Analyzing Mexico’s Attacking Midfield Options Ahead of the World Cup

As the World Cup approaches, thoughts turn to Mexico’s preparations and the squad that will be taken to Russia. The attacking midfield positions are some of the most hotly contested, with Juan Carlos Osorio having plenty of varied creative options. Assuming that Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Jesús “Tecatito” Corona and Carlos Vela will all make the 23-man squad, and that Víctor Guzmán won’t be fully fit and ready, let’s take a look of some of the other players available, using Performance 100 data to assist analysis.

The experienced

Experience

With over 100 appearances for Mexico, few have the experience of Giovani dos Santos. At 28, in theory this should be Gio’s World Cup, the one where the precocious talent reaches the peak of his powers. This appears highly unlikely though, with recent performances for El Tri and LA Galaxy extremely underwhelming. There are question marks over the desire of the ex-Barcelona youngster, and even more questions regarding whether or not he’s deserving of a place in Russia. Statistically, dos Santos’ numbers from the 2017 MLS season are clearly distinctive to the attacking midfielders he’s being compared to in this article. Gio’s Performance 100 map arguably looks more like one of a central midfielder, rather than an attacking midfielder.

Attacking output (crosses, shots, dribbles, etc) is low, with 68.9 of Gio’s 100 possessions resulting in a non-key, or regular, pass. Efficiency is good, with low numbers for missed passes and failed dribbles and crosses (cross efficiency is quite extraordinary), but the data suggests that recently dos Santos has simply not provided enough creativity to significantly impact matches. An improvement at the start of this MLS season is critical for Gio to nail down his place.

The main concern about Marco Fabián is fitness, with the ex-Chivas creator having played just 23 minutes of Bundesliga football this season. As a result, the graphic looks at Fabián’s stats from 2016-17 in the Bundesliga. Marco impressed last season with his cross efficiency, and although he failed more dribbles than he completed, Fabián was fouled extremely regularly for Eintracht Frankfurt. Perhaps the most impressive stat is the one in the top left corner though, 1.1 goals + assists per 100 possessions, one of the best figures for the players compared in this article, and that’s come whilst playing in the Bundesliga. Marco’s also displayed flexibility during his spell in Germany, often playing on the right-side of the midfield, after spending the vast majority of his career so far through the middle or coming inside from the left. However, Fabián’s low key pass figure is concerning, and surprising.

Javier Aquino displays the numbers of a winger who’s more involved in the early build-up of an attack, rather than latter stages. Aquino rarely attempts shots on goal, and his goals and assists per 100 possessions figure is just 0.44. This makes sense considering the role he plays at Tigres, with the likes of Eduardo Vargas, André-Pierre Gignac and Enner Valencia more advanced. In terms of efficiency, essentially the comparison of successful actions with unsuccessful ones, Aquino sits above the average Liga MX winger in terms of; dribbles, crosses, key passes vs. failed passes and fouls received v dispossessions.

However, the Tigres man doesn’t stand-out as excelling in any part of the game, and whilst consistent good performances can be expected from Aquino, perhaps his lack of a major strength will stand against him as Osorio puts together his World Cup squad. Javier’s defensive capabilities and work rate may salvage his hopes of making it to Russia though. Aquino is known for being able to contribute more defensively than the average attacking midfielder, and his rate of 1.38 clearances per 100 possessions backs up this claim.

The wingers

wingers

It’s rare to see out-and-out wingers completing more dribbles than they fail, but his superb dribble stat isn’t enough to make up for the lack of efficiency in the rest of Jesús Gallardo‘s game. 6.39 failed crosses per 100 possessions for 1.33 completed is a very poor rate, and the low figures for key passes and shots on goal, plus the huge numbers of missed passes, don’t impress. Gallardo may not lose the ball too often when taking on opponents, but there’s been a remarkable lack of end product to his game this season. Considering Gallardo’s height and flexibility, as he can also fill in at left-back (the high clearance figure suggests he’s played in defence at times this season), JCO will likely consider the Pumas man as an option for Russia. But judging by his Performance 100 numbers, which are clearly below the average Liga MX winger, he shouldn’t be given a second glance.

