Agüero, Salvio, Meza & Lo Celso all in as Argentina finalise plans for World Cup opener

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Jorge Sampaoli has been constantly tinkering with his Argentina side since he took over the role one year ago but with La Albiceleste’s World Cup opener against Iceland now only five days away, the starting eleven is beginning to take shape.

Despite losing Manuel Lanzini to the ruptured knee ligament injury suffered in training and Ever Banega still struggling with a calf problem, Sampaoli appears to be keeping true to his most recent tactical idea with only a couple of positions still uncertain.

Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín compete for the sole number nine role in the side and while it was the Juventus striker who started the friendly against Haiti and had been rumoured to be the starting choice, Agüero is now favourite to get the nod.

The Manchester City star certainly showed more in his goal-scoring cameo against Haiti than Higuaín did in the hour or so that preceded it but the level of opposition didn’t Sampaoli with many answers.

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Maxi Meza, the Independiente midfielder and relative unknown factor for many outside Argentina, is set to take the place that Manuel Lanzini would have occupied on the right.

With Lionel Messi operating in his free role, Meza’s position on the field is equally loose and it will be the interchange with the Argentina captain that will be key. Angel Di María will keep Cristian Pavón out of the side for now and will continue down that left wing but Meza’s role is likely not to be so tied to the touchline with Messi often opting to drift into those areas.

Meza is well used to this position with Independiente operating in much the same way and so it could also have some bearing on Eduardo Salvio being preferred to Gabriel Mercado at right-back.

Sampaoli is keen for his full-backs to provide the width and overlap and while Salvio is a relative novice in regards to his defensive duties, Meza is accustomed to the marauding runs of Fabricio Bustos at club level down the right.

Opposition sides will certainly sense that Salvio is a possible weak spot to attack but Sampaoli aware of this must feel that the attacking impetus the Benfica winger brings outweighs that as Mercado would be the safer option.

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Centrally Javier Mascherano looks set to anchor the midfield in his preferred role and while Giovani Lo Celso should provide some balance, Sampaoli has also tested the more defensive, double 5 option of Mascherano with Lucas Biglia.

Biglia, recently recovered from the back injury suffered at the end of the Italian season, has been training normally and replaced Lo Celso in the most recent session. The 2014 World Cup veteran brings experience, industry and ball winning capabilities but the concern is if it comes at the expense of Lo Celso another creative outlet is lost and Messi will be forced deeper to receive the ball.

Marcos Rojo could nick the place of Federico Fazio alongside Nicolas Otamendi in central defence, presumably as the Manchester United defender brings a little more pace but given the amount of football Rojo has missed this season and his display against Spain, it is another worry for Argentina.

And with Sergio Romero’s injury denying Sampaoli of another start, Willy Caballero is likely to be named in goal. River Plate number one Franco Armani was fancied by many in Argentina but the 37-year-old Chelsea keeper is expected to face Iceland.

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