World Cup 2018

What on earth is up with Argentina?! Well I think that they still have a metaphorical hangover from their almost failure to qualify for the finals in the first place. They played very cautiously against Iceland, and failed to use what they had in Messi. Against Iceland, he was starved of service, although he did miss a penalty when he had a chance, but when you have one of the best players on the planet in your squad, you have to use his talents and build the team around him, and I think playing him wide and using Angel Di Maria as a no. 10 didn’t work and didn’t allow Messi to do what he does best – he was restricted to a supporting role only. Against Croatia, he was played in a much better central role, which was good, and Argentina initially set up with three at the back and Eduardo Salvio and Nicolas Tagliafico as wing-backs, which allowed Messi to get into the box and wait for the crosses. However, Croatia were generally very good at clearing crosses before he could get on the end of them. Dejan Lovren in particular I thought was really impressive. This meant that Messi was once again starved of service. Jorge Samapaoli was looking very forlorn on the touchline, almost as if he had tried everything he knew and nothing was effective. For me, I didn’t think the wing-back system worked, simply because it just gave too much space to Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ante Rebic, who managed to cause them problems all night. I’m not saying that Croatia’s goals would have been prevented by playing with a back four, as Argentina were so disorganised that it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. However, the system looked so unfamiliar to the Argentines that it allowed Croatia to play attacking football and to put the pressure on their defence, knowing that they would eventually crack. The first goal was exactly that – Willy Caballero just being too careless and a fantastic finish from Rebic. The second goal was just a really nice strike from Modric, but the third goal came again from this poor defending, with none of the defenders willing to prevent the ball into the box, and Croatia and Ivan Rakitic able to walk the ball into the back of the net for their third. Get Eduardo Salvio off the right-back/right wing-back role, because he is not that sort of player. He needs to play a more attacking role in this team, although at the moment I wouldn’t start him. Argentina next have to play Nigeria, who can be dangerous, so they will need to sort this catastrophic defending out before then, and learn to play to Messi’s strengths, because that is the only way I see them being in with any chance of beating Nigeria. They may still be in with a chance, because I think based on the two performances of Iceland and Nigeria in their first games, Iceland will beat Nigeria but it will be tight, but I don’t expect Iceland to get anything from their game against Croatia. But this will mean nothing if Argentina and Jorge Sampaoli don’t pull their fingers out and sort out the defending.

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