“It’s clear that we need to have a base system, which could well be the 2-3-3-2.
This will allow us to occupy different levels on the pitch, and develop our game in a way that will increase the difficulty the opponent has in containing us. Over and above having a compact, like minded team of course.
It would be through said different levels (& lines) we are able to show our superiority – by dominating with the ball.”
– Jorge Sampaoli; Argentina 2018 World Cup squad announcement.
You’d be forgiven for believing that quote was the first time Sampaoli had ever mentioned such an idea. Although for what it’s worth it wasn’t even the first he’d mentioned it in the very same press-conference.
The ensuing hysteria and mass critique overlooked a lot of things. One of which is that a pronounced focus on the numbers/positions often erroneously presupposes that the same level of tactical rigour is applied by each team.
Sampaoli though for example, himself alluded in the earlier largely overlooked part of the squad announcement presser, that tactically he expects a side that demonstrates a great amount of plasticity, especially when in attack.
Equally so that he feels that tactical shape becomes largely irrelevant when in attack/dominating the opposition. At this points the numbers become at best secondary (& at worst can even be a hindrance).
“The style and ways of playing are above the tactical.
I believe that tactics themselves are extremely linked in respect to neutralizing the opponent.
Normally I never really see (a back) four on the pitch. I see 2-3-3-2, or (2)-3-2-3.
For me though I see football in a different way. For me tactics are about neutralising. As if you attack in an organised (rigorous) fashion then you are not truly attacking.”
– Jorge Sampaoli; Argentina 2018 World Cup squad announcement – Part 1.
The reality is that Don Sampa had not only highlighted the system as an overall form of playing towards the start of the press conference but he actually brought up the same possibility as well when discussing the reasons around a change of shape from a back 3 to a notional back 4 prior to the last international break, and before the friendly with Italy. Albeit with further explanation about the How, as well as the Why.
“The fact that we can play in a 2-3-3-2: So with two central defenders, and three players in-front; which can be composed with two interior midfielders on the outside. Or simply one only and one wing back depending on the type of game.
This gives you far greater flexibility than with three at the back. As this way usually pre-establishes that those three players are only really there to defend.”
– Jorge Sampaoli; Argentina press conference Manchester, March 2018.
Maybe it’s a prevailing modern day obsession with formations that has contributed to a repeated conflating of positions with roles.
Nonetheless while building up from the back Argentina are indeed perhaps likely to use both full-backs and a central midfield pivot, (as demonstrated in the Italy friendly.) within the hypothesised line of 3. [see below]
However, as the Argentina boss alluded this would not necessarily be the intended scenario when attacking.
In fact with the distinction having already been made by Sampaoli prior to the game against the Azzurri, it was evident for all to see in said contest that (particularly during the first half) how the team could well be structured in Russia, while in the opponent’s/final third. [see below]
Ergo by dropping in another of their pivots (so in this instance – Fabricio Bustos, Lucas Biglia & Leandro Paredes formed the line of 3) the idea would be that this in turn would allow for at least one of the fullbacks to stay pushed high(er) up the pitch.
This then is linked to creating the option to cascade players inside, for example: Ángel Di María + Manuel Lanzini or Maxi Meza, so as to provide different levels within the midfield to pass both short and long. (Albeit invariably inside being the primary goal.) – Again an element that the fiery Argentina boss has emphasised in his team analysis.
By having this flexibility of locations when dominating the ball, the core principle would seemingly be that the additional width coming from the fullback(s) can then help Argentina create depth. With the desired outcome being to be able to position players free between the lines, and when doing so receive the ball preferably facing forward where they can attack the opponents defence.
Ataque posicional de Argentina (ocasión de Tagliafico) ante Italia. pic.twitter.com/twe92JsDNA
— Felipe Araya (@felaraya) March 26, 2018
The above video, a sequence towards the close of the first half, could well be the most representative minute surmising Sampaoli’s envisioned Argentina in terms of the discussed.
The key principles being as follows:
Line of 2 + 3 in the build-up, with full-back high & wide (Nicolás Tagliafico). Attacking players with freer positions further forward.
Move the opponent to create space for attacking players to receive in space between the lines (Facing forward).
Both full-backs remaining high and wide to engage with the attack and generate the depth inside.
Hence the attack concluding with Tagliafico forcing Gianluigi Buffon into a good save, and Fabricio Bustos somewhere around the penalty spot at that moment, was not without design.
“If you are under pressure, and are being dominated it’s certain that the systems will seem more pronounced.
Our idea is to dominate the games, spend a great deal of time in the opposition’s half, in that case what you discuss (regarding formations) wont exist.”
– Jorge Sampaoli; Argentina 2018 World Cup squad announcement – Part 2.
Again the danger of this synopsis would be to then assume everything the team does will be pre-coded, when truth be told these premised are more so broad strokes, rather than fine lines.
The dynamics of the game undeniably do not usually support a dogmatic shape (rather than form) throughout the 90 minutes. Much less without the ball as Sampaoli readily admitted in the second part of his quote.
If/when the opponents force Argentina back, a more ‘traditional’ shape will often be generated. One that will potentially rest more comfortably with the traditionalists uncomfortable with the more avant-garde interpretation of the numbers in attack. [see below]
“Tactics is simply the art of putting each element in its place”
– César Luis Menotti.
Overall the core idea Argentina have going into the World Cup is clear, if not really sufficiently ‘rehearsed’. This in part being highlighted by the subsequent and last friendly to date against Spain of course.
The focus on big name stars who have missed the final cut aside, Sampaoli and Co will no doubt be looking towards the players selected with this idea in mind, to use the upcoming friendlies as a springboard.
With the belief that an auspicious preparation and start could then help to take the group idea of ‘not waiting for the opponent’ but taking the game to those in Russia instead.
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