Why Argentina’s Attacking Line Has Question Marks All Over It

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The following was written by guest writer Adam Grimshaw, whom you can follow over on Twitter @adamgeorgie.

When Lionel SCALONI took over the helm from his former mentor Jorge SAMPAOLI following a disastrous World Cup campaign it was simply to steady the ship. By November he was made full time coach with a contract stretching until the end of the 2019 Copa America.

Now that time has come and with it SCALONI has made his most important decision to date – who to include in his 23 man squad for the 2019 Copa America.

Difficult decisions
SCALONI’s choice was always going to be a difficult one for a national team with such an abundance of quality and a country so expectant and demanding of success.

As part of the 23-man squad that SCALONI will take to Brazil he has selected forward men Lionel MESSI, Sergio AGÜERO, Paulo DYBALA, Lautaro MARTINEZ and Matias SUÁREZ.

From his preliminary squad he has forsaken Atletico Madrid’s Angel CORREA and Gonzalo MARTINEZ of Atlanta United, while Chelsea national team veteran Gonzalo HIGUAIN was not even put under consideration due to retirement.

The burden of MESSI
Despite many dissenters in his home country, captain and Catalan hero Lionel MESSI is an easy pick for SCALONI.

MESSI is one of the key survivors of a World Cup campaign that incited one Argentinian TV network to hold a minute’s silence to mark the death of La Selección. In the end someone has to be a survivor, and someone has to provide the foundation to build anew – MESSI is just that.

It’s hard not to isolate Lionel MESSI, such is his mercurial talent. He stands head and shoulders above the rest as one of the only players in the world who can single handedly win his team a game. The fact that he hasn’t managed to achieve those feats for his country at pivotal moments is partly why the Argentine public remain so unconvinced.

That very isolation has become the key problem, creating a tumultuous relationship between Messi and his homeland. It was no more prominent than on the world’s stage last summer in Russia.

MESSI, though miles ahead of the rest, has his limits. La Pulga still needs the support of a team around him, that much was shown for Barcelona in the semi final of the Champions League this April. It will be no different at the Copa America.

Experience up front
Part of that enduring foundation up front is Sergio AGÜERO. MESSI and AGÜERO have a lot in common going into this year’s 2019 Copa America. Both players have once again been outstanding for their club sides this season and will go into the tournament in top form.

MESSI at Barcelona and AGÜERO at Manchester City have swept aside almost all that has stepped into their paths, collecting the spoils as they see fit. SCALONI is right to select these two ahead of the rest. It’s likely they’ll be first choice when Argentina face Colombia on 15 June in Salvador.

The biggest problem for MESSI and AGÜERO is bearing the burden. With 337 caps and 105 international goals between they will have to carry the team forward up front. Whether it will end in frustration and disappointment as it so often has remains to be seen.

The best of the rest?
SCALONI has been candid in his preparations for the Copa America, no more so than in his justifications regarding his squad selection.

The key problem that thr manager has inherited from his predecessor is what to do with the big guns after such an underperforming World Cup. While MESSI and AGÜERO will carry the torch, SCALONI has had a difficult decision of whether to back the tried and tested or to give others a chance.

Ultimately who he has selected up front is a muddled and confused flock of forwards. SCALONI has neither stubbornly stuck with proven attackers, nor has based his selection purely on form and merit. There is no clear philosophy.

Chosen forwards Paulo DYBALA, Lautaro MARTINEZ and Matias SUÁREZ all received minutes in Argentina’s most recent friendly matches. SCALONI obviously sees enough in these three to warrant a ticket to Brazil.

But all three have serious questions marks surrounding their ability to perform on South America’s biggest stage.

Paulo DYBALA has struggled to find his best form this past season in Serie A, clearly uncomfortable with living in the shadow of Cristiano RONALDO. DYBALA is no stranger to playing second fiddle in the Argentina setup since he made his debut in 2015.

Claudio CANIGGIA has been DYBALA’s most recent critic. While DYBALA does have the talent, with only one international goal to his record so far, it seems unlikely given his current form that he will light up the tournament for Argentina.

