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Tom Marshall: Defensive midfield options for Mexico

After Juan Carlos Medina's injury, El Tri has a number of options to fill one of the most important roles in Miguel Herrera's system.

Juan Carlos Medina seemed to nail down his national team starting spot after coming on at halftime on April 2 against the United States.

A player that knows Mexico coach Miguel Herrera from their time at Club America, Medina plugged the defensive midfield hole that Michael Bradley had exploited at will against Jesus Zavala in the first 45 minutes.

But Medina’s injury to his right ankle – after the 23-player squad had been announced – handed Herrera a problem. Who would fill the gap?

Against Israel last Wednesday, it was Andres Guardado who got the chance to play in a position he had never played before.

He was good on the ball, sprite in his passing, but Guardado even admitted after the game that it is more difficult than it looks, especially with Mexico’s 5-3-2 system – not one that most players are brought up playing in.

The defensive midfield is on his own shielding the three center backs in Herrera’s system. Reading the game is key. One of the center backs – usually Rafa Marquez – may step up into midfield, while the two other midfielders ahead are given license to move towards the wings and further forward.

The wingbacks may both be in the attacking third, meaning the defensive midfielder must be disciplined and be constantly aware of the movement ahead of him, plus offering himself for the ball when the team has possession.

It is unlikely Guardado is the answer, especially when up against teams that like to have to ball, such as Brazil and Croatia.

On Saturday against Ecuador, Hector Herrera got the job, with the coach saying beforehand that the Porto player would get that game to prove himself. Then, Leon’s Jose Juan Vazquez would start Tuesday’s match against Bosnia.

Herrera has played a deeper role at club level, but that was with another midfielder alongside him, not being so isolated.

Like Guardado, Herrera was good on the ball but at times didn’t look completely confident in terms of positioning, although he does now look to be a genuine contender for the position. He even picked up the man of the match award.

Ironically, one thing that goes against the former Pachuca player was his performance in the last 23 minutes when “Gallito” Vazquez came off the bench, and Herrera moved into one of the attacking midfield positions.

Herrera looked to be brimming with confidence and it was perhaps no coincidence that Mexico scored twice after the switch.

Vazquez certainly deserves a chance to prove himself against Bosnia.

The 26-year-old has risen from a poverty-stricken childhood to winning back-to-back championships with Club Leon. Vazquez has been a major part of his club’s success, becoming the rock in the anchor role from which Carlos Pena and Luis Montes can attack for La Fiera.

Gustavo Matosas’ system for Leon is also very similar to that of Herrera, with two more attack minded midfielders ahead of the holding midfielder, who glues it all together.

The major concern, however, is that Vazquez is unproven at international level. How he will be able to deal with the talent Brazil and Croatia possess in midfield?

Unless Vazquez has a disastrous performance on Tuesday, it seems to be a risk worth taking and would provide a platform for Herrera and Marco Fabian ahead of him.

It is the most balanced and practical option Mexico currently has in the center of the field. 

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