Later tonight, the Argentina national team will face off against Uruguay in Estadio Centenario in Montevideo. A World Cup qualifier, this match is of tremendous importance for both teams. Argentina is currently in a World Cup playoff zone, while Uruguay is third in the Conmebol standings but is tied with Chile on points and is just one point ahead of La Albiceleste.
This match will also mark the first competitive match for Argentina under new manager Jorge SAMPAOLI. Don Sampa has already brought about turnover within the Argentina squad, calling up fresh new faces and changing Argentina’s system from the traditional 4-3-3 to his version of a 3-4-2-1. SAMPAOLI will go into this match with a specific plan, and he’ll do so because Uruguay likes to play a particular way: counter-attacking with long balls.
So with all of that in mind, let’s break down which matchups to look out for in tonight’s match.
Sergio ROMERO vs. Set Pieces
For anyone who has watched La Albiceleste play over the past decade or so, Sergio ROMERO hasn’t inspired too much confidence. He’s a bit of a boom-or-bust goalkeeper, as he’ll make outstanding saves and follow them up with a blunder. One criticism of ROMERO is his unwillingness to come off his line at times. Perhaps it was a coaching or tactical preference in the past, but ROMERO must be quick to come out on set pieces in this match.
Uruguay thrives on dead-ball situations, primarily on corner kicks where they can use their height to pepper the goal with shots. The Argentina defense will have its work cut out for it marking on corners and free kicks, but their life will be made much easier if ROMERO is aggressive in attacking the ball while it’s in the air during these situations. Whether he is plucking the ball out of the air or just punching it away, ROMERO needs to be much more active than usual tonight.
Mauro ICARDI vs. Diego Godín and José Giménez
Uruguay might very well have the best center back pairing in all of international soccer. Godín continues to age like a fine wine, while Giménez is one of the most talented young central defenders in soccer right now. The two play together at Atletico Madrid and have played together often for Uruguay, so their synergy can’t be denied. In order to break that backline, La Albiceleste will have to attack them in different ways.
In steps Mauro ICARDI. After years of being shunned from the team, ICARDI finally looks set to take over as Argentina’s new No. 9. A goal-scoring machine with outstanding vision to boot, ICARDI is a complete striker. Adept at finishing with his right foot and left foot, ICARDI is also a supreme ball-winner on aerial duels. He can jump as high as anyone and has a knack for directing headers into spaces where goalkeepers can’t get to. ICARDI has a tough task in what looks likely to be his first-ever start for Argentina, but he needs to attack with versatility for Argentina to score tonight.
Argentina Midfield vs. Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez
You might be thinking, “shouldn’t the matchup be Uruguay’s strikers against Argentina’s three defenders”? Yes, and it will be when Uruguay is in possession in Argentina’s final-third and on set pieces. But Uruguay’s style of play dictates for counter-attacking play from La Celeste. With Argentina fond of controlling the ball with short passes in the opponent’s half, Argentina’s midfielders will be stationed in Uruguay territory often.
When the ball is lost, Uruguay springs forward. With La Albicelste’s midfielders likely to be far away from their own goal, they’ll need to cut off any semblance of a counter-attack before Cavani and Suárez can go forward with the ball. Whether it’s by way of converging on the ball together or just fouling, Argentina’s midfielders (Lucas BIGLIA and Guido PIZARRO in particular) can’t allow for Uruguay’s strikers to get a full head of steam as they sprint towards Argentina’s backline of three defenders.