At Least the Pope's on Our Side - Argentina 2018

Zososoxfan

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The latest word out of Argentina's camp is that Sampa is ringing in several changes for Thursday's showdown with Croatia:

Caballero
Mercado-Otamendi-Tagliafico
Salvio-Perez-Masche-Acuna
Messi-Aguero-Pavon

There are a lot of problems here. Starting at the back, switching to a 3-man defense at this point seems ill-advised. Most players are not trained in this system and Argentina have clearly spent some, if not most, of their time working the 4-man line. I will grant Sampa that Mercado-Otamendi-Tagliafico is a solid trio for the formation, but this would be a real gamble. I'd include Fazio in the CB pairing and keep it simple with a 4-man unit, but it ain't me. If Croatia has any organization they will find gaps in this system that the players almost certainly don't know how to execute effectively. Not to mention Modric is probably the single best MF in the world at ball movement and controlling a match from the MF and Rakitic is a willing and able sidekick. Mix in Mandzukic up front who is an absolute load and Perisic who can do it all and I'm very worried.

That MF is not going to be able to get the ball to Messi. There are literally only two guys on the squad who can bring the ball up and make a forward pass in the MF - Banega and Lo Celso. I'd argue that Dybala could do it too, but he would leave the team too unbalanced because he does not track back and does not have a good work rate. Playing without one or both of those players will slow down the attack. Perez, Acuna, Salvio, and Meza are all nice players, but none of them can initiate the offense. Moreover, I'd select Biglia over Masche at the pivot. I used to dislike Biglia, but once I realized he is simply a destroyer with decent possession passing skills, I came to appreciate him. He is better than Masche as the sole pivot, but Sampa seems set on Masche.

Subbing Pavon for Di Maria may be enough to stir the drink, but I cannot understand why Sampa would not include two, or even one of, Banega, Lo Celso, and Dybala.
 

PedroSpecialK

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It does seem like with an emphasis on such a wide formation, Argentina isn't really playing to its strengths - Salvio and Acuña are nice players, but I don't think it's really reasonable to set up tactically to play wide at the expense of guys like Banega / Dybala.

If Sampaoli is dead-set on 3ATB, it seems that more of a 3-5-2 would suit Argentina's talent, and would allow for a guy like Banega or Dybala to get in the side more naturally. In this setup I'd imagine Tagliafico as more of the LWB/LM covering most of the Croatian attack down the right, as Perišić on the left will require more attention. I'd also see Messi dropping a bit deeper into midfield / behind Aguero, or in Salvio's place with Higuaín drawing into the lineup.

---------------------- Caballero ----------------------
--------- Mercado - Otamendi - Fazio ---------
-- Salvio - Mascherano - Biglia - Tagliafico --
----------------------- Dybala -----------------------
----------------- Messi ---- Aguero -----------------

Admittedly, this is as someone who hasn't watched the Argentine squad extensively - it just seems counterintuitive to me to keep all of Higuaín, Dybala, and Banega out of the squad. Agreed that a 4ATB with Mercado and Tagliafico at fullback would be optimal
 

teddykgb

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Any 4-2-x arrangment would make Argentina relatively stout and allow them to arrange 4 attackers however they see fit around Messi. I'm not in love with a Biglia + Mascherano double pivot and this has been part of Argentina's undoing in the past but it is crazy to me how much talent is being forced to the bench in order to bring inferior talent into a system. If it really played to Messi's strengths then maybe you go down swinging that way but he's not Ronaldo sitting at the top waiting for service. The more options and runners you give Messi the more dangerous he is.
 

coremiller

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Samp is right though that Argentina had a major problem lacking width in the previous game. Iceland could stay very narrow and double/triple mark Messi because nobody on Argentina threatened them with pace and dribbling on the outside. Playing with wingbacks is one way to address that problem.
 

Zososoxfan

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I can't even begin to relive that disaster. The only thing that I find solace in is thinking what this team should look like.

Premise 1: Can Sampa or Messi please pull their head out of their ass and sit Caballero finally? I mean, he ruined everything. Is that not enough?

Premise 2: Play 4 in the fucking back. 90% of all teams worldwide at nearly every level play 4 at the back. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WORLD CUP IS NOT THE TIME TO TRY 3 AT THE BACK.

