Lautaro Martínez, Cristian Pavón, Fabricio Bustos, Pablo Pérez & Maxi Meza added to Argentina squad

Jorge Sampaoli bolstered his Argentina squad for this month’s friendlies against Italy and Spain on Monday and as expected Racing Club striker Lautaro Martínez was among the five new additions.

Martínez was named along with Boca Juniors pair Cristian Pavón and Pablo Pérez and Independiente duo Fabricio Bustos and Maxi Meza.

With no place for Mauro Icardi or Paulo Dybala, Argentina were clearly light in attack and so Lautaro Martínez’s place appeared obvious. Jorge Sampaoli has been a regular at the Cilindro and witnessed two hat-tricks by the young striker in the past month so it is no real surprise to see the 20-year-old get his first senior international call.

Martínez has made a prolific start to 2018, with eight goals and three assists in eight appearances, and aside from being on the verge of agreeing a big money move to Inter, offers something a little different to many other attacking options available.

A natural goal scorer, like Icardi in that respect, Martínez is equally comfortable outside the penalty area or in the channels where he can turn provider if he required. This workrate and ability to link play, in addition to his predatory penalty box instincts is something that has attracted Sampaoli to the youngster.

With the news that Sergio Agüero faces a race to be fit for the friendlies, Lautaro Martínez could well make his debut against Italy in Manchester.

Cristian Pavón remains in the squad after impressing in last November’s friendlies against Russia and Nigeria, while maintaining his impressive club form with Boca Juniors. 

The 22-year-old may still lack awareness at times but with an eye for goal, terrifying pace and an ability to get behind the full-back, few can offer the same qualities as Pavón.

And the other less surprising addition is Fabricio Bustos, after Sampaoli explained that he would be adding a right-back from the domestic league when he announced the initial 22-man squad.

Bustos has been the obvious candidate over the past year with his outstanding displays in Independiente’s attractive, Copa Sudamericana winning side. Despite being a first team regular for only a little longer than that period, the 21-year-old’s dynamic displays, bursting forward from right-back have attracted attention.

A quick and constant threat out wide, Bustos has improved defensively and his pace allows for recovery and support to the central defenders. Bayern Munich are already being linked with a summer move and in a position where Argentina are not exactly spoiled for choice, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Bustos in Russia.

Sampaoli’s two less obvious choices are in midfield where Argentina add Pablo Pérez and Maxi Meza.

At 32 years of age, Pablo Pérez is not one for the future but may yet play a role for Argentina in the short-term. A busy, box-to-box presence that La Albiceleste at times lack, the former Newell’s Old Boys’ midfielder gets forward to contribute to the attack and battles to win back possession, even if that does attract yellow cards.

Namesake, Enzo Pérez showed how useful he was at the tail end of qualification but has dipped in form at River, while Pablo continues to thrive at Boca.

While Maxi Meza is another player to have shone in Ariel Holan’s Independiente side. Sampaoli is a known admirer of El Rojo’s style of play and Meza has been central to their recent success. An ability to play across the midfield, drifting off either flank or behind a central striker, the 26-year-old possesses the sort of positional flexibility that Sampaoli would like to see from Argentina.

Neither are strong candidates for a place at the World Cup but could get an opportunity to stake a claim in these friendlies.

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