A little over a year ago, it was fairly easy to know how Mexico's national team would line up.
In fact, then-manager Miguel "Piojo" Herrera would regularly tweet out his starting XI the night before matches. At that time, Herrera was synonymous with a 5-3-2 formation, making it simple to know exactly how El Tri would look and play.
Current national team manager Juan Carlos Osorio has turned this idea on its head. Trying to predict his starting XI for any game is a foolish exercise. This summer at Copa America, the Colombian coach utilized three different goalkeepers in three different matches during the group stage.
Such a managing style was unheard of for El Tri, and many claim that Osorio's penchant for rotating players and formations is one of the key reasons why the squad stumbled out of the tournament with a ridiculous 7-0 loss to Chile in the quarterfinals. Regardless of whether that was in fact the culprit, it's tough to anticipate these days what Mexico's starting lineup will be.
With this in mind, I'm going to attempt to peer into the future and predict what Osorio's teams will look like in the upcoming friendlies against New Zealand and Panama. Making this even more difficult is the fact that numerous talented European-based players were given a break and not called up. In their place, fringe and backup options will be fighting over the next few weeks for a spot in next month's World Cup qualifying roster.
Let's take a look at the players Osorio might utilize.
Mexico vs. New Zealand, October 8th
4-3-3: Rodolfo Cota; Jesus Dueñas, Hugo Ayala, Hedgardo Marin, Adrian Aldrete; Marco Fabian, Jesus Molina, Erick Gutierrez; Isaac Brizuela, Alan Pulido, Jesus Gallardo.
Against a New Zealand side that is currently 88th in FIFA rankings, Osorio will be eager to leave some of his best players on the bench for the more difficult match versus Panama.
Saturday's game against the All Whites will be a perfect opportunity to try out newcomers like Cota, Marin, Gallardo, and Gutierrez. Luis Robles is another untested newcomer, one who might be too risky to immediately start in the center of the midfield. Robles can also play as a central defender, but Osorio will likely favor more traditional defenders such as Marin or Ayala.
Dueñas is the clearest option as a right-back, and Aldrete will be given an opportunity to shine at left-back after his recent regular playing time with Cruz Azul. Molina could take care of the defensive midfield position, while Fabian and Gutierrez work together as the two more attack-minded creators.
As for the frontline, Pulido will lead the attack with Brizuela and Gallardo supporting him on the wings.
Predicted score: Mexico defeats New Zealand, 4-1
Mexico vs. Panama, October 11th
4-3-3: Jesus Corona; Jesus Dueñas, Hugo Ayala, Hedgardo Marin, Jorge Torres Nilo; Orbelin Pineda, Jonathan dos Santos, Erick Gutierrez; Giovani dos Santos, Oribe Peralta, Hirving Lozano.
Against Panama, expect Osorio to bring in big names like Peralta, Lozano, and the Dos Santos brothers. At their best, each of the aforementioned four options has the talent to claim a key role on November's World Cup qualifying roster. Although Panama isn't the most daunting side, the manager will likely save these better players for the more difficult of the two friendlies.
Corona, who is arguably the current No. 2 or No. 3 goalkeeping option, should have at least one start in the October friendlies. Ideally Osorio would utilize the veteran against tougher opposition like Los Canaleros. In defense, the only change from the previous match is a starting spot for Torres Nilo. After a disappointing showing in October for El Tri, the Tigres player will need to be at his very best in the backline.
In the midfield, there is plenty of potential with the exciting trio of Gutierrez, Pineda, and Jonathan Dos Santos. While Jonathan could provide coverage and distribution as the defensive midfielder, a Gutierrez–Pineda duo should prove to be a thrilling tandem for creating opportunities.
Up top, there is an immense amount of speed on the wings with Giovani Dos Santos and Lozano. With the two wingers buzzing around on the flanks, Peralta should have plenty of space to roam as the out-and-out striker.
Predicted score: Mexico defeats Panama, 2-0
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