Argentina’s friendlies ahead of the WC 2018
Argentina’s 2-0 victory over Italy was overshadowed by a humiliating 6-1 loss in the Wanda Metropolitana against Spain. It looks like Argentina have got a long way to go… Here are 4 talking points from these friendlies.
No Messi, No party
It may not come as a surprise and I may be stating the obvious here, but Argentina really are much worse without him. It especially came to light in their second half vs Spain. There was no inspiration and Argentina failed to really threaten De Gea. Even with the creative Banega, Lo Celso and Meza behind their striker, the delivery to Higuain and later Lautaro Martinez was poor. Almost non-existent. It’s an issue that needs to be solved but the presence of Messi will certainly help with that.
With Icardi, Dybala and Aguero (injured) all out for Argentina, Higuain had his chance to impress Sampaoli. The bulky striker hasn’t been at his best for Argentina for a while and didn’t manage to turn his form around in these friendlies. He missed an absolute sitter for Argentina against Spain and he should’ve done better overall, even when the delivery was scarce. It looks like a luxury problem with all these superstars available but none of them seems to perform on the international stage. Icardi hasn’t impressed either and with Dybala acting more in a supporting role, it’s still not clear who’ll start up front for Argentina in Russia. Aguero probably has the best chances to start but he’ll need to be fully fit by then. All in all, it’s clear that Higuain isn’t making it easy for himself. When will it be the end of Pipita’s chances for Argentina?
Defensive frailties cost Argentina
Argentina have equalled their worst defeat in history against Spain: 1-6 loss vs Czechoslovakia (1958, WC) and a 6-1 loss vs Bolivia (2010, WCQ). It was a humiliating defeat empowered by some awful defending from Argentina. It looked like Argentina had finally solved their eternal fullback problems with Bustos on the right and Tagliafico on the left. Both fullbacks have developed themselves extremely well over the last season which allowed Argentina to switch to a 4-2-3-1 opposed to their former 3-at the back formations. All looked well vs Italy with both fullbacks contributing in attack but Argentina’s defence was torn apart by a well-drilled Spain side. Especially the center of defence cost Argentina in this game. Rojo and Otamendi didn’t make a good impression at all and especially the former may be out of contention for the WC now.
The defensive pairing of Mascherano and Biglia in midfield also proved to be ‘out of date’. With Mascherano declining and Biglia not at his top level, Sampaoli still needs to figure out a way to form his much wanted Doble Cinco in midfield. It would, however, be pretty ignorant if he eventually chooses for the pairing of Mascherano and Biglia.
All in all these friendlies proved that Sampaoli’s Argentina have a long way to go if they want to compete in the World Cup. Of course, some brilliant players were left out and Sampaoli gave some youngsters a chance to impress but there are no excuses for their humiliating 6-1 loss.
Let’s not end on a completely negative tone though. Independiente midfielder Maximiliano Meza made his debut vs Spain and did fairly well. He was key in some of the transitions and delivered a perfect ball for Higuain in the first half. A promising start for him. Racing youngster Lautaro Martinez also made his debut coming off the bench to replace the struggling Higuain. The 20-year old striker has been in superb form for his club but he also struggled to create chances with a lack of supply. The time of his substitution, at 4-1 down, also seemed a bit odd. His club performances do however offer hope for the future. PSG midfielder Gio Lo Celso also played well and he’s someone you should look forward to in the WC. Let’s just hope for us neutrals that Sampaoli has figured it all out by then.