-field chemistry down the left flank in days gone by.
If Salcido does move to left back, it creates an obvious hole in the midfield and this is where Chepo’s thoughts as to how he sees the match will be on display.
The generally defense-minded Jesus Zavala is set to keep his place and has performed well for Mexico, but the spot alongside him would seem to be between Gerardo Torrado and Hector Herrera.
Torrado brings a wealth of experience and leadership and the Cruz Azul man will battle and toil all evening doing the team’s dirty work in the engine room.
But considering Mexico is at home, Hector Herrera better fits the bill to replace Salcido. The Pachuca player is able to contribute defensively and possesses the vision to launch attacks. His temperament in his fledgling career has been exceptional so far and he shouldn’t be overawed in any way by the occasion.
Carlos Pena and Jesus Molina are the other options in central midfield, but both, on paper, are behind Herrera in Chepo’s pecking order.
No run down of the debates over El Tri’s selection would be near complete without mention of the goalkeeping position.
Guillermo Ochoa or Jesus Corona? Memo or Chuy? Both are on form, but Chepo could be swayed to give Corona the armband considering that captain Rodriguez is out. He did a fine job captaining the Olympic team in London last summer.
At the other end of the pitch, the Honduras game was further evidence that playing Javier Hernandez as a lone striker with Giovani Dos Santos playing off him is Mexico’s most dangerous setup at present in this Carlos Vela-less era.
Dos Santos’ roaming forces opposition players out of position and Chicharito’s movement and predatory instinct can take advantage.
Breaking it all down, what follows is a predicted starting XI for El Tri on Tuesday. Just keep in mind that Chepo can be an unpredictable coach.
Mexico: Corona (C), Meza, Ayala, Moreno, Salcido, Zavala, Herrera, Guardado, Aquino, Dos Santos, Chicharito
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