Part of a direct León side, Eliás Hernández evidently creates enormous attacking output, with his non key pass circle smaller than any other player featured in this article. Elías has long been regarded as a superb creator, via crosses and through balls, and his Performance 100 data backs up this belief. Key pass and completed cross numbers are huge, and whilst Hernández does fail a cross 12.7 times out of every 100 occasions that he receives possession, his cross efficiency is still well above average. The average cross efficiency for a Liga MX winger would result in 16.9 failed crosses for 5.47 completions, Elías is performing considerably better than that. These crosses, key passes, and shots, are having impact when it matters most as well, with 1.9 goals and assists per 100 possessions.

Elías appears an excellent option for Mexico if Osorio wants a player that can regularly create opportunities, however, there’s concern over his quality with the ball at his feet. Dribble efficiency is low, dispossessions are high and the León winger barely wins fouls. If Hernández is struggling when taking on defenders in Liga MX, the World Cup is perhaps a step too far.

For those that have long criticised Jurgen Damm of failing to back up his blistering pace with consistent attacking output, these stats provide some vindication. Dispossessions are, somewhat surprisingly, very low, but all other figures don’t make for pleasant reading. Particularly concerning is Damm’s 15% cross success rate, and it’s difficult to see what else Jurgen can offer El Tri. Considering a lack of game time this campaign, it may be felt that purely looking at Damm’s 2017-18 data would be harsh on the right-winger. Fortunately, the tweet from Soccer Nurds, below, compares Damm’s three previous seasons.

DUVwXJtVwAArOAS (2)

A clear regression in performances can be seen when comparing Jurgen Damm’s previous three Liga MX campaigns with Tigres. Back in 2015-16, Damm certainly looked good enough to be considered for a Mexico call-up, but banking on him re-discovering that form would be a risky decision.

The outsiders

outsiders

If Osorio is looking for an attacking midfielder that can play in multiple roles, Rodolfo Pizarro must be considered. Pizarro, who began his career as a right-back, can play as a traditional ‘number ten’, a direct inside-forward, regularly attempting to get in-behind opposition defences, and even a box-to-box midfielder. Wherever he plays, the Chivas man offers excellent dribbling ability (the highest number of completions per 100 possessions in this comparison), creativity and good shooting proficiency, as his stats show. Pizarro also has impressive stamina, speed and work ethic.

Statistically, the main concern is the large dispossessions number. Dispossessions are occasions when possession is lost whilst a player isn’t attempting a dribble, pass, cross or shot. Exactly why Rodolfo’s dispossession figure is so high is unclear, but it’s certainly a worry that he’s losing the ball at such regularity. Furthermore, whilst the tactically flexible Osorio will probably like Pizarro’s ability to play in multiple roles, it could be seen as a weakness of his game. Pizarro may benefit in the future by specialising in a certain role and maximising his talents that are specific to this role.

View image on Twitter 

Arturo “Ponchito” González was a forgotten name. A prospect of yesteryear failing to receive regular football in an outstanding Monterrey team. But all has changed in recent weeks. Ponchito has worked his way into Antonio “Turco” Mohamed’s starting line-up, and has even prompted Turco to alter his formation in some recent matches, using Ponchito as a ‘number ten’ in a 4-2-3-1, rather than the 4-3-3 we usually saw in the Apertura. Arturo has impressed, and statistically dribble and shot efficiency is excellent, as is Ponchito’s 4.91 key passes per 100 possessions. On the other hand, figures for missed passes, failed crosses and dispossessions are rather high. Certainly an outside option, but whilst these stats wouldn’t instantly attract attention from Osorio, if Marco Fabián isn’t fully fit and Giovani dos Santos is deemed to be too out of form, then Ponchito might become a possible ‘number ten’ option.

Javier “Chofis” López has phenomenal numbers this season. Just compare him to teammate Rodolfo Pizarro. More shots on goal per 100 possessions, with fewer missed shots, slightly fewer dribbles completed for significantly less fails, not far off twice as many key passes, more crosses at a much better completion rate, around half the number of dispossessions andmore fouls received. Chofis greatly outperforms Pizarro, and stands out amongst the attacking midfield competition in this piece. One stat raises alarm bells though. Despite this fantastic attacking output, at incredible efficiency, Chofis gets a goal or an assist just 0.55 times out of every 100 possessions. Nearly half Rodolfo Pizarro’s figure, with the pair averaging almost identical possessions per 90 minutes. There’s an element of misfortune about this figure, Chofis has picked up two assists from seven big chances created, with Pizarro getting six assists from the creation of eight big chances.

