Who shone & who needs more time from Argentina’s international break plus the Team of the week

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After an international break where Argentina got a glimpse of life after Messi and Co, Jimmy Lee took a look back to assess which players took their chance and who will be hoping for another go…

If you have ever watched Argentine sports commentators and pundits, you’ll know that their best friend is hyperbole – only ever dealing in extremes, something is either ‘the best’ or ‘the worst.’ If a player has a good match he is compared to Messi and Maradona and if he has a poor match, he never deserves another chance and can’t crack it at that level. Their world is full of highs and lows and rarely does anything fall in between.

Following Argentina’s victory over Guatemala, Fox Sports football talk show 90 Minutos de Fútbol, typically one of the biggest offenders was surprisingly balanced.

Host Sebastian Pollo Vignolo compared the side to a newborn baby. After the birth of a baby everyone is full of questions, “What color is its hair and eyes?” “Is it eating well?” “Is it sleeping at night?” The answer to everyone is, “It’s a brand-new baby, it’s too early to say.” Babies take time to learn and grow and take form. The same goes with this new era for Argentina.

With this in mind it is best to approach the subject of Argentina, after the goalless draw with Colombia, with a degree of hesitancy. Lionel Scaloni’s side is young, it is a newborn and will take time to learn and develop. There were a lot of positives to draw from this week and a number of other aspects that deserve more time to develop.

Players that stood out against Colombia

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Rodrigo Battaglia

One of Argentina’s biggest areas of concern during and after the world cup was the number five position. Who should replace Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia? Lionel Scaloni brought three different types of central midfielders with him and all three got a chance to play.

While Leandro Paredes is more of a passer and Santiago Ascacibar is more of a bruiser, Rodrigo Battaglia can do a bit of both. The former Huracán and Racing man looked comfortable on his debut with Argentina and helped control the midfield. Colombia’s Juan Fernando Quintero was one of the Cafetero’s most dangerous weapons but had almost no impact in the match. A large part of that was due to Battaglia’s ability to mark Juanfer, win the ball back, and get the ball moving up the pitch.

It’s hard to say what style number five Lionel Scaloni or whoever becomes the full-time coach will prefer moving forward, but if he is looking for someone who can perform more of a versatile role in the center of the pitch, Battaglia presents an excellent option.

Franco Armani

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The man who almost the entire country wanted to start as keeper in the World Cup eventually got his chance but after conceding four goals against France, Franco Armani’s reputation as the future number one for Argentina was damaged.

But wait, were any of those goals Armani’s fault? Potentially he could have done better on one or two of them, but the real blame was with a slow midfield and defense trying to stop the fastest player on the planet.

For those who wrote off Armani as the starting keeper for Argentina, against Colombia the River Plate record breaker reminded us that he is still deserving of that spot. Armani made two excellent saves and just like he does almost every week for his club, he kept the opponent out of his net.

Exequiel Palacios

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A somewhat meteoric rise into the River Plate first team, those who have watched Exequiel Palacios over the past few months wouldn’t doubt the 19-year-old’s talent. However, there was still a degree of surprise that Palacios made Scaloni’s list and even more surprise when he started both matches over Paulo Dybala.

For those unaware of Palacios before, they will certainly know him now as the midfielder showed enough to suggest he will play a central role in Argentina’s future.

One of the absolute stars this past week, Palacios’ creative playmaking helped Argentina find holes in Colombia’s defense. He played several excellent give-and-goes with his teammates and was completely poised. At 24 years of age when the World Cup in Qatar is played Palacios will be hitting the prime of his career and will hopefully be a key part over the next four years and beyond.

Giovani Lo Celso

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Among the many hyperbolic statements made after the Guatemala match was that if Giovani Lo Celso would have played during the World Cup, Argentina would have advanced further. Lo Celso undoubtedly deserved more playing time and could have had a positive impact but the issues with Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentina went far deeper than that.

