In what comes as something as a surprise Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni has named Guido Pizarro as the replacement for the injured Exequiel Palacios ahead of this month’s Copa América.
The Tigres midfielder was not included in the 40-strong preliminary squad and so the likes of Manuel Lanzini, Erik Lamela and Ignacio Fernández were all touted as possible alternatives to Palacios. However, eager to add a little more bite in the midfield in the absence of many natural number fives, Scaloni has opted for Pizarro.
Edgardo Bauza handed Pizarro his international debut back in 2017 having previously come close under Gerardo Martino when Lucas Biglia was injured in the build-up to the 2016 Copa América. On that occasion, Argentina waited on Biglia’s recovery but with Palacios suffering a hamstring tear just two weeks out from their opening game against Colombia, Pizarro gets his first opportunity at a major tournament.
Captaining Tigres to a seventh league title and scoring in the semi-final clásico win over fierce rivals Monterrey, international recognition caps off a tremendous year for Pizarro.
While his inclusion will be questioned by many it is clear why Scaloni wants a player of Pizarro’s qualities.
Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia provided the ball winning options in Argentina squads for many years but a noticeable absence in this Copa América squad left a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of Leandro Paredes, who is far more of a deep-lying playmaker than a natural defensive player, and the relatively inexperienced, at least at international level, Guido Rodríguez.
Pizarro led statistics for tackles in Mexico over the course of the 2018/19 season, averaging 3.14 per game and this combative side of the former Lanús midfielder’s game is exactly what Scaloni is looking for.
Tom Marshall, ESPN’s Liga MX expert was in agreement with this assessment when speaking with Golazo and stressed that while Pizarro revels in the physical aspect of the game, the Tigres captain has shown himself not to be liability.
Pizarro however hasn’t been at his absolute best in Mexico and Marshall believe his Liga MX compatriot Guido Rodríguez looks far better qualified to fulfil this role for La Albiceleste: “Pizarro has had a decent season which improved towards the end (with Tigres lifting the Clausura).
“Although he doesn’t look the same player he was before he left for Sevilla (playing in Spain for the 2017/18 season).
“That might be because he is now playing alongside another holding midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 whereas before he was on his own but honestly a year or two ago, Pizarro looked well ahead of [Guido] Rodríguez and now I have no doubt who is the better player.
“For me, Rodríguez is the best player in Liga MX and I can’t stress enough how good he has been. It’s a big claim but I can’t see any reason why he couldn’t play for a top club in Europe.”
Pizarro provides Scaloni with another option in that defensive midfield role but Rodríguez, who could put himself in the shop window in Brazil, looks set to be Argentina’s best bet.