Evidently Lopez’s Chivas teammates are failing to regularly put home the opportunities that he makes. However, it’s curious that Pizarro has created eight big chances from 41 key passes, whilst Chofis has seven big chances created from 68 key passes. The data suggests that Chofis is creating more, at greater efficiency, but Pizarro’s creations are more likely to result in goals. Analysis of expected assists would be required to dig deeper. Chofis is yet to become the complete package as a creative player, but his Performance 100 numbers prove that López is a fantastic attacking midfield option, who deserves lengthy consideration for the 2018 World Cup squad. As an unknown quantity to the rest of the world, he has the potential to provide a surprise spark to the Mexico attack.

Piece by contributor Tom Harrison – follow him on twitter at @tomh_36

The Performance 100 idea was developed by Tom Harrison, with raw data provided by Sofascore and graphics produced by Soccer Nurds

England Hold Their Breath As The World Cup Draw Nears

Getting ready for the draw (Image from FIFA)With the World Cup draw happening tomorrow, nerves in the England camp are at an all time high.  England’s fate will be decided at 5pm (GMT) in Bahia, Brazil so in advance BOTN explores what could be England’s worst group.  Using the existing pools (England are in pot 4) and based on the various rules and regulations attached to the draw itself, here is the “Group of Death” for England. It features Spain from Pot 1, Chile from Pot 2 and Mexico form Pot 3 with England filling the final place from Pot 4.

Current World Cup holders, Spain  (Image from Getty)

Current World Cup holders, Spain
(Image from Getty)

The current World and European champions are amongst those in pot one that could pose a real threat to England’s chances. In fact all eight teams, with the possible exception of Switzerland will be a serious threat to England’s qualification hopes. Spain have talent in abundance and are incredibly hard to break down due to their intense passing game. Xavi and Iniesta are likely to dominate the play with Fabergas and Mata as support options. At the back, they have a solid backline with centre back pairing Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos causing problems for opposition strikers, roaming just in front of Casillas, Reina or Valdes in goal. Upfront Spain’s rich talent pool continues with the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa, Fernando Llorente and  Roberto Soldado to name a few offering options. Adding to this mix is newly converted Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa who has been in blistering form so far this season. The Brazilian born striker, who recently pledged his allegiance to Spain instead of his homeland, has forged a successful partnership with David Villa for Atletico. This surely gives Spanish head coach Vicente del Bosque food for thought on whether he should unleash the pair for Spain during next summer’s tournament.

Diego Costa and David Villa  (Image from AFP Getty Images)

Diego Costa and David Villa
(Image from AFP Getty Images)

Chile tested England in their last trip to Wembley just under a month ago as Alexis Sanchez backed up his talking off the pitch with a sublime performance. The Barcelona striker made a sly remark about England’s pathway system for future footballers stating how it was too easy for youngsters to join academies and automatically play for a club in the future. In Chile the academy system is nowhere near as advanced as it is in England but appears to be producing the goods. At Wembley they convincingly beat England 2-0, throwing Roy Hodgson’s plans into disarray. Although England chose to field an altered side for the match allowing them to test some new faces, it was a huge win for the South American’s who have shown with the emergence of star players like Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Felipe Gutiérrez and Gary Medal that they are a future force in world football.  Pot 3 may be considered to be the weakest pot but within them lies the stinging tail of Mexico who could relinquish all hope for England. With a squad made up of established stars and Olympic winning youthful exuberance, Mexico are considered to be one of the tournaments dark horses. Despite taking a rocky path in qualifying, Mexico’s strength is their desire to succeed which makes them a dangerous opponent.  Upfront, Mexico can call upon Manchester United’s  Javier Hernandez, Valencia’s Giovani Dos Santos or Santos Laguna’s Oribe Peralta to score the goals needed to progress.  In midfield, head coach Miguel Herrera mixes experience in the form of Andres Guardado (who is one game off his century for his country) with up and coming stars like Porto’s Héctor Herrera with some success. He could also spring a few surprises with his final squad selection if Erick Torres or Marco Fabian make the cut. Both players are good examples of the rich talent that Mexico is producing and that England needs to be aware of if they draw them in the World Cup.  