Premise 3: Biglia in, Masche sit. Masche is old and slows down play. Biglia is a better destroyer and knows his role. Give me Biglia as the pivot in front of that back 4 and I'd be shocked if the defense didn't look substantially better.

Premise 4: At least one of Banega or Lo Celso has to start to get better passing and possession in the MF.

Premise 5: Sit Meza, Salvio, Acuna, and Perez. These guys are role players. They are not up to the standard right now and there are much much much better players sitting on the bench.

These 5 things yield several reasonable lineups, all of which would've been better than what they've trotted out thus far. My favorite examples:

Option 1: 4-2-3-1

Armani

Mercado-Otamendi-Fazio-Tagliafico

Biglia-Lo Celso/Banega

Messi-Dybala-Pavon

Aguero

This may be my favorite because it gets Messi and Dybala on the field in a way that makes sense. Messi and Dybala can alternate helping out Lo Celso/Banega establish possession in MF.

Option 2: 4-3-3

Armani

Mercado-Otamendi-Fazio-Tagliafico

Lo Celso-Biglia-Banega

Messi-Aguero-Pavon/Dybala

Having Lo Celso and Banega on the field would make this team a possession monster. Messi would be able to receive the ball in much better positions and then it would be incumbent on Aguero, Pavon, and the FBs to get onto the end ball, and Lo Celso would likely add runs in too. I think you could swap Pavon for Dybala here and have even stronger possession, but it would require the FBs to get really high.

Option 3: 4-3-1-2

Armani

Mercado-Otamendi-Fazio-Tagliafico

Lo Celso-Biglia-Banega

Messi

Aguero-Higuain

I'm the biggest Higuain hater you will find, but even I will admit getting him on the field instead of Perez, Meza, Salvio, and Acuna is an improvement.

Option 4: 4-2-2-2

Armani

Mercado-Otamendi-Fazio-Tagliafico

Biglia-Lo Celso/Banega

Messi-Dybala

Aguero-Higuain

Another two striker formation similar to Option 3, but with Dybala in over one of Lo Celso/Banega. Have to think that Messi, Dybala, Lo Celso/Banega could make passing triangles through the MF all day.
 

Infield Infidel

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lol I just posted 4-3-3 with Biglia in the game thread, but it's better here they could have amazing possession. Biglia is decent enough defensively and Banega can play a shuttling kind of role. Not a lot of size or steel but playing keepaway can be their defense. I haven't seen Lo Celso enough to know if he can play that Xavi/Iniesta kind of role, can he? Three at the back seemed like a weird choice, the wingers have too much to do tracking back. I always feel like Argentina should set up as similarly to Barca to get the most out of Messi. Him and Masche know where everyone should be and Masche can marshall the heck out of a game.
 

OilCanShotTupac

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You were prophetic re control of the midfield.

This team does not know who I is and what it wants to do. Your point re suddenly screwing around with a back three is spot on.
 

Zososoxfan

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Apparently the players held a meeting and have asked AFA (the association) to fire Sampa ahead of the third match. I'm now convinced the Iceland match was the Messi show (Di Maria, Rojo, Masche and Biglia as examples) and the Croatia match was the Sampa show (3-4-3, workrate players). There was also some "leaked" audio of Simeone throwing shade every which way. None of this shit matters if the team gets selection right and some results go their way. Getting out of this group and likely drawing a France team that will dismember them anyway is a fine and predictable result for this team. The next manager needs to be of quality and have a full cycle or close to it to implement some actual identity and ideas.
 

SocrManiac

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What do they have to lose? Their current setup has been awful and the squad hates him. At the club level, we've seen the motivational impact of a managerial change (especially where the players had quit). I don't see a downside considering they're going out early in their current form, anyway.
 

67YAZ

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Messi for player/manager? He's already going to get all the blame or all the plaudits...

But looking at Argentina's backroom staff, and admittedly I'm not familiar with most of them, I see a few career national team types who in analyst/scout/fitness roles and coaches that Sampaoli brought with him. Would Argentina promote from within? If not that, then who could they hire in the middle of the World Cup?

We know Gus Hiddink is in Russia...
 

Zososoxfan

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Apparently Sampa is staying and it's unclear (to me anyway) whether there was ever a real push to get him booted. However, the Simeone leak seems quite real.

Also, LIFE!
 

Zososoxfan

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Rumored starting XI:

Armani(!!!!)

