Copa America 2011 Tactical Preview-Argentina

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Ritesh Gogineni
Editor/Founder of The False 9.

Its been 18 years since Argentina has last won a major trophy and with the world’s best player in its ranks the time is ripe to set the record straight.  On home soil and when all of its attacking players are fit and at the peak of their careers, this is the best chance for Argentina to end their drought at el Monumental.  The Argentinian football association has taken an interesting decision to award cities like Mendoza, Jujuy, San Juan, etc(some of which are home to clubs from the second tier of Argentinian club football) hosting rights for some of the games in this edition of the Copa America.  As most of the National team is based in Europe, the fans from these cities will be relishing the prospect of watching the likes of Messi, Kun Aguero, Di Maria in action and will be certainly turning out in huge numbers to support their team.

The only team which can match Spain for its attacking prowess is the Selección de fútbol de Argentina.Certainly Sergio Batista faces a serious selection head ache when he has to choose from the talents of Messi, Aguero, Di Maria, Higuain, Tevez and Lavezzi (Milito sadly missed out on the preliminary list).  In Midfield they have one of the best defensive midfielders in the world in their captain Javier Mascherano and the creative spark is provided by the highly-sought after Javier Pastore.
One of the main problem for Sergio Batista is bringing the best out of Lionel Messi.  The reigning World Player Of The Year has never been the same force for his country as he has been for the Catalans.  In the past, Messi has played a deeper role behind Higuain for Argentina and teams were able to shut him out of the game.  So Maradona tried to give him a free role in the World Cup, but it still didn’t work.

Argentina At The Fifa World Cup 2010
Diego Maradona wasn’t much of a tactician and Argentina’s poor performance at the World Cup was down to some bizarre tactical decisions by Maradona rather than a lack of quality.  He used Messi in a much deeper role presumably so that he is more involved in the game and has the chance to influence and initiate moves.  Messi usually isn’t involved in the initiating process at Barcelona (Although sometimes he can initiate, create and finish all by himself).  Xavi Hernandez is the Midfield General for Barcelona dictating the tempo and picking passes at will as the Catalan wizard allows Messi the freedom to do what he does best: score goals.  Argentina also were playing a flat back four, with all the defenders being natural central defenders which meant they were no runs forwards to support the wingers.  Although on paper Argentina’s formation looked like a 4-4-2, they play very narrow on the pitch.
The downfalls of this system weren’t evident till they played a quality side, as the individual brilliance of some of their players got them through against weaker opponents.  But against Germany in the quarters of the 2010 World Cup, they were horribly exposed.  Philip Lahm was given way too much space, and of course the age old problem of 4-4-2 vs 4-2-3-1 cropped up: being overrun in midfield.
Sergio Batista after being appointed the manager immediately realised this problem and switched to a 4-3-3 with Messi cutting in from the right.  This formation worked wonders in the very first match as Argentina best the world champions Spain 4-1.

Argentina’s Formation Against Spain
This system did work well and got Batista the job on a permanent basis.  But it is highly unlikely that Batista will go in with this same system in the Copa America.  After Batista got the job, some of the players including Tevez and Aguero voiced their dissent over the appointment.  Sergio then patched up with Aguero and others, but there is still some concern over his relationship with Tevez, so it is unlikely that Tevez will make the starting line-up.
Another important decision Batista has to make is to which role to assign to Messi.  Lionel Messi has been in stunning form for Barcelona for the last three years or so.  He is the Perfect False Nine in the modern game, if  ever there is one.  Dropping deep and leaving the opposition center backs confused, he has wreaked havoc against some of the best defenses in Europe.  One important point where Argentina are similar to Barcelona are the wingers/inside forwards which each side have.  Di Maria and Aguero are capable of playing the Villa and Pedro roles to perfection if not better.  In Pastore, they have a creative midfielder who is the modern version of the Playmaker unlike Riquelme(Read Here) with quick feet and a good finish.  Mascherano and Cambiasso can play the Double Pivot so essential to the  modern game(Read Here).  Zabaleta has been in good form for City so should play at left back.

Argentina-2011?
These are exciting times for Argentinian football fans; a young exciting side which includes the best player in the world has the potential to knock Spain off its perch(SAF-Style) and rule the world for years to come.  Even though the goalkeeper and the back four are potential Achilles’s Heels, there are some destructive players going forward who can change a game with moments of magic.  All of this of course depends on whether Messi can reproduce the form he has been consistently showing for the L’equip blaugrana in his national colours.  Batista certainly will give the best chance for Messi to do that if he is played as a false nine.

Can Messi lead Argentina to glory?

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Great going forward but their defence – with the notable exception of the evergreen Zanetti – is hopeless. Even Masch and Cambiasso are too slow. They might have enough to win the Copa but will need to address their defence before knocking Spain off their perch.

  2. Great article, looking forward to the rest of the tactical previews if you’re doing them.

    A few quick things on the final formation diagram. Would Di Maria and Aguero not play on the right and the left respectively so they would cut in on the favoured feet, like Di Maria does for Madrid. Admittedly I’m not sure the full-backs could give much support.

    Also is Zabaleta not a right-back?

  3. It should be relatively for them. I worry more about the midfield than the defence though. Can we honestly compare Cambiasso and Pastore to Xavi and Iniesta?

  4. Like Ritesh pointed out …….
    Argentina will be better of playing Mascherano in defence and then teaming Cambiaaso with Banega ….
    I am a big fan of Banega, the maturity this guy shows for Valencia in the midfield is amazing ….
    Was kinda taken by surprise when he didnot make it into the final 22 for Argentina in the world cup …..

  5. “Di Maria and Aguero are capable of playing the Villa and Pedro roles to perfection if not better.”

    I’m not sure I agree with that. Di Maria and Aguero would have to track back on a regula basis for the 4-3-3 system to work, otherwise the midlfield risks being overrun again. Now, I can see Di Maria doing that, as he does at Real Madrid. The big question is: can you serioulsy see Aguero helping in defense like Villa and Pedro do at Barça?

  6. @ Irish Berliner, it’s a bit of an exaggeration to call their defence “hopeless”. Plus, Mascherano certainly isn’t slow. In fact, one of the reasons he was moved to the centre of Barca’s defence recently was for his pace.

    @ JaxDaxter, Zabaleta can play on either side and had also been used as a holding midfielder.

    Great article. I too am looking forward to seeing ones of the other sides taking part.

    I think Argentina are well equipped to win the Copa America. Batista seems to be building a side around Messi in his most effective role, something Maradona failed to do. Further, Batista seems more inclined than Maradona to leave some of his star players out, for example Higuain is currently back-up, or at most a different option, to Messi in attack.

    Home advantage, plus the best attacking players to choose from – other than those already mentioned they have Lavezzi, Aguero, Di Maria, Pastore and Benega to choose from – means they must be favourites going into the tournament.

  7. Probable formation:

    Romero
    Zanetti, Milito, Burdisso, Rojo.
    Mascherano, Banega, Cambiasso
    Lavezzi, Messi, di Maria

    Even though they have more tactical discipline under Batista, they are still very susceptible to a fast counter-attack. Masch., Camb., Burd., and Milito are too slow. I’d be intersted in seeing Tevez and Messi just behind Higuain in quasi free roles (Tevez playing deeper than Messi), with Pastore leading the midfield trio. I’d also like to see Rojo and Zanetti push forward and have Masch. and Camb. in holding midfield positions.

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