There was no Lionel Messi and no Sergio Agüero but Argentina’s vital preparation ahead of this summer’s World Cup continued with victory over Italy in Manchester. Jorge Sampaoli had said that this week would solidify his plans for the squad to take to Russia and a few players did their chances no harm with impressive displays.
Willy Caballero – 8
If Sergio Romero was the only guaranteed goalkeeper going to Russia, Willy Caballero surely ensured that he would be on. the plane too with a tremendous performance against Italy. Aside from one heart-stopping pass out from the back that almost resulted in a goal, the 36-year-old debutant produced several fine stops that kept the scores level and provided the foundations for Argentina’s victory.
Fabricio Bustos – 6
Argentina still adjusting to their new system meant Fabricio Bustos was left a little exposed at times in the second half and Italy’s danger man Lorenzo Insigne attempted to exploit that. On a couple of occasions, Insigne was able to find that space in behind but it was a positive debut for the 21-year-old. Bustos provided the width that Sampaoli desired and carried out his defensive duties well. The Independiente youngster certainly deserves more time as he may yet be the long-term answer to La Albiceleste’s right-back problems.
Nicolás Otamendi – 7
Now firmly Argentina’s best defender, Nicolás Otamendi was once again an assured presence at the back for La Albiceleste and came close to opening the scoring with a towering first half header. Italy clearly focused attacks at the gaps in behind the full-backs and so it wasn’t easy for Otamendi but the Manchester City centre-back barely put a foot wrong.
Federico Fazio – 6
In a back three, Federico Fazio’s lack of pace was always a concern and it still will be against pacy attacks but the Roma defender would appear to be in pole position to partner Nicolás Otamendi in Russia. Outstanding in the air, Fazio plays out from the back well and is growing into his role for La Albiceleste.
Nicolás Tagliafico – 7
It has taken some time but surely now Nicolás Tagliafico is considered Argentina’s best option at left-back. The former Independiente captain was outstanding in the first half, combining with Ángel Di María in attack and almost forcing a goal, while diligently carrying out his defensive work. At times left a little exposed by Di María, much like Bustos on the opposite flank, Italy tried to expose the space behind but Tagliafico weathered the storm.
Lucas Biglia – 6
Perhaps not a popular choice but Lucas Biglia remains a firm favourite with Argentina managers and while the AC Milan midfielder does nothing spectacular, he does plenty of unnoticed work in the middle. Biglia did little with the ball but offered some protection in front of the back four and looks set to be Argentina’s ball winner come June.
Leandro Paredes – 5
There were flashes of what Leandro Paredes could bring to the Argentina midfield but it certainly wasn’t an audition that sealed the 23-year-old’s place in Sampaoli’s side. The Zenit midfielder came close in the first half with a powerful long range effort but a huge error in the second half should have been punished with a goal where it not for wasteful Italian finishing. Paredes will need another opportunity to really showcase his talent.
Manuel Lanzini – 8
Jorge Sampaoli spoke glowingly about Manuel Lanzini in the build-up to Friday’s game and the West Ham United midfielder didn’t disappoint, surely booking his place in the World Cup squad. A wonderfully taken goal capped off the win but Lanzini could have had another had he been able to keep his earlier header down. A clever user of the ball and an ability to find pockets of space, Sampaoli spoke of Lanzini’s potential alongside Messi and hopefully on Tuesday, Argentina will get to see this.
Giovani Lo Celso – 6
The neat little one-two with Éver Banega on the edge of the Italy penalty area was precisely what Argentina needed to see more of and Giovani Lo Celso is perfect for this type of interplay. The 21-year-old drifted in and out of the game but there was more than enough bright moments with Lanzini and Banega to suggest that Lo Celso will be among the options in Russia.
Ángel Di María – 6.5
As frustrating as ever with his often wasteful decision making, Ángel Di María was still the player most likely to force a breakthrough before his substitution. Argentina’s captain for the evening tested Gianluigi Buffon early but also slipped in Tagliafico and created two clear chances for Higuaín and Lanzini. The injury prone PSG winger will not be available on Tuesday and so Argentina can test out alternatives on that left side, which looks certain to be Di María’s if fit.
Gonzalo Higuaín – 4.5
Injury to Sergio Agüero presented Gonzalo Higuaín with a huge opportunity to book his place in the World Cup squad and the good news for Mauro Icardi is that Pipita failed to do that. One clear chance one-on-one with Buffon was wasted and Higuaín failed to link-up play particularly well. Aside from leading the counter and passing to Lanzini for the second goal, Higuaín did little to suggest he should be given another shot in Russia.
Éver Banega – 7
Inconsistent in an Argentina shirt perhaps but Éver Banega came off the bench and showed just what he is capable of bringing to Sampaoli’s side. Ten minutes after coming on, a quick change of feet, a neat one-two and firm finish broke the deadlock and then little touch of class around the penalty area was exactly what had been lacking. Outstanding in possession and in creating chances, Banega will likely form part of Argentina’s creative hub when Messi returns.
Diego Perotti – 6
A bright cameo by Diego Perotti may well have earned him a starting role on Tuesday with Ángel Di María injured. The Roma forward’s pace and ability to operate in that left channel made him a threat to the Italian defence and in his time on the pitch, Perotti fired one volley over and had another shot smothered by Buffon. Argentina certainly need to be looking at alternatives to Di María and Perotti might be first in line as things stand.
After replacing Giovani Lo Celso with less than fifteen minutes remaining, Cristian Pavón didn’t get much of a chance to show what he could do. The Boca forward’s pace provided an outlet but Pavón didn’t see much of the ball.
Jorge Sampaoli already knows all he needs to know about Gabriel Mercado so his substitution for Fabricio Bustos in the 89th minute was for nothing but to run down the clock.