There is no more margin for error for Argentina as Venezuela visit the Monumental on Tuesday evening. Jorge Sampaoli’s side sit fifth in an increasingly tight South American qualifying process and with only three matches remaining are desperate for three points.
Last Thursday’s goalless draw away to Uruguay wasn’t quite the exciting start of the Sampaoli era that many had predicted and was instead another example of Argentina’s Messi-dependent, creatively stifled, low scoring football.
Only Bolivia have found the net less than La Albiceleste in South America despite the embarrassment of attacking riches available. But Sampaoli will once again trust in Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and Ángel Di María against Venezuela.
The only changes to the side that drew in Montevideo look set to be the return of Javier Mascherano, in place of the suspended Gabriel Mercado; Éver Banega, back from his one-match suspension, in favour of Lucas Biglia and Lautaro Acosta preferred to Marcos Acuña on the right of midfield.
Argentina probable XI: Sergio Romero; Javier Mascherano, Federico Fazio, Nicolás Otamendi; Guido Pizarro, Ever Banega; Lautaro Acosta, Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala, Ángel Di María; Mauro Icardi
Jorge Sampaoli hasn’t confirmed his starting eleven but speaking at the training ground on Monday was aware of his side still leaning too heavily on captain Messi and forcing him to play deep in midfield.
“A player like Éver Banega gives Messi the chance to move further into the opponent’s area but it’s difficult to remove this ‘Messi-dependency’ from a team when Leo is there. When you know you have the best player you will always look toward him,” Sampaoli told the press.
Banega’s return should improve matters as the Sevilla midfielder will provide a creativity and more progressive passing than either Lucas Biglia or Guido Pizarro offer but there is still the question over how Messi can link with the new look attack.
“The great partnerships are obvious: Messi with Di María and Messi with Banega. We are working on Leo with Dybala and Leo with Icardi.”
Sampaoli was also forced to answer questions on a rumoured disagreement between himself and Messi but the new coach was quick to deny such ‘shameful, false’ stories.
Argentina instead focus on qualification and after seeing Uruguay frustrate his side with a tremendous defensive display, Sampaoli is hoping that his side can start quickly in the Monumental to ease pressure.
“It’s important to believe in our own capabilities. We have to go looking for the points. We have to get an early goal so the opponent has to look for another gameplan.”
With only five points separating Colombia in second and Ecuador in eighth, the race for the four automatic World Cup places and the fifth-placed playoff spot is reaching boiling point.
Tuesday’s opponents Venezuela, one of only two teams out of the equation, sit bottom of the qualification process but will be aiming to cause the upset in Buenos Aires and score a famous victory.
History is certainly against La Vinotinto, having beaten Argentina only once in 21 attempts – that coming on home soil in 2011, during the 2014 World Cup qualification process.
Venezuela probable XI: Wuilker Faríñez; Víctor García, Jhon Chancellor, Mikel Villanueva, Rolf Feltscher; Arquímedes Figuera, Yangel Herrera, Sergio Córdova, Jhon Murillo; Josef Martínez, Salomón Rondón
Last seven meetings
Sept 6th 2016, World Cup qualifier
Venezuela 2 (Juanpi, Martínez)
Argentina 2 (Pratto, Otamendi)
June 18th 2016, Copa América
Argentina 4 (Higuaín (2), Messi, Lamela)
Venezuela 1 (Rondón)
March 22nd, 2013, World Cup qualifier
Argentina 3 (Higuaín (2), Messi)
October 11th 2011, World Cup qualifier
Venezuela 1 (Amorebieta)
Sept 2nd 2011, friendly
Argentina 1 (Otamendi)
March 16th 2011, friendly
Argentina 4 (Chávez, Mouche (2), Aued)
Venezuela 1 (Arismendi)
March 28th 2009, World Cup qualifier
Argentina 4 (Messi, Tevez, Maxi Rodrígez, Agüero)