Mirror, mirror? Mexico encounters Paraguay team with similar style thanks to managers' roots

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Fredric J. Brown
Tata Martino and Eduardo Berizzo were heavily influenced by Marcelo Bielsa at Newell's and are implementing those ideas with their new teams

When Mexico lines up against Paraguay on Tuesday, it will look across the midfield line and see a team that looks a lot like itself.

Paraguay, like El Tri, is starting a new cycle with a manager currently more focused on establishing a style of play than getting results. It's the second game with that coach, Eduardo Berizzo, in place, and they'll be looking for the ball. Mexico manager Tata Martino felt that strategy was worth laying out to a press corps often used to seeing teams from smaller countries sit back and hope for the best against El Tri.

"Something worth explaining is that Paraguay isn’t going to defend. Paraguay isn’t going to sit back," Martino said at Monday's pre-match news conference. "They’re going to put on the high press and surely in Eduardo’s mind is being able to repeat the showing his team had in the second half against Peru and not in the first half against Peru."

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Martino knows well how Berizzo thinks about the game. It's not all that different from the thoughts that go through his own mind. A veteran Tata and a fresh-faced "Toto" played on the same Newell's Old Boys teams under Marcelo Bielsa, learning from a manager who eventually would spawn a coaching tree that, in addition to the two national team coaches, includes Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, whom he coached at Newell's, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone and River Plate boss Marcelo Gallardo, whom he coached with the Argentine national team.

By this point the tenets held by "Bielsistas" are well-known. There's the rush to create numerical superiority in a zone often with the fullbacks pushing up, the pressing after losing possession and, above all, the desire to have the ball.

"If I have to choose how to attack, I'd like to do it with possession of the ball, not sitting back and hoping to get the ball as well. You have to recover it, but I like to use possession to attack. I believe that if you dominate the ball, you dominate the game - and if you use it well with movement, imagination, you hurt the opponent," Berizzo said on Monday. "It's an idea I believe in. Not everyone plays the same way, and all the ways of playing are valid.

"Gerardo, for example, also adheres to this idea. It's a team that always bets on coming out to play for the respect of the game's aesthetic and that's where we find ourselves. Two similar styles will face each other, where always for one side or the other the balance tilts toward the good players, the players who connect with other good players and make a good team."

Both coaches are still in the process of forming what they hope will be good teams, with only one match under their belts, a 3-1 win for Mexico over Chile and a 1-0 loss to Peru for the Albirroja. 

Paraguay turned to the former Atheltic and Sevilla coach after an abrupt falling out with former Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio, while Mexico waited until Martino's season with Atlanta United was wrapped up to bring in the former Barcelona, Argentina and Paraguay manager also to replace Osorio.

Tata Martino Jorge Sanchez Mexico

Each manager is still getting to know his respective team and both are expected to make big changes from the squads used in last week's friendly games. Martino called in 28 players (actually 29, but Jesus Corona didn't travel across the Atlantic) and wants to see how those players respond to match action. He has limited time ahead of the Gold Cup in the summer, with Berizzo up against the same time crunch ahead of the Copa America. In Martino's case, however, no one will win or lose a spot on the Gold Cup roster with their showing at Levi's Stadium.

"Nobody is playing in one game for the chance to stay or go. That's one of the questions that I'd like for my players to know. Nobody in 90 minutes or 30 or 60 is playing for their future," Martino said. "The future of a national team is formed by accumulating performances, by solidity in their seasons, a national team player is formed. He learns to be a national team player by playing in the conditions over time.

"If there's someone that is out of the roster, it's because there definitely is always someone out. You have to decide because there's a list of 23. But nobody who is in the team right now is guaranteed to be in the Gold Cup, and nobody who is out of the Gold Cup won't be considered for the future."

Martino hopes that playing his old friend will be a good test for those players who may be more on the fringe of the national team. They'll have a chance to demonstrate they understand and adapt well to the style of play he wants, in the face of a team trying to do the same.

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