Brave Monterrey get tactics right but fall just short of massive Club World Cup upset over Liverpool

Monterrey had an ambitious game plan that fell just short of working out in an entertaining semifinal against Liverpool

In the end, it was the result we expected. Mohamed Salah and Co. were better than Antonio Mohamed’s Monterrey side. Liverpool is into the Club World Cup final, and Monterrey will have to settle for third place at best.

But how it happened matters too. The European champion needed a 91st-minute goal from Roberto Firmino to avoid extra time and lock up a 2-1 victory in the Club World Cup semifinal. 

Rayados went toe to toe with Liverpool. Leonel Vangioni and Jesus Gallardo matched up with Mohamed Salah. Hell, Antonio Mohamed even squared up to Jurgen Klopp. Fearing the opponent was not on Rayados’ to-do list Wednesday night.

What was? Defend well. Look for opportunities to attack quickly. Win the ball in midfield when possible. Limit mistakes.

“We’re going for a goal. What did we come here for? To defend inside our own area? If that happens, it’s because they’re better than us. We’re going to attack how we always do,” Mohamed said before the match. “We’re putting the players out there who can go up front. That’s our essence, and we’re not going to change it. The opponent can make us change if they’re doing better than us and pinning us back.”

That happened at times, with Liverpool’s long spells of possession leading to moments of composed but necessary interventions from Vangioni, Nico Sanchez and Cesar Montes. And Liverpool had its first goal in the 11th minute thanks to Naby Keita. 

Yet just three minutes later, it was Rogelio Funes Mori putting in the equalizer after a set piece went right for Rayados.

The opportunities hardly stopped there. Monterrey put eight shots on target to Liverpool’s six with Dorlan Pabon bringing Alisson into action on a number of occasions. 

As Mohamed said his team would do before the game, little changed between how Rayados had played against, say, Santos Laguna in the first round of the Liga MX playoffs and how they diagramed the game against the winners of the UEFA Champions League.

Often when managers go into a match as an underdog, they insist little will change and then insert various wrinkles or modify their style. Mohamed made necessary tweaks to his game plan but kept Monterrey playing its game.

Mohamed’s usual tactics do suit his team well and also work well when playing against a team like Liverpool. While the Reds passed the ball around, his team was happy enough not to have the ball. Rather than panicking as a pressing attacker bore down on them, Monterrey’s defenders looked up to spot Funes Mori or Pabon and launched it long, hoping to drop a ball just behind Liverpool’s high line. 

It’s a game plan that fell just short of working, but Rayados should be proud of the performance they put in against one of the world’s finest teams – the likely champion of the Premier League and the reigning champion of Europe. Monterrey’s spending on salaries puts it in the upper echelons of the Americas, but it still lags far behind what a team like Liverpool is able to spend on players.

Rayados now face another difficult task, getting up for the third-place game. A win over Al-Hilal would mean Monterrey matches Necaxa, Saprissa, Pachuca and its own team in 2012 as the best-ever Concacaf finishers at the Club World Cup.

Then, it’s about turning the page completely and getting ready for an entirely different task with a two-legged final against America. 

Mohamed and his team don’t have time now to dwell on what happened, but in two weeks when they look back at Wednesday’s game they’ll see they got the tactics right and put in a performance worthy of the champion of the region.