“It is a challenge not to have the best player there. For the team, it is a challenge,” Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza told reporters ahead of Thursday night’s World Cup qualifier against Peru in the absence of captain of Lionel Messi.
In the short time since Bauza replaced Gerardo Martino as coach, the two-time Copa Libertadores winner has been tested and indeed the challenge of playing without Messi is one the side have already faced. With Messi, in Bauza’s first game in charge, Argentina scored a valuable win over Uruguay but when injury robbed La Albiceleste of the Barcelona star a few days later in Venezuela, a point was all that could be mustered.
Injury once more denies Argentina of Messi and Edgardo Bauza must reverse the worrying form during this qualifying campaign when the captain hasn’t featured. With Messi, Argentina have won three from three, but without it is one win, three draws and a defeat from five.
Bauza admitted to this challenge in his prematch press conference and added, “The team are what we have worked with and are prepared to play without him.”
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) October 5, 2016
This team will have Juventus forward Paulo Dybala replace Messi on the right after the 22-year-old served a one-match suspension against Venezuela.
“It is a position he [Dybala] knows, playing on the right side, and when he arrived in Italy too [at Palermo in 2012]. It is not an unfamiliar position.
“While he will not play as a winger, he will have freedom and retreat back to narrow spaces. Peru have good ball movement, we will attack, then we need to recover,” explained Bauza.
Higuaín reclaims his place as Argentina’s number nine and will have Sergio Agüero operating a little deeper in the number ten role. There are certainly goals in the team with all three potential candidates to play as the central striker but it remains to be seen if the system will work.
The only other change is in midfield where Matías Kranevitter replaces the injured Lucas Biglia with Bauza confident that the Atlético Madrid youngster can perform the same role.
Injuries or not anything less than three points will be another disappointment for Argentina.
Peru probable starting XI: Pedro Gallese; Aldo Corzo, Christian Ramos, Alberto Rodríguez, Miguel Trauco; Renato Tapia, Yoshimar Yotún; Cristian Benavente, Edison Flores, Christian Cueva; Paolo Guerrero
Argentina starting XI: Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Nicolás Otamendi, Ramiro Funes Mori, Marcos Rojo; Matías Kraneviter, Javier Mascherano; Paulo Dybala, Sergio Agüero, Ángel Di María; Gonzalo Higuaín
Peru’s qualification to date has been largely disappointing after a Copa América Centenario which brought such promise. Victory over Brazil to reach the quarter finals suggested that Los Incas could cause a few upsets but after eight rounds, Ricardo Gareca’s side have managed just seven points and sit second from bottom.
“In terms of expectations, I had higher, but we are still in time to correct that,” the Argentine coach told the press.
“I know that we will have the support of the fans and hopefully we can give them satisfaction and joy.”
Peru’s main problem lies outside Lima, where they have lost all four matches, and Gareca knows that a win over Argentina in the Estadio Nacional could really kickstart their campaign. Only Chile have won there so far and that was on matchday one and last month Peru recorded their second win with victory over Ecuador.
The last time these side’s met was in World Cup qualifying for Brazil 2014 and despite falling behind to a Claudio Pizarro goal in the Monumental, Argentina came back to win 3-1 thanks to goals from Ezequiel Lavezzi (2) and Rodrigo Palacio.
In the earlier reverse fixture Peru earned a point after a 1-1 draw. Gonzalo Higuaín scoring the equaliser on that occasion.
Despite Argentina dominating the head-t0-head (33 wins, 12 draws and 7 defeats), Peru have drawn the last two matches played in Lima – the 1-1 draw above and another of the same scoreline during World Cup qualification in 2008.
A point this evening would be another excellent result for the home side and with only one win from the previous 18 meetings, anything more would be a real shock.