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El Salvador vs. Mexico, World Cup 2018 qualifying: What to watch for

Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Mexico at Jamaica Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Mexico national team return to World Cup Qualifying on Friday when they take on El Salvador at the Estadio Cuscatlán. El Tri are already qualified to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying after a perfect record of fours win in four matches.

Here is what to watch for in Mexico’s first game back since the Copa America Centenario.

What to watch for:

Who plays for Mexico? - One of the biggest dilemmas that coach Juan Carlos Osorio faces for this match is the question of who plays? Officially, El Tri have five absences, with Paul Aguilar, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, Nestor Araujo, Diego Reyes, and Hirving Lozano all missing for Mexico. If you add the injuries of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Oribe Peralta, and Jonathan dos Santos, the list only gets bigger.

The school of thought is that Mexico will be opting for a 4-3-3 again. With Paul injured, Juan Carlos Osorio would be justified in starting Miguel Layun as right back. Assuming he keeps the midfield scheme of the last Copa America, a more natural central defensive midfielder like Jesus Molina could help free Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera in the midfield. Moreover, Raul Jimenez, who is expected to start in place of Chicharito, could also benefit of having a more direct midfielder like Guardado affecting the game farther up the field. Finally, Javier Aquino should see some playing time, but Elias Hernandez is one player El Tri fans are anxious to see.

Another legitimate question to ask is will we see the new guys? Angel Zaldivar, Martin Barragan, and Angel Sepulveda have all received their first senior national team call-up. Against a team like El Salvador, they perhaps have their best chance of getting minutes in these next two games.

Raul Jimenez at No. 9 - If we are talking about complete forwards in Mexico’s depth chart, Raul Jimenez has to come out on top. Raul has it all, he can drop deep regularly, play as a hold-up striker, create spatial advantages for his teammates, and can even play on the wing. His only difficulties, however, are compounded by his lack of scoring. After all, a striker is suppose to score goals.

In that regard, Raul Jimenez has never completely won the Mexico fan over. There can be only so many more chances for Raul, and with Chicharito out for these next two games, Mexico will look at Raul Jimenez for goals. Clearly, Jimenez has the confidence of Juan Carlos Osorio, and after an impressive start in his opening three league games for Benfica, it is a matter of just translating that to the national team.

El Salvador will look at Mexico at their most vulnerable - Even before the game kicks off, there is already a psychological battle going on for El Tri. After Mexico’s embarrassing performance in Santa Clara, California, a negative showing against El Salvador would mean further days of tension between fans, press, and the team. Mexico have a penchant of buckling under pressure when it comes to situations like these, and El Salvador will look to take advantage of that.

El Salvador manager Ramón Maradiaga has received his bulk of criticism, but the fact of the matter is El Salvador can still make it out of this group. If they can put up a fight and survive this game, a combination of results could mean El Salvador need just a win in their last game to qualify to the Hexagonal.