Then there is former Racing wonderkid turned Interista Lautaro MARTINEZ. MARTINEZ has time on his side and there are high hopes, but he has been a frustrating prospect in his first season in Milan.

Despite superseding club captain and fellow countryman Mauro ICARDI as main striker, MARTINEZ failed to sufficiently capitalise on his chances in Serie A. ICARDI still finished as the club’s top scorer come the end of the season, but despite that MARTINEZ has been selected for the Copa America ahead of his rival teammate.

The most surprising inclusion is without a doubt Matias SUÁREZ. The 31 year old, currently plying his trade at River Plate, boasts neither youth nor international experience.

Córdoba kid SUÁREZ spent most of his career at hometown club Belgrano and in Anderlecht, before making the switch to River Plate this season. He currently stands as the only attacker in contention for a place to not score a goal for the national team in recent games. CORREA, MARTINEZ, ICARDI and DYBALA all produced in recent friendlies.

Tried, tested and brushed aside

The headline grabbing omissions have been left to Gonzalo HIGUAIN (retired) and Mauro ICARDI who will both be going on holiday early this year.

ICARDI has endured a difficult season. He and his spouse turned agent have long been embroiled in a public spat with Inter manager Luciano SPALLETTI and the club hierarchy, which led to him being stripped of the club captaincy and his place on the pitch.

Though ICARDI made a return to the field towards the end of the season he failed to score from open play since his spat. His form as well as his level of professionalism have obviously had a role in why he won’t be going to Brazil this year.

Mauro is tried and tested as a goalscorer for club and country, among the best in the world. Including him could have been a smart choice to have some experienced and incisive back up on the bench.

The impact of Argentina’s attack at this year’s Copa America remains to be seen. If it is to be third time lucky, then Argentina’s attacking players will certainly have to pick up their game. If they do, it will be made all the sweeter if they do the job on Brazilian soil.

 

Adam Grimshaw

@adamgeorgie

32 COMMENTS

  1. Mario kempes said in an interview:

    “Every coach who comes in feels an obligation to go to Barcelona to see Messi, and that’s worrying,” he said.

    “He’s the best player in the world, but the best player in the world should be left alone.
    “The coach should worry about the other players.”

    I fully agree. The coaching staff should focus on all players other than Messi. Messi has ” been there and done that” and is the best player in football today. Hopefully the coaching staff does not repeat this same mistake that the last two coaches have made.

  2. Aguero has been playing in the shadow of Higuain all the time. He was never our main sticker going to tournament. I was expected him last year but our genius coach preferred Higuain. I have to admit there were chances that he didn’t take but he can’t be blamed for underperforming. we can count how many times he was a starter in a big tournament. Sometimes emotions take over but the numbers are there

    • That’s not entirely true,

      2010 WC———->pipita was the team’s preferred striker that’s true
      2011 copa———>neither kun nor pipita started instead Tevez and Lavezzi were used initially
      2014 WCQ/WC—-> Kun and pipita were starters
      2015 Copa———-> Kun was the main striker
      2016 copa———–> pipita was main striker (kun arrived with a knock)
      2018 WC————-> Kun was the main striker

      So overall it’s been 50/50 when it comes to which one of the 2 started tournaments.

    • At Copa 2015, he started every single match. Like Mamoun mentioned, don’t forget 2014WQ/WC and 2018 WC. Don’t tell me he didn’t get enough oppurtunities to show his worth.

  3. Some cow like people says that Messi become slow..it is natural that Messi getting older day by day but he has natural talent with magic.. till the age of 40 his presence on the field is create mammoth pressure on opponents because he has magic he has ability to change the game any time.. Europes top defender to midfielder are unable to catch Messi who is more younger than them..so don’t shit about Messi.. yours best players are dumb ass before 28..

