Liga MX: Time for Piojo to change his tactics for America

LEON, MEXICO - AUGUST 22: Miguel Herrera, Head Coach of America gestures during the 6th round match between Leon and America as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Leon Stadium on August 22, 2018 in Leon, Mexico. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images)
LEON, MEXICO - AUGUST 22: Miguel Herrera, Head Coach of America gestures during the 6th round match between Leon and America as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Leon Stadium on August 22, 2018 in Leon, Mexico. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

A 1-1 draw versus Queretaro, followed by an embarrassing 2-0 loss to Leon further exposed tactical deficiencies the way Miguel Herrera has managed Club America in the 2018 Liga MX Apertura.

I am not a soccer coach, though intend to try. In terms of years as a fan, I’m relatively green, though. I do, however, believe that life-long soccer minds can stagnate. They have success for years and get stuck in their ways. In the case of Club America, the sheer talent of their players has made them a contender all by itself. The momentary flashes of brilliance, such as the recent 3-0 victory over Monterrey, obscures the vision of what the team actually is and what can be done to fix it.

First, some caveats:

There is much to be said for players simply not playing to their potential. Club America should be in the top three to five teams in Liga MX, even if the formation and tactics are not exactly right. The lineup should work adequately enough to be able to navigate to the Liguilla. Once there, anything can happen. Fair.

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In addition, there is some wisdom in playing the formation and style that is currently being implemented with Club America. A 4-4-2 is a very solid formation that covers the pitch well and still provides options going forward. Oribe Peralta has seen a bit of a resurgence in the early goings of this Apertura, and so he deserves to be in the lineup to some degree. Chances have been missed. Opponents gear up a little different to play Club America. On and on we can go somewhat legitimate reasons why the current down-turn in form has occurred and why sticking with the same formation and tactics is prudent.
That’s too low a bar for a club affectionately known as Los Millonetas (the Millionaires). This is one of the biggest clubs in the Western Hemisphere. Adequate is not acceptable for Americanistas.

Ok, smart guy, what’s your solution?

One of the frustrating things about Liga MX, as a whole, is a lack of tactical diversity. Most teams play a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. There aren’t many clubs that press super high or play three in the back, or anything too innovative.  Because of this, some club could stand to find success by simply playing differently than the rest of the league. Different looks and different needs in preparation for a match are sometimes just enough to help an inferior club talent-wise overcome a stronger team.
Therefore, one thing I’d do right away is to change up the formation. I’ve talked about this before someplace, but the formation should best suit the players on the team, even if that means the 4-4-2 being deployed currently. The primary reason the formation needs to change is to incorporate the best XI possible into the starting lineup.
There is no way that, at 34 years old, Oribe Peralta should be averaging 79 minutes per match. That is no knock on the player at all. He gives everything he has every minute he is on the pitch and has been one of the more effective offensive players for Club America still this season. It is precisely because he gives everything, though, that has made it more difficult at this stage of his career to be effective for a full 90 minutes.
Furthermore, the strength of this Aguilas team, by my estimation is their midfield. Mateus Uribe, Guido Rodriguez, Cecilio Dominguez, Renato Ibarra, Andres Ibarguen, and Diego Lainez make up an amazing midfield stable for Club America. That isn’t even including the injured Jeremy Menez or the always solid Joe Corona. The formation should reflect this strength. It should provide the structure that best allows America to get as many of their midfielders on the pitch from the word “go”, while putting them each in the best position to showcase their best qualities.
With those things in mind, why wouldn’t a formation that employs just one striker up front make the most sense? Roger Martinez has shown himself more than capable with the ball at his feet to be able to handle the role of a lone striker. In addition, saving Oribe’s legs for the final 20 minutes or so would certainly provide America with the jolt of energy and finisher off the bench. Not to mention, it would allow him to leverage his best qualities at full strength; something that is more difficult for him at this point in his storied career, when he starts.
Moving to a lone striker would also leave a spot in the 11 open for a midfielder. To this point, Renato Ibarra has been relegated to a bench role, somehow, with the increase in laying time for Diego Lainez. While Ibarra provides an enticing option off the bench, for sure, I know of a more enticing role for him. Starting on the right side of a midfield four, as he did all last season, when the most effective side of the America attack was…wait for it…the right side. He is not necessarily the prolific goal-scorer that some may hope him to be, however, he makes things happen offensively. His impact is evident whenever he steps on the pitch. He needs to be in the starting XI, for me.
I wouldn’t touch the rest of the midfield personnel, then. Lainez would slide into a more central role along with Mateus Uribe, while Andres Ibarguen would continue to be a dangerous option on the left side. Cecilio Dominguez and Joe Corona are left to provide excellent options off the bench for the midfield.
Guido Rodriguez, for me, is the best defensive midfielder in Liga MX. That is why I’d sit him behind the midfield four and in front of the defensive four in a “destroyer” type of role. This would make the formation a 4-1-4-1, and allow him to boss the defensive side to win the ball from opponents and quickly transition the ball the other way. In the 4-4-2, the formation skews a bit for him to play the center of the pitch, predominantly. In turn, it changes the attack to what is essentially a stretched 4-1-3-2 formation, but the link up is either with a long-ball pass or by playing the ball from the back and working up the field, leaving the formation more susceptible to counterattacks. In my 4-1-4-1, that link-up is much more stable and consistent.
The back four and goalkeeper would remain relatively unchanged in my ideal lineup.  Piojo has done well in his defensive rotations for the most part. As long as Edson Alvarez is in the lineup when healthy, the other center back and full-back options have worked well for the most part.
I think a 4-1-4-1 formation like this would allow America to be flexible in how they play, but still capitalize on the strengths of each player in the starting XI, as well as those four or five players that are in the mix as substitutes. My preference, from an aesthetic perspective, would be the employment of a high press, but if Piojo would rather play more conservatively, this 4-1-4-1 can easily transition to a 4-5-1 on defense, providing defensive stability and fortitude.
In the end, I’m advocating that Piojo start the best possible XI. The 4-1-4-1 would allow him to do that without sacrificing much of what they already do. If anything, it only adds to what the squad already does well by getting one of their best midfielders on the pitch more in Renato Ibarra, and allowing Oribe Peralta to be his high-motor best.

Club America is far from being in crisis-mode. The season is still young and Liga MX has a lot more “Liga MX-ing” to do. However, I truly believe that making these changes would set America on course to meet their potential and rid themselves of disappointing performances like the one we just saw at the Estadio Leon.