New-look Argentina for MCG Brazil friendly

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has been named in the Argentina squad to face Brazil at the MCG on June 9.

Leo Messi, Argentina

Leo Messi has been the talisman for Argentina in recent qualifiers Source: Getty Images

Argentina do not yet have a coach – but they have a squad to come to Australia.

Juventus duo Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala have also beeb named alongside Angel Di Maria but Manchester City star Sergio Aguero has been left out with Mauro Icardi earning a recall in his place.

Jorge Sampaoli is still in charge of Sevilla.  Once the Spanish season ends this weekend he can go through the legal niceties of severing his contract with the club and taking charge of his country.  

But, with a two week period of notice needed to call up foreign based players, the time had come for Argentina to announce their squad. 

Sampaoli, then, has named his list. But it does not bear his signature. It does, though, bear his stamp. 

Big changes have been made from the squad that was floundering in World Cup qualification under his predecessor Edgardo Bauza. 

There is no place, for example, for Aguero, or other stalwarts such as Ezequiel Lavezzi and Pablo Zabaleta.

One of the most significant changes, though, is positional. 

Only four defenders have been called up – at least a handful of home based players will later be added to the list of 20 names announced on Friday.  And one of those four is Javier Mascherano.

For some time now in the heart of the Barcelona defence, Mascherano has always operated for his country in his original position of central midfielder. 

He now looks set to drop back – to fill a role that the similarly diminutive Gary Medel, also a midfielder, plays for Chile when Sampaoli was in charge there, and continues to play. 

That makes the call up of Lyon defender Emanuel Mammana especially interesting. 

Argentina have been creaking alarmingly at the back recently. 

Lack of defensive pace has been one of the problems – not something that Mascherano, at the veteran stage of his career, is able to improve. Mammana is likely to be asked to supply this valuable commodity.

Interesting midfield inclusions are Roma’s Leandro Parades – originally an old fashioned number 10, but not blossoming in a deeper role, defensive specialist Guido Rodriguez of Tijuana – presumably an attempt to replace the function previously carried out by Mascherano, and West Ham’s lively Manuel Lanzini.

Further forward Messi is alongside Higuain and Di Maria, with the controversial Icardi coming in for Aguero. 

The newcomers here are Joaquin Correa, impressive under Sampaoli this season at Sevilla, and Alejandro Gomez, a little support striker who has been in fine form with Atlanta. 

Add in Dybala and Argentina’s strength in depth in this department is almost embarrassing. 

Strange indeed, then, that in World Cup qualification they have managed just 15 goals in 14 games – fewer than bottom of the table Venezuela.

This striking statistic bears out the point that building a team is all about getting the balance right. 

Argentina have seldom consistently looked like a solid team in recent years – despite reaching three finals in a row (World Cup 2014, Copa America 2015, Copa Centenario 2016). 

It is arguable that they have been unable to form a convincing unit for a decade – since hitting their heights, though falling short of the silverware, in the 2006 World Cup and the following year’s Copa America. 

Subsequently they have been over-dependent on flashes of individual brilliance – especially from Messi.  Their record in the current World Cup qualification campaign highlights this dependence all too well. 

 Messi has played six games, of which Argentina have won 5.  He has been forced to miss 8 games, of which Argentina have won just one.

This, then, is the task ahead of Sampaoli.  In a short period of time he has to come up with a team good enough to qualify and then have a shot at winning the World Cup – the last time that Messi and his contemporaries will be taking part in the tournament at their peak.

Typically, Sampaoli likes to press high, to stangle the opponent in their half of the field and throw plenty of players forward, so that the man on the ball has plenty of options to give a quick pass.

The advantage here is that Messi will not have to retreat so deep to pick up possession – which has been a significant difference between the way he plays for club and country.  

The risk is that pressing high may leave a suspect defence very open and vulnerable – and Brazil, so dangerous on the counter-attack, are a team able to take full advantage. 

The Sampaoli era, then, could hardly have a more interesting start than the June 9th showdown at the MCG.

Argentina Squad

Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Manchester United), Nahuel Guzman (Tigres), Geronimo Rulli (Real Sociedad)

Defenders: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Emanuel Mammana (Lyon), Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City)

Midfielders: Eduaro Salvio (Benfica), Lucas Rodrigo Biglia (Lazio), Ever Banega (Inter Milan), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United), Leandro Paredes (Roma), Guido Rodriguez (Tijuana)

Attackers: Leo Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus), Joaquin Correa (Sevilla), Alejandro Dario Gomez (Atalanta), Mauro Icardi (Inter Milan), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

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5 min read
Published 20 May 2017 at 8:27am
By Tim Vickery