Every World Cup has surprise stars. In 2014, James Rodriguez became a global star thanks to his performances for Colombia. In 2018, Mexico's Hirving Lozano has enjoyed a similar emergence. The 22-year-old has been a star in his home country for several years and played a key role in PSV Eindhoven's Eredivisie title win last season, having a direct hand in almost 30 per cent of his club's league goals. But this summer's World Cup is the first time he has gained appreciation from a worldwide audience.
In his three outings so far, Lozano has scored one goal and assisted one other. He started every single one of Mexico's Group F games, helping his country through to the knockout stages with wins over Germany and South Korea. Next up is Brazil, and an opportunity for the pacey young winger to knock out yet another of the pre-tournament favourites.
Regardless of what he and his teammates do in that clash, Lozano has already attracted interest from some of Europe's wealthiest and most prestigious clubs. Consequently, a summer transfer may well be on the cards for him. Here we analyse the player and assess what he would bring to his potential suitors.
Lozano is, first and foremost, a winger. There is nothing 'false' about him in a tactical sense – he likes to operate close to the touchline, as opposed to many other modern wide men who enjoy drifting infield to affect build-up play in deeper or more central areas. However, while his preferred starting position is 'chalk on the boots' territory, he always threatens to dribble infield.
The youngster is naturally right-footed, so when he receives the ball to feet out wide on the left-hand side – where he generally starts for Mexico and has often started for PSV – he looks to drive diagonally inward towards his opposite full-back. From here he can either go in onto his right foot to shoot, cross, pass or combine, or he can wrong-foot his opposite man by switching onto his left and going round the outside.
Lozano's style is direct, aggressive and fast. He wants the ball, he wants to attack, and he relishes one-on-one situations where he can use his qualities on the ball. His approach means he regularly commits defenders, while his wide starting position also helps Mexico to stretch opposing defences, creating gaps in the central and half-spaces for teammates to exploit.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
The most obvious element in Lozano's attacking play is his pace. One of the main reasons he is so confident in one-on-one situations is his phenomenal speed, which allows him to blitz past opposition defenders in fairly straightforward fashion. Throw in the fact he is a good dribbler, with an excellent touch and the occasional, well-placed step-over, and he is a nightmare for markers to track.
Perhaps what is most impressive is that he has strong positional awareness at a young age. While many promising wingers are mere dribblers, players who seek the ball and sacrifice position in the process, Lozano has an understanding of how he can impact his team even without being in possession. Thus he is more than comfortable sticking to an extremely wide position even if it means not seeing much of the ball. Additionally, he is effective in performing his defensive duties, dropping back to ensure his team's defensive structure is maintained.
With a good work ethic and high mobility, Lozano could quite feasibly be a pressing machine for a club that looks to win the ball back high up the pitch. The thought of him occupying the inside channel and cutting off passes to the full-backs must invoke fear in central defenders. However, he has not had the opportunity to demonstrate this as Mexico have often sat back defensively at this summer's World Cup.
There are still aspects that the PSV man can work on to round out his game. Most notably, his final third decision-making and finishing could both be improved. If he could simplify his decisions and become more composed in and around the opposition penalty area, particularly when in promising situations, he could develop into one of the most potent, clinical wingers in the game today.
Mexico head coach Juan Carlos Osorio has won plaudits for his tactics at this summer's finals, and Lozano has played a key role. In both group stage wins, the winger was pivotal to his manager's game plan.
In the 1-0 win over Germany, Osorio instructed his side to sit back and avoid pressing high as they did last summer, fatally, in a 4-1 Confederations Cup defeat to the same opposition. They would then look to counter-attack at speed, taking advantage of opposition disorder in transition. Lozano, therefore, often stayed high and wide defensively to offer a counter-attacking threat on the left wing. Ultimately, he scored the winning goal in that game.
Then, in the 2-1 win over South Korea, Osorio looked to overload the right-hand side of the pitch through two central midfielders, one winger, one full-back and one forward so as to isolate Lozano on the left. The player, totally understanding his role, kept his position near the touchline (see heat map below) and got into several one-on-one situations against his opposite man. He went on to set up what was effectively the winning goal for Javier Hernandez.
WHO DOES HE SUIT?
Given his showings for Mexico this summer, Lozano would fit in nicely at Manchester City. His style, occupying wide spaces and attacking directly, is not too dissimilar to that of Leroy Sane, who thrives in Pep Guardiola's team.
Additionally, given his work ethic without the ball, mobility and quality in attacking transitions, the youngster would be able to adjust fairly quickly to Jurgen Klopp's intense pressing and counter-attacking approach at Liverpool.
Barcelona have been persistently linked with Lozano, and he could offer an exciting pacey option on the left of a front three also featuring the iconic Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. However, competition for places would be intense, and there is no guarantee he would get regular game time in Catalonia.
Osorio believes his national team starlet has what it takes to make the next step up in his club career, stating: "His pace, his ability to take people on makes me believe that he is a player that will go very far…I just think that whoever takes a chance on him will do well. His pace and again his ability to take people on, he can play in any league and any place."
Lozano, however, remains focused on the here and now. For the time being, that means Mexico versus Brazil. "I think…the most important thing is to think about the matches happening right now," he said when asked about his future recently.