This is what it all comes down to. Later tonight, the Argentina national team will play its most important match since the 2014 World Cup Final. The Copa America final matches were important, but tonight’s crucial duel will decide whether La Albiceleste even gets to participate in next summer’s World Cup. All the pressure is on for Jorge SAMPAOLI’s men in Quito against Ecuador.
Jorge SAMPAOLI’s Substitutions
Argentina manager Jorge SAMPAOLI has drawn some criticism of late because of his player selections and tactical formations. The team hasn’t been able to win a competitive match under SAMPAOLI, with three-consecutive draws putting Argentina’s World Cup hopes in jeopardy. With all that said, Argentina hasn’t played poorly in any of the three matches; they’ve conceded just one goal and were hard-lucked to not score at least one themselves in the draw against Peru on Thursday.
But it’s been SAMPAOLI’s substitutions that have left a lot to be desired, primarily in the match against Peru. The manager had reportedly been flirting with the idea of starting Leandro PAREDES in midfield instead of Lucas BIGLIA, but elected to go with the latter, a more defensive player. BIGLIA played well, but his midfield partner, Ever BANEGA, did not and was substituted. It was the perfect match for PAREDES to come in and spray passes around the pitch, but instead SAMPAOLI brought in Fernando GAGO, an oft-injured 31-year-old who could only play five minutes before being needed to be substituted with injury (the third and final sub).
Argentina went home with one point and with Mauro ICARDI and Paulo DYBALA not getting one second of playing time. That can’t happen again, no matter the supposed injury to ICARDI and the lack of chemistry between DYBALA and Leo MESSI. Both ICARDI and DYBALA need to at least get a chance to change the game tonight, though it’ll have to be off the bench.
Argentina Midfield Creating Scoring Chances
I probably sound like a broken record by this point, but Argentina’s midfield has to create something in order for the team to score goals and win. MESSI can only do so much from his No. 10 position. He does more than enough in terms of materializing scoring chances out of nothing, but he needs help. BANEGA has been of no help in this qualifying cycle, and he’s been dropped for tonight’s game because of it. BIGLIA is not a creator and neither is Enzo PEREZ, who is expected to slot in for BANEGA. Who does that leave? Javier MASCHERANO, who will play as a free-ranging center back that has the freedom to venture forward and pick out players with long passes, just like he did extremely well against Peru.
In addition to MASCHERANO, Angel DI MARIA and the other midfielders/wingers must create from the flanks. Marcos ACUÑA will have his hands full covering behind DI MARIA, but he’s more than capable of swinging in dangerous crosses. Eduardo SALVIO looks likely to get the start on the right wing, where he’s adept at beating defenders with his quickness and slotting in key passes with his right foot. MESSI can give other players chances to score goals often, but he needs the others to reciprocate in this crucial match.
Argentina’s Players in the Altitude
It’s been talked about enough, but it’s absolutely something worth mentioning. For as long as anyone can remember, La Albiceleste has struggled to perform against teams that play in high altitudes, primarily Bolivia and Ecuador (tonight’s opponent). Argentina hasn’t won in La Paz against Bolivia since 2005 and in Quito against Ecuador since 2001. Now, these are unforeseen circumstances that haven’t been demanded in the past, but Argentina’s players will struggle to breathe and keep up an uptempo pace for the duration of the match. It’ll be massive for the team if they can get an early goal so that they can settle into a possession-based match.