The dependence on Lionel Messi has been a point of discussion since 2014 and things have only got worse for Argentina. After a World Cup qualification campaign indebted to Messi that only just managed a place in Russia, La Albiceleste suffered the embarrassment of a record-equalling worst defeat to Spain in the absence of the world’s best player.
Spain ran riot in Madrid on Tuesday and while few left with any credit, some may have damaged their World Cup hopes.
Sergio Romero – 4
The injury that forced Sergio Romero off after 21 minutes could have been a blessing in disguise as Chiquito now likely remains Argentina’s number one. The experienced keeper could do little to stop Diego Costa opening the scoring and the injury sustained in the process meant Romero didn’t have to concede any more.
Fabricio Bustos – 3
The Italy victory suggested Argentina may have found their long-term right-back solution but defeat to Spain suggested that Fabricio Bustos is far from the finished article just yet. The 21-year-old was overrun at times with little support from Argentina’s midfield and Jordi Alba overlapping, Bustos was exposed. Slow to react to late runs into the box, the Independiente defender was given a harsh reality check at this level but still has a future with the team.
Nicolás Otamendi – 4
Nicolás Otamendi’s late first half header gave Argentina some hope but it was his work at the other end that badly let the side down. A costly slip allowed Spain to open the scoring but despite all his usual power and aggression, the Manchester City defender failed to ever really get a grip on Spain’s fluid attack.
Marcos Rojo – 2
Struggling for playing time at Manchester United and an injury absence that has kept him out of the Argentina team for a year, Marcos Rojo looked every inch a player that is lacking familiarity and confidence. Badly caught out by the most simple of balls forward, at least two of Spain’s goal came with Rojo ball watching and if this was a test to see if the 28-year-old could partner Otamendi in Russia, he failed.
Nicolás Tagliafico – 4
Jorge Sampaoli name-checked Nicolás Tagliafico for his efforts after the game and so despite the result, Argentina appears to have found its left-back. The Ajax defender struggled with Spain’s movement as did the whole team but in the promising flashes of the first half, Tagliafico attacked well and showed what he could still bring to the starting eleven.
Lucas Biglia – 3
A couple of moments aside in the first half where Lucas Biglia was able to win possession and feed the more offensive midfielders, it was a night to forget in Madrid. The midfield suffered as the imprecise pressing was easily outmanoeuvred by Spain and while the Milan man will almost certainly be at the World Cup, finding a balance remains key for Sampaoli.
Javier Mascherano – 2
On the evening that Javier Mascherano drew level with Javier Zanetti as Argentina’s most capped player, El Jefecito produced one of his worst performances. Slow, lacking precision and any of his usual bite, Mascherano looked a shadow of his former self and if there were question marks over his starting role for Argentina before Wednesday night, they are being shouted from the rooftops now.
Giovani Lo Celso – 5
A good first half, Giovani Lo Celso linked well with Maxi Meza and in moving the ball forward quickly created some promising situations. However, just as the team did in general, the youngster dropped off in the second half and failed to make much of an impression as Spain dominated. Despite the disappointment, Sampaoli gave credit to the 21-year-old and he likely booked his World Cup spot.
Ever Banega – 3
The promise of Ever Banega’s goal-scoring cameo against Italy once again made way for an evening of disappointment in an Argentina shirt for the Sevilla playmaker. The burden of creation was on the 29-year-old alongside the relative experience of Lo Celso and Meza but it was the newcomers that outshone a pretty anonymous Banega.
Maxi Meza – 6
A debut which began with many outside Argentina asking who, ended with Maxi Meza being the only player to come away with any credit. The Independiente midfielder was excellent during the opening 45 minutes, always looking forward, beating defenders and looking to open opportunities. An outstanding pass should have created the opening goal and only a saving challenge by Sergio Ramos denied him a goal. Meza’s display won’t have harmed his World Cup chances at all.
Gonzalo Higuaín – 3
Another chance for Gonzalo Higuaín and simply put another one wasted that could do nothing to prevent his vocal critics calling for his head. A glorious chance missed that would have put Argentina ahead and another scuffed effort shortly after was all that Argentina fashioned but against the best, they must be taken. Sluggish and unable to help in the build-up, Pipita isn’t the striker for Sampaoli and now looks mentally damaged by his failures for Argentina.
Wilfredo Caballero – 2
Challenging Romero for the number one spot on Friday, Willy Caballero left sweating on his place in the squad after Tuesday. The fine saves against Italy were absent against Spain as five shots on target produced five goals and while none were howlers, it was the Chelsea goalkeeper’s weak clearance that created Spain’s second.
Cristian Pavón – 4
Unable to make any impact whatsoever, Argentina were already dead in the water and so his 30-minute cameo produced nothing.
Gabriel Mercado – 3
Only a couple of minutes against Italy, Gabriel Mercado got half an hour in Madrid but by that time Argentina were already 4-1 down and the Sevilla defender could do little to stem the flow. Spain were rampant and Argentina in disarray.
Lautaro Martínez – 4
An Argentina debut should be a great occasion but for Lautaro Martínez it was something of a nightmare. The game was lost and La Albiceleste no longer posed anything of an attacking threat so the Racing Club youngster had almost nothing to do. Quite what Sampaoli will have gained from the fleeting performance is anyone’s guess.
Pablo Pérez – 3
With a midfield already overrun and Argentina losing 4-1 there was little that Pablo Pérez could do to make any impression.
With only five minutes, Marcos Acuña didn’t get any chance to impress but given his flexibility is a safe bet to be in Russia.