  4. No Mrinal. I am seriously watching football for about 40 years. And would really love to catch up with ur 8 year cousin. Must be a genius. I think most football lovers miss the physicality and the mental aspect of the game. Let me explain, since I watched World Cups ie since 1982 , take note of the age of the Golden Ball winners or the runners up 1982 Rossi (26), 1986 Diego (26), 1990 Mathaus (29), 1994 Romario (28), 1998 Ronaldo (22) and Zidane was 26, 2002 it was Kahn so looking at Ronaldinho (22), 2006 Zidane (34), 2010 Forlan (31), 2014 Messi (26/27), 2018 Modric (32). What I mean is that players are most influential in their mid to late twenties. Zidane and Diego Forlan were exceptional athletes like Ronaldo. Messi is not as athletic as them. He will be more than 35 years of age. If we find in 2021 that Messi suddenly has lost speed and stamina where would that leave us? In the middle of a qualifying campaign and welcome chaos. What would you do then my friend? More later. Need some sleep

  5. Who’s the best attacking midfielder this season? Lo Celso. So Scaloni should put him behind Messi and Aguero. To fully use his capacity, you need to give him freedom, so the best system should be 4312, with 3 hardworking midfielders supporting him, which means you got to sacrifice wingers and need the fullbacks involve more in attack and be more mobile. I think how efficient the attack will really depend on the fullbacks this time. Its not a problem to sacrifice wingers because we actually don’t have many options: Di Maria cannot handle 90 minutes for 5-6 games on the row, Lanzini not ready yet, Pity not convincing, Vargas and Barco too young, Cervi didn’t do well. Others like Correa and Pavon are more half winger half 9 and none was outstanding this season. So really nothing to lost. I like Pussetto but it’s too late for Scaloni to try him.

    However, I agree with the writer on the other players in attack, especially Dybala and Suarez. I think it makes more sense to take Icardi and Benedetto as sub, both of them can score in very limited time, on a corner or counter attack. It’s a huge mistake to take too many players with similar profile.

    Another uncertainty with Aguero is the playing style. Aguero getting used to Pep’s possession football, with very agile and fast wingers supporting him. Now without winger, it will be a different story. I don’t see Messi will run for Aguero like what Sterling, Silva and Sane do at club. As I said earlier, fullbacks are the key. They need to act as wingers.

    So we need a miracle: Tagliafico plays at his champions league level, Saravia can help Messi on the right side, Aguero and Lo Celso at 100%, Guido and Palacios can score on corner and Pereyra can score with his powerful shots.

  6. Mauro Icardi should have been included no one in argentinas side except ottamendi can head the ball , Mauro’s exclution is a huge MISTAKE by scolani he is a proper n.o 9

    • I doubt if Icardi will ever make the NT. Maybe he will but he has a serious handicap. He is unpredictable and threatens the peace of the dressing room. We lost the last WC on account of that issue not anything else IMO. Icardi and his entourage is a circus. Talent and skill alone isn’t everything. I don’t blame his wife. He is an adult and should take charge of his own career. I don’t know if you have followed Ricardo Centurion. What a player he is and what a talent he could have been. IMO the NT should never touch him with a barge pole

  7. I think the doubts raised are marginal cases. We have a very good squad. On reflecting, the only standout question in my mind is the justification of selecting both Casco and Acuna. I would have rather gone for Pity/J Correa. I am a great fan of both and would not like to choose between them. My two marginal cases were A Correa for Matias Suarez and Pity/J Correa for ADM. It is time to move on and get used to living life without Higuain, Aguero, ADM and Messi. And rather than transition in one go, leave out ADM this year, Aguero next year and Messi thereafter. The two Correas, Lo Celso, Pity, Lautaro, Palacios andwill be mainstays of our Qatar campaign and must get as much time to gel together, practice together, share the locker room so that we have a cohesive side 4 years from now.

    • 3.5 years from now to be more precise. It is very important that Messi retires in the next 1.5 years so that we have 2 full years to play the qualifiers without him. Messi is not the same player that he was 5 years back. He is much slower now and less stronger. How quickly his health will fade no one can predict but it is almost certain that Messi can at best be a substitute in the next WC. Ronaldo is blessed with a much more athletic physique but at 34 he is figuring out how to reinvent himself since he too has lost speed and stamina and is no longer the electric winger running at defences anymore. It will be a shame if we realize in the midst of the WC qualifiers that Messi is not likely to be good enough. For the sake of the greater good even the greatest must be compromised.

