Mexico interim boss Miguel Herrera entered his only friendly prior to the World Cup playoff with New Zealand in search of evidence.
Herrera declared himself relatively pleased in the wake of the 4-2 triumph over Finland in San Diego, but the totality of the knowledge gained will give him plenty of room for pause. The switch to a 5-3-2 setup and the turnover in personnel inspired the expected uptick in certain areas without erasing all of the lingering problems exposed over the course of the past year.
In the buildup to the two-legged tie next month, Herrera must ponder a few crucial points from this match as he prepares El Tri for an unorthodox test:
1. The most important shift occurred on the ball in the attacking half: Mexico often bogs down when the opposition sets out its stall. The work in possession is tidy enough, but it often lacks the necessary creativity and thrust to break down an organized defense from the run of play. Herrera addressed the concern by directing his players to move more swiftly toward goal. The extra impetus – combined with decent width from the wingbacks – inspired more incisiveness in the final third. It is a tactic Mexico should embrace in the short term, given New Zealand’s willingness to pack numbers behind the ball.
2. No player benefited from the adjustments more than Carlos Peña: The industrious midfielder storms through midfield time and time again for Club León. His driving runs against the Finns – including the work to prompt and score Mexico’s second – provided the spark required to make this new setup hum.
3. The search for a creative influence continues: Luis Montes featured from the start in a role previously earmarked for Lucas Lobos (withdrew due to family matters) and Rubens Sambueza (ruled ineligible by FIFA). Montes influenced the game in the early stages with his work in the buildup to the first two goals, but he faded out of it after that point. Sinha replaced him during the second half and struggled to conjure up chances. Herrera must locate a creative force to aid the efforts to break down New Zealand. Otherwise, Mexico may labor to knock down the door yet again.
4. Javier Hernández remains a key figure up front: Herrera continues to foreshadow rather limited involvement for his European-based players against New Zealand, but he should include Chicharito in his plans. The predatory striker presents more consistent danger in and around the penalty area than his chief competitor, Raúl Jiménez. The combination of Hernández on the prowl early with Oribe Peralta (a mandatory inclusion at this point) and Jiménez over the top late looks like Mexico’s best option up front at the moment.
5. Rickety defense needs reinforcements: The introduction of a third center back did not shore up the persistent issues in defense. There were issues with spacing and stepping all night against a rather impotent Finland side. Both concerns present significant danger given the dearth of pace in the trio of Rafa Márquez, Maza Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela. Herrera ruled out Diego Reyes – a good fit given his familiarity with the system – as a potential savior after the match. If Reyes isn’t coming, then El Tri must opt for Héctor Moreno and search for other alternatives to strengthen a defensive unit that cannot afford to give the All Whites a foothold in Mexico City.
(Images courtesy: Getty Images)