Jorge Sampaoli added his group of local players to the Argentina squad on Sunday evening as expected ahead of the critical week in World Cup qualifying and among some familiar faces, Fernando Gago made a return after two years away.
With Argentina facing Peru in La Bombonera, rather than El Monumental, Gago is one of three Boca Juniors stars included, Darío Benedetto and Pablo Pérez joining him. In addition to River Plate duo, Enzo Pérez and Milton Casco and Lanús forward Lautaro Acosta.
The inclusion of Fernando Gago may seem to many as a step back but it is perhaps this familiarity with the squad and the 31-year-old’s outstanding form with Boca in recent months that has prompted his recall.
Gago was last involved with the national team for a friendly against Mexixo in September of 2015, five days before he ruptured his achilles tendon in a superclásico. A repeat of the same injury in 2016 had all but ended the midfielder’s international hopes but ahead of such an important couple of fixtures the former Real Madrid player is back.
For all of Gago’s unfulfilled promise and torrid injury record, it is worth remembering how talented a midfielder the 31-year-old is when fit and how under Alejandro Sabella he proved instrumental in balancing the midfield and getting the best from Lionel Messi.
It is no doubt this relationship with Messi, that dates back to Argentina’s youth sides, his ability to move the ball forward quickly while still protecting the back four and the fact that La Bombonera hosts the Peru game that has seen Sampaoli turn to Gago.
Darío Benedetto was in Sampaoli’s last squad and made his debut durnig the second half against Venezuela but has remained in fine goal scoring shape and provides an alternative to Mauro Icardi while Pablo Pérez, is a new addition.
At 32, Pérez is hardly one for the future but has been in terrific form, is the type of fiery, battle-hardened character that Sampaoli will like and is importantly one of those box-to-box type midfielders that Argentina have failed to produce in great numbers recently.
As is River Plate’s Enzo Pérez, another of Sabella’s faithful from 2014, and who provides a versatile option either as a defensive midfielder, a number eight or out on the right.
Lanús’ Lautaro Acosta remains in the squad, having not harmed his chances in the previous qualifiers, with some committed if unspectacular performances on the wing.
However, it is the inclusion of full-back Milton Casco that is perhaps most surprising from the updated squad list.
The 29-year-old was something of a regular under Gerardo Martino and a member of the 2015 Copa America squad, but has not been performing at the level he was under Martino while at Newell’s. In fact, many River Plate supporters would now argue that he is not even among the best options at full-back at club level.
There is some reason beyond Sampaoli’s selection however. Independiente’s young right-back Fabricio Bustos was understood to be Argentina’s first choice but has been out with a slight hamstring injury and so after being included in the last squad was ruled out this time.
Casco was then given the nod over Independiente captain Nicolás Tagliafico due to his ability to play at both right back and left back. Either way, looking at the full squad, all the indications are that Sampaoli will remain wedded to the back three with Marcos Acuña looking likely to cover the left midfield slot.
[ELIMINATORIAS] Jorge Sampaoli completó la nómina de convocados con los jugadores del fútbol local. pic.twitter.com/s4NH2Mmgio
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) October 2, 2017