Gerardo Martino has hinted that Lionel Messi will not feature on Saturday against El Salvador in Washington after the Barcelona striker has been nursing a sore toe since the Real Madrid clash last weekend. The Argentina manager will not take any risks with his captain and so a much changed line-up is expected with River Plate defender, Ramiro Funes-Mori expected to make his debut.
Since naming his squad for the American tour, Martino has found himself criticised for what was perceived as a conservative selection and one which failed to allow some of the impressive youngsters an opportunity internationally. The likes of Luciano Vietto, Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi were all overlooked for the more recognised figures of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Carlos Tevez or Maxi Rodriguez. However, after a twenty-two year wait for a trophy at senior level and little time since the World Cup to prepare for the Copa América, it is perhaps an unfair criticism levelled at the former Barcelona boss.
Argentina will go to Chile as tournament favourites and with only these two friendlies before the squad will be named there is little time to be experimenting with new players and systems. With that in mind and the riches available to Martino, particularly in attack, perhaps the Olympics in 2016 will give those younger players their chance.
Martino has said that it would not be fair to judge any of these players based just on these two friendlies but the fact is that with such little time a couple of poor performances from any of the fringe contenders or newcomers could end their hopes of going to Chile.
With Ecuador, on Tuesday, likely to provide a stiffer test than El Salvador Martino looks set to name a rather reserve looking side for Saturday. Tigres goalkeeper, Nahuel Guzmán is a player well known by Martino from their time at Newell’s but is never likely to be the first choice and only Pablo Zabaleta would be considered a defensive regular. He is joined by Villarreal’s Mateo Musacchio, who in time could earn a starting spot in the centre, and partnered with River Plate’s Ramiro Funes Mori. The River defender has been struggling for form and it would be a real surprise if he was named in the Copa América squad. Lucas Orban completes the back four but with so few matches available, might Martino have been better off giving a player who is genuinely challenging for a place in this friendly?
Argentina would normally line-up in the 4-3-3 that Alejandro Sabella found such success with and while Martino obviously favours this lineup himself, he has also experimented with a 4-2-3-1. It will be the latter that he will use against El Salvador according to reports.
The two players shielding the defence will be Juventus’ Robert Pereyra and Sevilla’s Ever Banega and while both players are obviously admired by Martino and most likely will be in the squad they will out of a first eleven. Javier Masherano will naturally take the shielding role and would ordinarily be joined by Lucas Biglia or the injured Enzo Pérez.
The difference between Argentina’s 4-3-3 under Martino and the one favoured by Sabella highlights the slightly more defensive mindset of the current manager. Ángel Di María is no longer it appears in consideration for one of the three midfield births and instead Martino utilises the Manchester United man as one of the attackers.
In this attacking 4-2-3-1, Di María will take place as one of the three attacking midfielders, with Carlos Tevez and Ezequiel Lavezzi. No doubt the weakness of the opposition has allowed Martino to be a little bolder in this starting eleven but despite this they will be expected to assist the side defensively.
Gonzalo Higuain is preferred in the number nine role which suggests that Messi and Sergio Agüero will start against Ecuador. The team on Tuesday will likely have a much more familiar starting eleven feel to it.
With only a friendly against Bolivia before the tournament in June, Martino has made it clear he isn’t one to switch things up too much. Sergio Romero will likely remain as number one and perhaps the only real question mark will be over who partners Ezequiel Garay at centre back. Judging by this squad and the projected lineups it would appear that Nicolas Otamendi is now in pole position.
The Ecuador match will provide greater insight but Martino must already know almost his entire squad for the Copa América. After the success of the World Cup and the wait for a trophy, there is a significant degree of pressure on whoever he opts for.
Probable starting eleven vs El Salvador: Nahuel Guzmán; Pablo Zabaleta, Mateo Musacchio, Ramiro FunesMori, Lucas Orban; Roberto Pereyra, Ever Banega; Ezequiel Lavezzi, Carlos Tevez, Angel DiMaria; Gonzalo Higuain.