With the nightmare of Lionel Messi’s retirement swiftly dealt with by Edgardo Bauza it appeared that following Barcelona’s victory over Athletic Club on Sunday injury may after all deny La Albicelete of their greatest asset for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay and Venezuela.
Even on Tuesday morning the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was said to be doubtful for Thursday’s all-important clash with Uruguay but in the afternoon session Edgardo Bauza fielded what most suspect will be his first choice eleven for his first game in charge and – panic over – Messi was included.
With the only question mark hanging over Messi’s fitness, the starting eleven is to be expected given what Bauza had told reporters earlier in the week.
While the personnel is very similar, Martino’s 4-3-3 becomes Bauza’s preferred 4-2-3-1 and with the absence of Gonzalo Higuaín from the squad and injury to Sergio Agüero, it has left Lucas Pratto as El Patón’s number nine.
The 28-year-old was one of the few surprises from Bauza’s initial squad announcement and while he may only have a brief spell with Genoa on his CV as European football experience, the Atlético Mineiro striker is a decent all-rounder – physical yet able to link-up play, a good finisher when presented with chances and the type of centre forward that Bauza likes.
The more attacking 4-2-3-1 utilises a bank of three attackers behind Pratto looking to create and support and while Messi on the right and Di María on the left are only slight variations on their prior roles, the inclusion of Paulo Dybala will excite supporters.
Many had wondered where the Juventus striker would fit into these plans and perhaps had it not been for those players missing, the 22-year-old would have had to make do with a place on the bench but Dybala will now have the opportunity to impress.
Bauza has talked about his abilities to drop deeper and create or play as a false nine and is obviously an admirer of the former Instituto forward – this opportunity will come with a degree of pressure. Support Pratto without neglecting defensive duties and crucially allow Messi the freedom to roam without occupying the same space and allowing team’s to pack defenders around the Barcelona icon.
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Lucas Biglia looks set to retain his place alongside Javier Mascherano in defensive midfield at least for now but Bauza’s comments suggest it is an area that is far from certain with a number of options available. El Patón had even talked about the possibility of Mascherano appearing in central defence at some stage but praised the form of pairing Nicolás Otamendi and Ramiro Funes Mori and so for now Argentina’s Jefecito remains at number five.
Certainly dropping Mascherano back into the position he excels in regularly for Barcelona and which has been a problem area for La Albiceleste would be a move which appears so obvious and yet so ignored by a number of coaches. Options in midfield are more plentiful than in central defence but it will be an experiment perhaps for a later date.
Bauza’s only other changes are at full back where Pablo Zabaleta returns from injury to take the place of Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Más, who replaces the still suspended Marcos Rojo. Mercado is a little unfortunate to lose his place after performing so admirably in Zabaleta’s absence while Más is an obvious selection given his history with the coach at San Lorenzo.
There are certainly easier games that Bauza could have begun his tenure as Argentina coach with and Uruguay will be looking to exploit the lack of preparation and the players unfamilarity with a new system. However, El Patón will know that leading the national team is an unforgiving position and there will be few excuses.