Saturday’s draw with Iceland left Jorge Sampaoli with much to ponder and while Lionel Messi’s penalty miss may have drawn the focus elsewhere the reliance on Argentina’s captain was as clear as ever.
Sampaoli has chopped and changed since taking over the role a year ago and Saturday’s formation with Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia partnered in central midfield looked like the biggest shift yet away from the Copa América winning coach’s philosophy.
Back on the training pitch at Bronnitsy and the indication is that Sampaoli is reverting back to his ideal – a defensive three with wing backs.
Ángel Di María, Lucas Biglia, Marcos Rojo and possibly Maxi Meza would lose their places and coming into the starting eleven would be Cristian Pavón, Marcos Acuña, Gabriel Mercado and perhaps Enzo Pérez (he or Meza touted to partner Javier Mascherano in midfield).
An anonymous display by Ángel Di María against Iceland was made all the more clear by Cristian Pavón’s bright cameo, which should have earned Argentina a second penalty, and after seeing that Sampaoli looks to have decided that enough is enough.
Pavón’s pace, ability to make those diagonal runs in from the left and burgeoning understanding with Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero in his fleeting international appearances provide promise in attack.
And while there will be few arguments against that move, Sampaoli’s other changes will cause much debate.
The defence that looked so fragile on Saturday is rejigged to see Gabriel Mercado come in on the right of a back three with Nicolás Otamendi keeping his place in the middle and Nicolás Tagliafico shifting inside to the left of that trio – a position that the left-back excelled in for Independiente when required as El Rojo lifted the Copa Sudamericana last year.
Eduardo Salvio would keep his place on the right but with presumably greater license to attack and Marcos Acuña will occupy that position on the left, as he has done previously under Sampaoli.
The only question mark seems to be who partners Javier Mascherano. Lucas Biglia disappointed as part of the double-five that lacked the incision needed to move the ball forward quickly and while Giovani Lo Celso or Ever Banega appeared to be the obvious candidates, Sampaoli is reportedly torn between Enzo Pérez or Maxi Meza.
The difference being that Pérez would be more of a traditional box-to-box partner where as Meza presumably would stay on the right with Messi operating free in the middle.
Many will question the decision but Sampaoli’s attempt to play at cautious against Iceland clearly didn’t work and so looking to something like the system that brought him success isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Change was needed and only on Thursday will Argentina discover if this was the correct one.
Argentina XI: Wilfredo Caballero; Gabriel Mercado, Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Tagliafico; Eduardo Salvio, Javier Mascherano, Maximiliano Meza or Enzo Pérez, Marcos Acuña; Lionel Messi, Cristian Pavón; Sergio Agüero