      • less stronger? to be correct he is much stronger now, neirly impossible to outmuscle, unlike when he was young, much better passer, more creative, better shooter (free kicks, long range shots) etc. and still the world fastest dribbler(without a doubt, faster with the ball than without it) without the ball only average speed, but with it the fastest dribbler (99% of dribblers lose lot of speed when dribbling due to their bad dribbling technique, Messi doesnt even lose a single rhytm, the ball is like part of his body

        • He has evolved no doubt. He is the best in the world by far even today. No doubt. But overall his greatest achievements came between 2006-2012. The only exception perhaps being the UCL’15. If you look at the 2006-07 Getafe goal and the June 2012 hatrick against Brazil you will understand in his golden years Messi was far more devastating than what he is today. Nothing could stop him. Absolutely nothing. That’s not true anymore.

          • The Ecuador performance was much more special, his greatest archievements came at that time because Barca was much stronger and had a better coach, his best season was 14/15 in club level still very strong midfield but peak Suarez and young, energetic Neymar could share the attention, unlike current Barcelona (peak CR was 2010-13, but his big results came later because better teammates)

          • Did you watch his performances against Tottenham, MU and Liverpool(first leg)? in CL…. In La Liga, no one is even close.
            This season is one of his best individually…

          • @Prakash have you just started warching football? My 8 year old cousin knows more about football than you.
            You have only some videos on the YouTube like Geafe goal and talking about it.

        • I agree with ur point on the hat trick in the last do or die WC qualifying match. All I am saying is Messi is one of the all time greats, he is the best in the world today by far, he is not the lung busting 60 yards in 7 seconds ace that he was 5 years back, by the next WC he may not be the world beating Messi. Should we have a Plan B or should we just let things be as they are

      • Becoming less stronger, losing speed?? ROFL…
        Man, you are talking about the player who has scored the highest number of goals in Europe and has highest number of assists… Topmost contender for Ballon D Or….Argentina will fail to qualify for sure in case Messi is not playing the 2021… Don’t go by the result of the friendlies.

        CL loss to Liverpool was because of Barcelona’s weak defense line …they were playing with that risk from the start of the season, and Barcelona never had a plan B which is to play out and defend strong when things get tough…Argentina has a strong attacking line with Messi, Aguero, Lo Celso , Di Maria but still I am not that optimistic about this side because they have the same problems as Barcelona… the defense is not strong..thats the most concerning for any team, you can fight in football with weakness upfront (take Italy for example), but if you have weakness in back four then its very difficult to survive …Scaloni has to focus primarily on that area…leave the goal scoring and creating chance section to LM10 and Aguero, they are the best in business up there, focus on how to build a strong defense…much like what Sabella did in 2014 and almost won the WC

    • His goal against nigeria , pretty slow and scoring numerous wonder goals which tap in king Penaldo can only dream of . Last 13 goals scored by penaldo are only headers and penalties so what’s your point. And messi much more quicker than penaldo for Footballer acceleration is more important than speed Penaldo needs run 10m to get his top speed but messi can get his top speed in 2m .He is the hardest player in the world defest in short 1-2m sprint.
      Either you don’t know what are you talking about or you are a Penaldo fan here to prove that penaldo is better than messi.

  8. Great to see lo celso attracting interest from big clubs. Hopefully, his momentum is carried into the copa. It was not long ago he was declared medicore by „hot take experts“. One game you are a legend, next game shit. Hopefully, Scaloni doesnt listen to them and is loyal to his plan.

  9. Real Betis midfielder Giovani Lo Celso is the subject of interest from Manchester City, according to MEN.

    Pep Guardiola will be watching the 23-year-old in action for Argentina at the Copa America this summer, with a view to launching a transfer swoop later in the year.

    Lo Celso contributed nine goals and four assists in 33 La Liga appearances for Real Betis this season.

    • Lo Celso is very similar to De Bruyne. Anyone who watched De Bruyne 5/6 years ago can spot the resemblance. Roberto Martinez and later, Guardiola have helped De Bruyne evolve into a versatile CM. Lo Celso has similar attributes ( except weak foot ability).

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