Mercado-Otamendi-Rojo-Tagliafico

Perez-Masche-Banega

Messi-Higuain-Di Maria

Assuming this is accurate, that is 3/5 of my premises.

The Good
Thank goodness Armani is starting. A team that can't trust its keeper (and Argentina cannot trust Wily) is going to play overly conservative and tight. Cleaning up the GK spot is a huge step in the right direction. 4 at the back means that the team defense should have some reasonable organization. A back 4 plus Masche should be able to stop a fair amount of attacks and hopefully the backline has a clear plan when attacking. Banega is the starting XI means that the front 3 shouldn't have to drop back to collect the ball. In reality, I would expect Di Maria to help out in the MF and let Tagliafico overlap a bit when he's not the outlet on the far left. Also, the team still has Messi.

The Bad
Unless Rojo is considerably faster than Fazio, I don't understand why the former is starting over the latter. Fazio was the heart of a Roma defense that was very stout in Serie A. Rojo had 9 appearances for United. I cannot fathom the basis for this decision. Similarly, we've seen that the team performed better instantly when a straight Pavon for Di Maria swap occurred, and yet Di Maria is getting the start on the left. This reeks of favoritism and it makes me sick. Higuain has the numbers to compete with Aguero recently, but Aguero has probably been Argentina's best player thus far, so of course they're taking him off the field. Fuck everything. I've been underwhelmed by Masche and recently began to appreciate Biglia's game, but I will admit that the difference there is less than Fazio --> Rojo. Still, I'd put Biglia in over Masche.

I think it's criminal that Perez is starting over Lo Celso. Lo Celso played DMF for PSG this year because there were so many talented attackers ahead of him in his more natural AMF role. What did he do--he fucking excelled. Argentina lack effective possession passing in the middle, a passer who can pick out forward passes to bypass packed defenses, and sometimes need an extra runner to attack a bunkered in defense--so, let's sit the guy who fits exactly that.

Mind you all of this is happening while Dybala sits idly on the bench.

Conclusion
This team will play much much better than the Croatia showing. They have a reasonable formation, at least one good passer in the MF, and their best shot at keeper in goal. This team will struggle to break down Nigeria though. If Messi continues to drift in from the right, Perez will attack that space and he's not capable enough to do much. Mercado will also overlap and can deliver some dangerous balls. Hopefully Higuain can get on the end of them because neither Perez nor Mercado (although to a lesser extent) seems like a natural partner for Messi to combine with. If Mercado can get forward, Perez will move inside and make runs for Banega and Messi. I don't like Perez but he does work hard going forward. Banega will spray the ball all around and Di Maria and Higuain will be the biggest beneficiaries. Argentina will have to create danger on the left because Di Maria and Tagliafico are both creative enough to do some things, although neither is much of a threat to beat defenders 1v1. If Messi drifts inside, he will get crowded but there should be runners ahead of him with Higuain and Di Maria being the primary targets. Perez will probably get a chance or two going down the right.

Prediction
Argentina will start this match balanced and looking fairly good with proper motivation. An early goal would do wonders for their confidence. As time grinds on though, Masche will find himself chasing Nigerian players all over the field and unable to keep up. Rojo will be picked on and through balls in behind him will likely be played. Moreover, if Argentina's FBs push too high, Nigeria has the speed to get in behind. I am already terrified of Moses getting behing Tagliafico with only Rojo to beat to get in on goal. Musa will likely attack the same space. Mercado-Otamendi on the other flank should be sound, although Mercado doesn't have great pace and can get caught out (especially as the match wears on and Argentina have to chase). Messi will find more space on the right, but as the game progresses he will continue to drift centrally and will get stuck in a lot of defenders, but can hopefully find runners getting in behind while he draws attention.

Assuming things are still even around 55-60', I'd hope that Lo Celso can go in for Perez but more realistically I bet it's Meza or Acuna. There's a possibility Sampa also just throws caution out the door and goes with Dybala or Aguero and shift into a 4-2-4 or have Di Maria or his sub drop in to keep the 4-3-3. If Di Maria does not have a good first half and I don't think he will, I hope Sampa has the balls to sub him out for either Pavon or Dybala early. I see this being an open match after a physical stop-start opening 15-20 minutes, with a 2-2 final scoreline, although 2-1, 3-1, or 3-2 would not surprise me in either direction.