However, as if to prove a point, for the second straight game, Gio was the best player on the pitch for the Albiceleste.

Against Colombia, the Rosarino was Argentina’s biggest attacking threat. He linked up well with the front-line, often drifting to the front of the attack, and also led the team in shots.

Nicolás Tagliafico

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After making his debut as Argentina captain against Guatemala, the former Independiente man continued to show his leadership against Colombia. Not only was he one of the best players on the pitch for either side, when things got heated between the two South American nations, it was Tagliafico who got face to face with the opposing players to stand up for himself and his teammates.

After the World Cup when everyone’s position on the team was in question, Tagliafico made sure to tell any doubters that he owns the left-back spot and no one is taking it from him anytime soon.

Players who need more time

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Mauro Icardi

While Icardi rarely goes a match without scoring for Inter, it seems cruel to blame him for not scoring again Argentina. Of course, it would have been great for Mauro to finally put the ball in the net but he had very few opportunities to make it happen on Tuesday night in New Jersey. If anyone still needs more time and more opportunities it is Mauro Icardi, as the Inter captain remains the future face of the national team.

Paulo Dybala

No one except Scaloni can truly say why La Joya did not start against Colombia, but once again, we did not get what he hoped to see from the Juve man. Dybala is arguably among the ten most talented players on the planet, but playing behind Messi, has never been able to make it work for his country. The hope was that with this renewed squad and the absence of La Pulga, Dybala would get a chance to shine.

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Dybala was subbed in for Palacios in the 64th minute, but just as it was against Guatemala, when so many changes are made in the second half, it’s hard for the team to get into a good groove. Dybala had one excellent moment of playmaking when he scooped a creative pass over Colombia’s backline. He also took charge over a couple of free kicks but did little with them.

A future Argentina side with Dybala at its core remains the dream but the 24-year-old needs minutes and that chance will hopefully come soon.

Fabricio Bustos

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The young Cordobés who plays for Independiente started against Colombia and while he did not look poor, he looked far less impressive than Renzo Saravia did starting in that same position against Guatemala.

In fairness the difference is, Bustos was in charge of marking the speedy Juan Cuadrado and Saravia defended someone whose name I don’t even know.

This made it far easier for Saravia to play a part in Argentina’s attack when he didn’t have to concern himself with the counterattack. While Bustos was solid and helped to interrupted Colombia’s attack at times, Cuadrado often got the better of him.

At 22 there is still plenty of room for development and Bustos should still continue and grow and improve at international level.

Maxi Meza

One of the more surprising inclusions in Jorge Sampaoli’s World Cup squad, Meza made the starting eleven, played an integral role, and received a lot of criticism and blame during and after the World Cup.

As one of the standout talents in the Superliga, the 26-year-old has a rare ability to beat players and spot passes but with the exception of the embarrassing 6-1 defeat against Spain where Meza was the only player to leave the pitch with his head held high, his form for Independiente has yet to translate to the national team.

While the best players leaving the Superliga is never good for the domestic league, at 26, and for Meza to really elevate his play, it might be time to make the move to Europe. Gaining further experience and being tested at a higher level more regularly there is no reason why Meza couldn’t still play a part in 2022.

Player of the week

There is no question about it, the star for Argentina over these past two matches was Lo Celso. Gio was the most creative member of the midfield, the most likely to score at all times, and scored the best goal of the two matches.

Surprise of the week

Renzo Saravia and Exequiel Palacios: Both were perhaps surprise inclusions and both made the most of the chance they were given. While Saravia is six years older and may already be in the prime of his career, Palacios has several years ahead of him and it is exciting to imagine where the teenager could end up.

Team of the Break

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Jimmy lived in Córdoba, Argentina as a teenager and is still an active Socio for his beloved club, Belgrano. He currently lives in Seattle, WA and loves to write about football when he has a break from work and family. He also runs the Belgrano – English twitter account.

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