There was a warm embrace on the training field between Paulo Dybala and coach Lionel Scaloni as the Juventus forward arrived in Los Angeles this week to complete the squad. In the absence of the suspended Lionel Messi, all eyes will be on Dybala after the 25-year-old produced one of his most promising performances to date at the end of the Copa América and will now be aiming to become a central part of the Albiceleste’s line-up.
Frustration has been the overwhelming feeling around the vast majority of Dybala’s 24 international appearances so far but hope remains for the future and Thursday’s friendly will be another opportunity.
Dybala has previously spoken of the difficulty fitting into the side alongside Lionel Messi as they both look to occupy space off the right-flank but that will not be an issue against Chile with the Argentina captain missing and it will instead be the Instituto product pulling the strings behind Lautaro Martínez and Joaquín Correa.
Of course it was against Chile in the Copa América third-place playoff that Dybala scored only his second Argentina goal and also saw Lionel Messi sent off and subsequently suspended for his outburst against CONMEBOL.
The ill-feeling left over from two Copa América final defeats prompted coach Lionel Scaloni to say in his press conference this week, “It has become a clásico in recent times.
“They [Chile] were the last opponent we had in Brazil and it’s always complicated. We hope to put on a good show but above all that we are left with a good feeling.”
For Scaloni the friendly against Chile is the beginning of a new chapter. No longer the interim coach keeping the seat warm for another manager to come in, Scaloni has been backed by the AFA to keep charge until the 2022 World Cup and so back in Los Angeles where it all began for the 41-year-old, the long road towards Qatar begins.
“The sooner we knew the better, mostly so we could plan for the future – World Cup qualification and the Copa América. Luckily the decision was made before December [when his initial temporary contract was due to expire] and that was welcome for us.
“I have a sense of joy and responsibility to lead a group of top players. The sensation is similar to last year before the game with Guatamala [when Scaloni made his debut as interim coach].”
With Sergio Agüero rested for the international fixtures this time round, Lautaro Martínez now finds himself partnered by Lazio’s Joaquín Correa and a now familiar midfield of Leandro Paredes, Giovani Lo Celso and Rodrigo de Paul takes to the field once more.
The trio have given signs that they could be a long-term solution to Argentina’s midfield imbalance and it is the defence that remains the real issue for Lionel Scaloni.
Nicolás Otamendi and Nicolás Tagliafico continue from their roles in the Copa América and Scaloni spoke at length regarding the selection of River Plate pair Lucas Martínez Quarta and Gonzalo Montiel. The plan wasn’t to start with Otamendi against Chile but Scaloni explained that decision and also why right-back is a position Argentina must explore options.
“I wanted to play someone else in this match, but Nico [Otamendi] has a personal issue to resolve and will only play in this one, he won’t be available for the second against Mexico.
“Otamendi is going to play on the left and Martínez Quarta, on the right, mainly because Lucas is familiar with Gonzalo from River and Otamendi, with Tagliafico from the Copa América.”
23-year-old centre back Lucas Martínez Quarta has the profile that could benefit Argentina in the coming years and has impressed hugely under Marcelo Gallardo as River Plate continue in their defence of the Copa Libertadores crown. While Martínez Quarta will make his international debut, River teammate Gonzalo Montiel picks up his third appearance, having featured in the friendlies with Venezuela and Morocco in March.
“We were happy with Montiel, especially on the previous international break, we trusted him and gave him the opportunity even if he didn’t make the Copa América squad,” Scaloni admitted.
Montiel will be given the responsibility on the right and although Juan Foyth stepped into the role during the Copa América it remains a real area of weakness for La Albiceleste.
“[Independiente defender Nicolas] Figal is an interesting player and we are trying to get him to take on board what we ask him as he will surely have a chance to play. With Foyth’s injury, it got a little complicated for us. It was decided to allow Renzo to remain in Portugal to adapt and so the idea is to test these guys.”
The only other question is in goal where rumours of an injury to Franco Armani will see Agustín Marchesín start against Chile. Scaloni poured water on any concerns over Armani’s fitness but is keen to take a look at other options during this break.
“I have no knowledge of an injury to Franco [Armani]. He trained normally today and stays here – at no point was there any talk of anything else.
“He’s with us and is important, he was the starter at the Copa América, and the relationship we have is brilliant. He’s a very good guy for the group. There is no doubt. We are going to try Agustín [Marchesín] and surely in the second game we will try [Esteban] Andrada.”
Argentina play Chile on Thursday evening before taking on Mexico in San Antonio on Tuesday.
Argentina XI: Agustín Marchesín; Gonzalo Montiel, Lucas Martínez Quarta, Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Tagliafico; Giovani Lo Celso, Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo De Paul; Paulo Dybala; Lautaro Martínez, Joaquín Correa