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England  (Image from PA)

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England
(Image from PA)

In the World Cup, there is no such thing as an easy team as England have found out in the past. There are various other teams who pose a threat to England’s chances of progression, most noticeably host’s Brazil, a Messi inspired Argentina and arch rivals, Germany. But some of the dark horses could also cause problems such as the Ivory Coast or Ecuador. Ivory Coast has plenty of talent including Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, Roma’s Gervinho and CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia. They will be no pushovers, nor will Ecuador who are an improving side and will be a lot tougher than the last time England played them in 2006. Antonio Valencia and Vitesse’s Renato Ibarra are two talented wingers with lots of pace to burn plus with Felipe Caicedo up front, Ecuador could be a real threat. The country is still hurting from the death of legend Christian Benetiz so will be approaching the World Cup with a desire to do well for his memory. The USA are also amongst the group of teams who could be a potential danger as England found out in 2010 in South Africa. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann has spent the past few years experimenting with different players but now has established a nucleus of talent like Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley that he is building his team around. Added into this the emergence of Brek Shea, Terrance Boyd and Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore, Klinsmann has a strong group that is ready and prepared for the World Cup next year.

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw  (Image from Getty)

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw
(Image from Getty)

Hodgson and England will be hoping to avoid such a nightmare by drawing a generous group such as Switzerland, Algeria and Iran. Based on previous draws, England has had luck on their side but can it hold for Brazil? Interestingly one team in pot 4 will be moved into pot 2 just before the draw starts. This is to allow for 4 groups of eight and a somewhat easier drawing process. That said, it is still quite confusing as FIFA will not allow a group to have more than two European teams in it so adjustments will need to be made, ruling out the three European teams in Pot 1 being pulled.  If England were chosen for Pot 2, it could play in their favour or perhaps not. Either way, Hodgson is unlikely to get any sleep tonight as he worries about who his team will face next summer.

Blog by Richard Waterhouse

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Erick Torres Planning On Taking The World By Storm

On Fire: Erick Torres (Image from Getty)Mexico’s surprise win at last year’s Olympic Games highlighted a new batch of Mexican players about to take the football world by storm. Players like Marco Fabian, Nestor Araujo, Raul Jimenez and Jorge Enríquez all made a name for themselves at the Games and have attracted interest from clubs across the globe. But one player who didn’t make the squad is now blazing his own path in a quest to make himself known to the world and is doing a good job of it too. Erick Torres exploits on loan for Chivas USA have been nothing short of breathtaking and is starting to attract the gaze of foreign scouts from Europe’s biggest clubs. The young striker has been compared recently to another Mexican striker, Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez due to their similarity in their style of playing and his rapid success months after his debut. Like Hernandez, Torres is bursting with energy and lethal in the penalty box, making him one of the brightest prospects in Mexican football. Possessing an abundance of pace and flair as well as incredible close control, Torres looks set to become one of the worlds’s most feared strikers.

Follow my lead: Javier Hernandez leads the way  (Image from Getty)

Follow my lead: Javier Hernandez leads the way
(Image from Getty)

Born in Guadalajara, it seemed only right that Torres first club would be that of his home town. After starting in the youth teams, Torres was quickly promoted in 2010 to the first team as one of the most promising youngsters the club has ever produced. He made his official debut in the Mexican Primera División in November of that year against C.F. Monterrey, and marked his appearance in style with a debut goal which helped to salvage a point. That season he ended with 6 goals from 20 appearances including a stunning brace against Querétaro in March 2011 and a debut Super Clasico goal against arch-rivals América in a stunning 3-0 victory. The following season, Torres led the line for Guadalajara alongside Marco Fabian, finishing the season with 7 goals from 20 appearances. This form persuaded Chivas USA in the MLS to arrange a season long loan deal for the player, which has already started to pay dividends. Torres made his debut against Toronto and in usual Torres style marked it with the winning goal. He has continued in that vein with another 5 strikes in his last 6 games including a brace last Sunday against Vancouver. His first goal in that match highlighted the skill and talent he possesses as he scored with a stunning bicycle kick from the edge of the area, perfectly executed and simply unstoppable.

Torres scores against Seattle  (Image from Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports)

Torres scores against Seattle earlier this season
(Image from Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite his young age, Torres has already had success at international level at various levels, first captaining Mexico’s under 17 squad at the 2010 Milk Cup in Northern Ireland, before moving on to join Mexico’s Under 20’s squad at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup where he helped Mexico to a third place finish. Despite missing out on a place in the Olympic squad, Torres has his heart set on making his full senior debut for Mexico in the not so distant future. With Mexico lying third in the CONCACAF group behind the USA and Costa Rica with four games left to play, Torres may get his shot, especially if his form for Chivas continues.

To see Torres bicycle kick, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6gIrl4r3R0

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