Oh, and don't think for a minute this match ends without a soul-crushing Higuain miss.
 
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Zososoxfan

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Rumor has it that the XI from the Nigeria match will start again:

Armani

Mercado-Otamendi-RO MF JO-Tagiafico

Perez-Masche-Banega

Messi-Higuain-Di Maria

Perez has a slight knock and the thinking is that Biglia would be his replacement. There's also some talk that Pavon could replace Higuain, but that remains unlikely.

I'm OK with a Masche-Biglia double pivot in this match, as France have the attacking power to merit a more defensive setup. If Argentina aren't going to play more talented passers (namely Lo Celso), then playing bunkered defense and trying to hit on the break is a reasonable strategy. Getting Higuain off the field is always welcome, and it would be interesting to see what a Di Maria-Messi-Pavon front line would look like. If Di Maria, Pavon, and the FBs are told to make runs in behind, Messi may have enough targets to pick someone out. I would imagine the thinking is to draw Varane and Umtiti away from goal. I'd say that pair is the best in the tournament, at least in the same realm as Spain and Uruguay, so it makes sense. The problem then becomes that you are running into Kante's world.

Nevertheless, I would still trust a frontline of Dybala/Pavon-Aguero-Messi to be more effective. The fact that Di Maria, Higuain, and Masche are still in this lineup tells me that they are the ones calling the shots. This certainly isn't a meritocracy and it makes me sad.
 

Zososoxfan

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An article was published in Argentina recently indicating that Messi had no part in squad selection. In fact, Messi and Masche called a meeting with the coaches and told them the coaches had lost the players' confidence. Sampa apparently then left a passing aggressive note asking the players if they wanted to have an opinion on everything. To which Messi replied in front of the whole team, the coaches, and the president of the federation, "I never told you who to pick for the Croatia match. Tell me in front of everyone if I ever gave you a name of a player that should or has to start."

https://www.ole.com.ar/seleccion/senosiain-sampaoli-messi-libro_0_2054194649.amp.html

I mean, if this is true and Messi/Masche had no input on the squad or tactics, then Sampa is indeed a fraud. Di Maria and Masche had no business being on the field, the defensive tactics were horrific, and squad selection was miserable. Whoever was in charge of those things, is absolutely a fraud. Argentina had an XI that could've been competitive in the KO rounds, but we never got to see it. The truth of the matter is that the federation (AFA) is a mess and so there is no leader who could have kept the old guard off the field under the circumstances, even though that is exactly what was required. Lo Celso and Dybala needed to be on for every match and there were players left at home (namely Icardi, but also including Angel Correa, Joaquin Correa, Matias Kranevitter, Funes Mori, Paredes, etc.) who needed to be there.

AFA has since terminated Sampa for a buyout closer to $7-8M rather than the reported $20M, and appointed Lionel Scaloni as manager for the U20s for the upcoming tournament. Pablo Aimar will be there to help Scaloni as well. Those two, along with Matias Almeyda (Chivas), Marcelo Gallardo (River Plate), Ricardo Gareca (Peru), and to a lesser extent Jose Pekerman (Colombia) are the names being thrown around for the post. Poch and Simeone are also being mentioned but they have such good club situations at the moment that it is highly unlikely. I think Gallardo will skip it for the same reason. Pekerman has had a good run with Colombia but he is old AF. Almeyda is still only in his first few years of management, but likely has many friends at AFA, so he should be considered a real contender. Gareca makes the most sense to me though, considering he is accustomed to the International Game and has done a stellar job with Peru. My Peruvian friends are sad at even the idea of having him leave.

Argentina's current player pool isn't what it was in 1998 (or even the early to mid 2000s), but there is plenty of talent. The headliners include Dybala (still only 24), Icardi (25), Lo Celso (22), Pavon (22), Angel Correa (22), and Joaquin Correa (23), but there are some quality players that I expect to break out in the next year or two like Lautaro Martinez, Alario, Tagliafico, Ocampos, Bustos, and most of the Zenit squad (Kranevitter, Mammana, Paredes, Rigoni, Driussi). The key is getting these guys playing in a coherent system, so that they're not guessing at their responsibilities in the big tournaments.
 

OilCanShotTupac

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As an Everton fan I can tell you that if you’re putting Funes Mori forward as the solution to any problem then you’ve got a pretty bad problem and there’s likely no help for you.