After scoring nine goals in his first nine matches since moving to PSV Eindhoven, Hirving Lozano seems like a must-start for Mexico.
Ahead of high-profile friendly matches against Belgium and Poland, it's unclear if El Tri manager Juan Carlos Osorio feels the same way.
Lozano came into the October friendly window in excellent form and was on the bench against Trinidad & Tobago before entering the match and scoring in a 3-0 victory. In that game, he was put into emergency right back duty, something "El Chucky" pulled off against the Soca Warriors but will be less likely to do against two teams in the top 10 of the FIFA rankings.
It's not that Osorio doesn't respect Lozano. He clearly is thrilled to have an asset like Lozano as part of his team. Starting over Jesus Corona, Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos or any combination of other attackers, is still no guarantee though. Lozano's sterling start in Europe changes the equation, but he started only three times during World Cup qualification and was in Osorio's XI once during the Confederations Cup.
"First of all, Hirving's great form doesn't surprise us. He's a magnificent player with extraordinary conditions, a spectacular human being," Osorio said at Thursday's news conference. "He's the typical example of a Mexican player who needs a chance, not only because a foreign club wants him but also because the club he belongs [to] is willing to be flexible, understands that that's for the good of the player and Mexican soccer because the more players you have playing in Europe the better the national team will be, independent of whether it's [coached by] Osorio or another of the very good Mexican coaches there are.
"Hirving's case is an example to follow for a lot of players and hopefully we can [have others follow], first with his good showings winning the right to go to another league, another club - obviously the Dutch league and PSV are very respectable - but in his personal growth he should get into other leagues like the Spanish, German, the Premier League, hopefully one of the top five clubs in these leagues or the Italian league. Hopefully other players can do the same."
For all the stunning showings Lozano has had, there are still some deficiencies to improve upon before he breaks through in a league like the top ones Osorio mentioned. Lozano surely is enjoying life in Europe where far fewer defenders resort to the tactics they did in Liga MX, making him the most fouled player in the league during multiple campaigns. Those fouls also took him out of action because of injuries on multiple occasions. Still, he's been marked out of matches by more physical defenders - the same kind he would face in the Premier League.
"We knew Hirving had the skills to be able to succeed in European football," Pachuca vice president Andres Fassi told MedioTiempo this week. "We knew that Dutch football is a style that fits well with the type of game he plays, that he'd adapt really quickly. Everybody could see his footballing ability, his explosiveness, his goal-scoring, his temperament." Fassi, who helped facilitate Lozano's sale from the Tuzos, also predicted Lozano will become one of the 10 best forwards in the world.
Lozano's defensive skills leave something to be desired. That's been fine for attack-minded PSV but is more of a worry in a Mexico team that not only spends more time on the back foot than his club does, but also has a fullback situation that is complicated at best with few quality defenders behind the wingers. Lozano has long played on the left side for his country, but even though he's right-footed and Osorio likes to invert his wingers he has mostly lined up on the right for El Tri. Osorio might be tempted to have Lozano and Porto winger Corona swap sides from the go rather than during games if things aren't working.
With Mexico's friendly contests against Belgium and Poland coming just three days apart, it's unlikely any player will play long stretches in both games. Yet as Lozano continues to develop into the player both Osorio and Fassi believe he can, his spot in the Mexico starting XI will become more and more secure. His hot start in Europe may convince Osorio that if not in these November games, Lozano will be one of the first names on his team sheet when he's aligning his team in Russia.