Jorge Sampaoli is certainly not wasting anytime on putting his own stamp on the Argentina team and if the inclusion of Mauro Icardi for June’s friendlies didn’t make a statement, the Inter Milan striker’s prominent place in the latest squad in favour of Gonzalo Higuaín signals a real changing of the guard.
The myth of the ‘Friends of Messi club’ has been well and truly dissolved as Sampaoli shakes up the squad and continues to mold a squad in keeping with his own clear set of idea.
The absence of Gonzalo Higuaín is the big talking point from the squad that faces Uruguay and Venezuela in three weeks as despite his high-profile failings in major finals, the Juventus centre-forwards has remained a regular fixture.
Sampaoli has instead opted to select Mauro Icardi, having been impressed with the 24-year-old when travelling to Australia and Singapore in June despite carrying an injury. The controversial figure has long been suspected to be excluded due to his personal life but has finally been rewarded for his outstanding record in Serie A.
Sergio Agüero was left out of the previous friendlies but after his meeting with Sampaoli and Sebastián Beccacece is back in the fold, presumably vying with Icardi for the number nine role.
Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Joaquín Correa completed the line-up of forwards but the early indications suggest Icardi will start in Montevideo.
Javier Mascherano remains in the squad, listed as one of the few defenders and the imbalance towards the midfield, indicates that Argentina will continue with Sampaoli’s preferred three-man backline.
Nicolás Pareja a new face among the more familiar defenders; Nicolás Otamendo, Federio Fazio, Gabriel Mercado and Mascherano. With the local players yet to be added to the squad expect this area to be bolstered with the inclusion of Javier Pinola, Jonatan Maidana, Nicolás Tagliafico and José Luis Gómez.
The plentiful options in midfield are increased with the return of Augusto Fernández from injury and the recall of Javier Pastore.
Fernández, who only returned from a long-term knee injury to play in preseason for Atlético Madrid, seems a likely option to replace the suspended Éver Banega in the starting eleven against Uruguay.
Lucas Biglia is named in the group but has picked up a thigh injury and AC Milan’s medical team suggest the midfielder will be out for a month. If this is the case, Sampaoli may look to call a replacement or rely on someone from Argentina’s Primera División.
There is no room for experimentation and error in World Cup qualification but Sampaoli’s squad looks a great deal more entertaining than Edgardo Bauza’s ever did, so it should be fun.