Mexico Starts Hex Against Jamaica

El Tri hosts the Reggae Boyz in their first match of the Hex on Wednesday night
by Brendan Doherty   |   Wednesday, February 06, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

Much like the United States, Mexico has its hands full as it prepares for tonight’s opening Hexagonal World Cup Qualifying match against Jamaica.

Formation

After failing to impress recently in a 4-4-2 formation, Mexico's head coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre will probably line the team up in a 4-2-3-1. Mexico has stuttered while searching for a suitable alternative formation during the World Cup Qualifiers at the tail end of 2012. A 4-4-2 is illusorily similar to the dynamic 4-2-3-1 the team employed to run up the score against teams prior, but it does not allow for the specialization of roles with which Mexico had thrived.

The biggest hurdle Mexico will face against Jamaica is how to break down a stubborn defense. Moving back to a 4-2-3-1 formation with wide attackers and a free forward behind a lone striker will present the best chance for Mexico to play through a defensive Jamaica.

Jamaican threats
Jamaica will use a variation of a 4-5-1 with speedy wingers capable of springing counter attacking moves. Manager Theodore Whitmore will have to rely heavily on his England-based players because the 3 MLS players and 5 Scandinavian-based players are currently out of season. Look for big impacts from the 5 newest Reggae Boyz, who all ply their trade in the English Championship or Premier League.

Up top, Jamaica's selection is a toss-up among Theo Robinson, Jermaine Beckford and Ryan Johnson. Johnson had been starting regularly during the last round of World Cup Qualification, but he may be rusty from his offseason break. Beckford is a streaky forward perhaps best known for an up and down season with Everton in 2010-2011. Robinson is a consistent player at mid-level English Championship side, Derby County, who plays in a 4-4-2. None of these options is ideal for Jamaica's task at hand; a big body who can hold the ball up well and chase down long balls.

In this set-up, Dane Richards would likely play right outside midfield while Garath McCleary could man the left side. This would free Jobi McAnuff to move inside as he has successfully done against Newcastle and Sunderland in the EPL. McAnuff will be Jamaica's best player and Mexico's night, defensively, will likely depend on their ability to close down the Reading midfielder's ability to play the ball wide or slip the striker through the back line. Jamaica will play two deep defensive minded midfielders to sit in front of the defense and break up plays.

Mexico's attacking selections

Chicharito has shown time and again for both Manchester United and Mexico the ability to find gaps and spaces between two central defenders. El Tri's other three attacking players will be crucial for that. If given the proper service, the diminutive striker can dash Jamaica's hopes of grabbing a point up in smoke.

Even when Giovani dos Santos was barely seeing the field in reserve games for Tottenham Hotspur, he was explosive for the national team. Ironically, Gio would spend the first several days of national team camp just getting back into match fitness, but he could still provide the spark the team needed going forward. Now that Gio is getting matches in La Liga and has recently scored his first two goals for Mallorca, he may prove to be more fit, agile and effective than we've seen him before.

Although Andres Guardado has been playing left back more often than left midfield, he is the obvious choice to start on the wing for Chepo de la Torre. Despite a rough patch of form that included an own goal against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey, Guardado has the veteran experience to put together a strong game for Mexico.

On the other wing, Javier Aquino showcased his potential for the national team in the friendly match against Denmark. Aquino's consistent attacking work down the right side was perhaps only eclipsed by Marco Fabian's second half appearance. The winger, recently transferred to Villarreal in the Spanish second division, has earned himself a start on the right side of Mexico's attack.

Unfortunately for Fabian, this leaves him as the odd man out. Fabian will likely be the first substitution made in the game, though, because he can fill in at any of the four attacking positions. The Chivas de Guadalajara product played centrally, up top and on both wings during the fall season, Apertura 2012.

