Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughArgentina’s assortments, what to do? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Argentina’s assortments, what to do? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Argentina’s assortments, what to do?

Looking at Spain, you have to stare and drool in amazement. Complete domination of the footballing world. They are what most nations now aspire to achieve, but it wasn’t done overnight. The Spanish Federation planned years ahead, developing players from a young age, and ensuring they were structured in their tiki-taka style. Yet still they failed at major events, failing to achieve any success. When that breakthrough came, that moment to win something; to break the duck; to dominate: that success lies with Luis Aragones. Despite everyone calling for his head, he buckled up and led Spain to European glory in 2008. Now in the present, another country faces similar conundrums – and they need that breakthrough.

The conundrum that is the Argentina national team: a conveyor belt of superstar players, great depth, the ‘Creole’ style football (a free flowing, attacking game) but no true leader on the pitch, no tactical solution, no glory since ’86. The solution they say lies with Alejandro Sabella: the former Estudiantes coach and recently appointed manager of the La Albiceleste. Even though, they – the press, the people, the critics – said that about Sergio Batista; who was constructing the team to play like Barcelona – with Lionel Messi being the centre point. That disastrous Copa America spelt of end of Batista’s reign. Sabella’s arrival to the press and people means Argentina has finally found their man. Despite trashing Chile 4-1 in the first game, they lost 1-0 to Venezuela three days later. So the question begs what must Sabella do to finally get Argentina clicking and winning? 

Sabella has in the same way as Batista, constructed his team to be focused around Messi. The 56 year old went as far to name him captain of the national side. Good call? Probably not. Messi doesn’t sparkle for national team as he does for his Barcelona side. Being the best player in the world, there is the added pressure from critics for him to perform and do what he does week in and out in La Liga. Difference teams and therefore a different Messi. By being captain, the spotlight will be looming on Messi more than ever. If Messi fails to bail out Argentina in their hour of need, the hounds will be waiting and Sabella’s decision could backfire.

As such, Sabella has to accommodate a formation in which his captain can achieve the great heights. Problem is, and although it is early in his reign, he has alternated his formations from game to game. Changing of formations depending on the opposition isn’t wrong; however in terms of the national team, it is essential that the team be able to play in a coherent fashion. Why? National teams spent less time training, playing, together than in club level. It is essential that they have system and formation that they are accustomed too. Spain have theirs; as did Brazil under Dunga’s reign and so does Germany under Lowe, who has perfected the ability to put any player into his German formation of 4-2-3-1. Sabella needs to find out his preferred system. But what system should be used?

In the first game, against Chile, Sabella went with a 4-4-1-1 shape, with Messi playing off Higuain. With Rodrigo Brana and Ever Banega in holding position and Angel Di Maria and Jose Sosa supporting on the wings, Messi was able to roam free and be the creative force in the park. Brana and Banega gave great support for the weak Argentine backline of Nicolas Burdisso, Nicolas Otamendi, Pablo Zabaleta and Marcos Rojo. It was an impressive debut and one which individuals could see how Sabella was planning his construction of the team.     

The honeymoon period didn’t last long however, as in the following match against Venezuela, Sabella went for three at the back and Argentina looked completely lost. Playing a 3-5-2, the Albiceleste struggled to adjust to the change in formation; the three at the back couldn’t play the ball out of midfield, but more importantly, the wingers (Zabaleta and Rojo) struggled to provide any width at all. Also, playing Di Maria in the centre next to Javier Mascherano was a wrong move, ensuring Argentina lost a lot of speed on their flanks.       

Learning from his mistakes, it’s key that Sabella sorts out his formation and system quickly. Recent reports indicate that the manager is set to deputise Sergio Aguero and Fernando Gago into the squad. Assuming Gago will play in the centre with Mascherano and Sosa in midfield, Aguero will most certainly play in attack alongside Messi and Higuain. A 4-3-3 seems to be set in motion; which would be the best formation. With a defensive minded midfield covering the weak backline, the front three will be able to roam and attack teams.

If Sabella sticks with this formation it would be best suited to Argentina’s style and criteria of its players as it would easy to switch players in and out of the system (Much like Lowe does with Germany) to success. If Higuain is out, put in Aguero; if Aguero is injured, throw in Di Maria; Gago can’t play, get in young gun Javier Pastore in the centre. Sabella’s decision to stick to a 4-3-3 can benefit Argentina long term, as it has the players suited for this formation.

As such, certain players on in squad are lucky to be there. In most cases they wouldn’t make the B-team. And it’s here that Sabella must prepare the cull and begin the implementation of newer players, giving them the chance to impress.

Martin Demechilis, Burdisso have shown that they are not world class defenders. They commit errors and mistakes too frequently and surely they have to go soon. Nicolas Otamendi, while has had a slow start does have the potential to be star for the Argentine backline. Federico Fernandez from Napoli is another who should be given the chance. Optionally, Sabella could play Mascherano in the centre of defence, as he does for Barcelona. While it means, losing him in the midfield would hurt the team, there are ready made replacements waiting.

Gago, Brana, Banega and even the aged yet experience Esteban Cambiasso are more than capable to do the defensive work. Yet there is question that hasn’t been answered in midfield; why no Javier Pastore? There is no doubt the Paris St Germain player is gem. Similar to Kaka, he provides, speed, guile and the spark that team needs. He would be the perfect player to connect the midfield to the forward three. Sabella has used Sosa instead, which frankly has yet to sparkle in any sort of way. Sosa provides nothing of the sort of ability, that Pastore can, so surely he’ll walk the plank soon?

As for the forward line, no country in the world have the list that Argentina does, but who to use? Messi and Higuain are certainties; Argentina needs Higuain as their target man, they have always had one, from Valdano to Batistuta to Crespo. With Messi being Messi, that leaves the final spot up for grabs and frankly depending on how Sabella feels what might win him the game, he has the options. Aguero, Di Maria, Ezequiel Lavezzi will be fighting for the position. It certainly seems that Carlos Tevez (due to his constant problems with managers), Diego Milito (too old and underused in his time) Rodrigo Palacio (not good enough) are in the firing line.

World Cup Qualifiers are coming up fast for Sabella and his men. With Brazil out of it, by hosting the World Cup, they have the chance to easily qualify for the event. But qualifying isn’t enough; in the next two and half years, Sabella has to give the Albiceleste their identity back. Spain qualified and dominated the previous World Cup, playing their style of football. The beauty of Sabella is that he has time though; sparing a disastrous Maradona-like qualification campaign, the former Estudiantes manager will be in charge over the next few years. He just has to get the results needed and in the style too. Then, only then can Argentina have its own Luis Aragones.

Andrew Bishara

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