Chicharito, Gio, Guardado and Aquino all fit nearly perfectly into the fluid four attacking roles of the 4-2-3-1 set up Mexico had played through last summer. There is much more

Partner in defense

Hector Moreno is the leader out of the back that every strong team needs. At just 25 years old, Moreno is the solid central defender who can carry Mexico into the future; a player the likes of which the United States is sorely in need. Aside from Moreno, there are several players who could end up starting on Wednesday night.

Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez didn't have much to gain from the friendly match against Denmark, but as it turns out, he clearly had a lot to lose. Prior to the game, Maza was earmarked as a starting central defender at least for World Cup Qualifiers, if not for the World Cup in Brazil itself. After a performance with more hiccups than a veteran should display and one shockingly bad mistake, Maza may have convinced Chepo to pair someone else with Moreno.

Hugo Ayala is a strong bet to start against Jamaica in the center of defense. Ayala didn't have a fantastic game last week, but he didn't make any of the headline grabbing mistakes that Maza did either. Diego Reyes, the young America central defender who is joining Porto in the summer, could be another option if Chepo wants to bleed new players into the squad. Reyes's inexperience could make his inclusion in the starting XI too much of a gamble, but he has the speed to chase down any possible Jamaican counter-attacks.

Mexico's midfielders

Hector Herrera is a dynamic two way central midfield player who can win a crunching tackle and effectively carry the ball forward in the same breath. Playing Herrera alongside more of a stay-at-home defensive midfielder allows Mexico to penetrate Jamaica's backline with a late arriving run from the midfield. The Pachuca midfielder has had transfer rumors swirling around him and performed well with a make-shift cast around him against Denmark.

Carlos Salcido has been a rock in central midfield for the Mexican national team and club side Tigres since returning to Mexico in 2011. Salcido spent his career as a left back so he has a strong defensive mindset and he partnered well with Herrera during the 2012 Olympic Games.

Other options at central midfield include Severo Meza, traditionally a right back who has been playing a defensive-minded midfield position for Monterrey this season, and Diego Reyes, who had been employed as a central midfielder earlier in his career. Meza is a strong possibility if Chepo passes on Salcido or if the veteran tires in the second half. Reyes, on the other hand, would be a stretch at this position given his stature and the physicality of the match.

Problems at fullback

Fullbacks are probably the most wide open positions on the Mexican national team right now and yet they could prove to make the difference against Jamaica. How far the fullbacks push up in support of the attack will be crucial if Jamaica can be successful springing counter-attacks down the flanks.

Paul Aguilar may not have contributed much going forward against Denmark, but the Club America right back has been improving his defensive game and could replicate his past offensive prowess on Wednesday. Chepo may elect to go with Severo Meza who has the experience of playing right back regularly in the previous round of World Cup Qualifying.

In last week's friendly, Jorge Torres Nilo fouled Andreas Cornelius inside the penalty area allowing Denmark to tie the game late and may be dropped in favor of another left back. Torres Nilo does have the experience of 28 appearances for the senior national team and it will be interesting to see how much faith Chepo de la Torre has in the Tigres defender.

Darvin Chavez has put in a solid showing for Monterrey during the last few seasons. Playing primarily as a left back, Chavez started for Mexico at the 2012 Olympic Games and started both legs of the 2011-2012 CONCACAF Champions League finals against Santos Laguna, showing he can handle the pressure of big games.

Diego Reyes has played all 5 games of the current season in Mexico as the left-center back in a system with 3 central defenders. While he is not a natural left back, his versatility and defensive acumen could fit well for a game in which Mexico expects to have a lion's share of possession.

Jesus Corona will probably start as goalkeeper, but Alfredo Talavera's late call-up could signal that he has especially caught Chepo's eye. In this set-up, Mexico will be patient enough going forward to break through Jamaica's defensive wall while remaining responsible in the back.

If all is orchestrated correctly, Mexico will record an easy win against Jamaica on Wednesday night in the Estadio Azteca.

NEXT UP: Mexico vs Jamaica, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico, 9:30 p.m., ESPN 2, Univision.

Brendan DOHERTY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.
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