Assessing Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina squad for October World Cup qualifiers

It looked as though coronavirus would send October’s World Cup qualifiers the same way as that of the original start date in March or the 2020 Copa América but with CONMEBOL giving the green light, Lionel Scaloni named his first Argentina squad since 2019. Lionel Messi, with his suspension from last year’s Copa now lifted, will be available for both games starting against Ecuador at La Bombonera on October 8th and then in La Paz to face Bolivia five days later.

Alongside Messi are many of the now familiar faces under Scaloni – Lautaro Martínez, Paulo Dybala, Giovani Lo Celso, Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes and Nicolás Tagliafico but there were some surprises in the preliminary list too.

Youngsters Facundo Medina and Nehuén Pérez earned their first call-ups and there were returns for Alejandro Gómez and Cristian Pavón.

This initial list of 30 will likely have six players based in Argentina added and then will likely be cut to a final 28-30 for the qualifiers.

Goalkeepers

Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa)
Juan Musso (Udinese)
Agustín Marchesín (Porto)
*Esteban Andrada & Franco Armani to be added

Lionel Scaloni has something of a selection headache in goal with a shortlist of five now all making claims to be considered Argentina’s number one. Emiliano Martínez’s stock has rocketed over the past few months and in the same week the 28-year-old keeper completed a £20 million move to Aston Villa, Martínez was named as one of three European-based options.

With the smallest sample size as Arsenal’s goalkeeper solely in the injury absence of Bernd Leno, Martínez now has the chance to prove he is a Premier League goalkeeper and potentially La Albiceleste’s first choice.

However, Juan Musso makes a strong counter-argument, chalking up the most number of clean sheets in Serie A last season and already clearly Scaloni’s third choice pre-covid. The 26-year-old may not earn a high-profile transfer during this window but is well placed to continue as a key part of Argentina’s plans.

At 32, Agustín Marchesín brings the most experience and comes off a title winning season with Porto in which the former Lanús man was named goalkeeper of the season but a couple of previous blunders on international duty always seem to be held against Marchesín.

Whether or not any of these three will be considered above Esteban Andrada or Franco Armani remains to be seen. Both keepers have battled for the number one spot and have just got back underway in the Copa Libertadores but who will Scaloni go for.

Some form of continuity in the defence for qualification and leading up to the 2021 Copa América will be important.

Defenders

Juan Foyth (Tottenham Hotspur)
Renzo Saravia (Internacional)
Germán Pezzella (Fiorentina)
Leonardo Balerdi (Marseille)
Nicolás Otamendi (Manchester City)
Nehuén Pérez (Atlético Madrid)
Walter Kannemann (Grêmio)
Nicolás Tagliafico (Ajax)
Marcos Acuña (Sevilla)
Facundo Medina (Lens)
* Lucas Martínez Quarta & Gonzalo Montiel

Under-20 stars Nehuén Pérez and Facundo Medina are the two new faces among the defenders as both earn rewards for encouraging displays in Europe. Pérez excelled on loan at Famalicão in Portugal last season while Medina recently completed a move to Lens from Talleres, already impressing in Ligue 1.

The pair looked to be Argentina’s first choice central defence should the Olympics have gone ahead as planned and they now make the step-up to senior international football.

Fellow under-20 graduate Leonardo Balerdi remains part of Scaloni’s plans despite not yet making much of a mark in Europe though a recent loan to Marseille promises greater first team action. While Juan Foyth can consider himself fortunate to still be included having clearly fallen down the pecking order at Tottenham and in desperate need of a move away.

Nicolás Tagliafico, Nicolás Otamendi, Germán Pezzella and Walter Kannemann provide plenty of experience and Renzo Saravia and Marcos Acuña give further options at full-back.

River Plate duo Lucas Martínez Quarta and Gonzalo Montiel are expected to be added and could even be considered for starting roles while Ajax’s Lisandro Martínez can consider himself very unlucky. The 22-year-old continues to be overlooked despite regularly producing for Ajax in defence and midfield, providing a versatility that can be so useful at international tournaments.

Midfielders

Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint Germain)
Guido Rodríguez (Real Betis)
Rodrigo de Paul (Udinese)
Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen)
Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham Hotspur)
Nicolás Domínguez (Bologna)
Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton)
Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla)
Alejandro Gómez (Atalanta)
* Eduardo Salvio & Matías Zaracho

Argentina’s midfield is becoming increasingly stable and so Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo De Paul and Giovani Lo Celso will likely make up a potential three. Exequiel Palacios, despite his lack of playing time at Bayer Leverkusen brings a drive from deep that Scaloni clearly admires and Guido Rodríguez is a decent back-up option.

Nicolás Domínguez made his debut last year and looks to be part of the set-up going forward as does Brighton playmaker Alexis Mac Allister and although Matías Zaracho hasn’t yet made the leap to Europe like Domínguez or Palacios, Scaloni is a fan of the Racing Club midfielder. Zaracho and Boca winger Eduardo Salvio are likely to be included.

Argentina’s wide areas are looking stronger than ever though with Lucas Ocampos keeping his place after a sensational first season with Sevilla and Alejandro Gómez earning a recall. Papu hasn’t been involved since Jorge Sampaoli’s tenure in 2017 but another blistering season with Atalanta brings the 32-year-old deservedly back in from cold.

Those options available to Scaloni leave Ángel Di María without a place. The 32-year-old was instrumental in Paris Saint-Germain completing a domestic treble and reaching the Champions League final but his continued absence suggests that Di María’s international career might be over.

Forwards

Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Paulo Dybala (Juventus)
Nicolás González (VfB Stuttgart)
Joaquín Correa (Lazio)
Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen)
Lautaro Martínez (Inter Milan)
Giovanni Simeone (Cagliari)
Cristian Pavón (LA Galaxy)

Sergio Agüero’s knee injury means there is no place for the Manchester City striker but with the frightening potential of a front three including Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Lautaro Martínez, Scaloni will hope that Agüero’s absence will not be felt.

Like his PSG teammate Di María, there is no. room for Mauro Icardi and instead Joaquín Correa, Lucas Alario and Giovanni Simeone earn recalls. Alario continues to struggle for regular playing time in Germany but offers something a little different to the other centre-forwards, Correa scored nine goals for Lazio last season and Giovanni Simeone finished the Serie A campaign in tremendous form.

The 25-year-old scored on his international debut in Scaloni’s first game in charge against Guatemala and while never likely to be Argentina’s main striker could yet prove a useful understudy.

And providing the pace in the wide areas are Nicolás González and Cristian Pavón. González had a strong season to help Stuttgart back to the Bundesliga and is a favourite of Scaloni while Pavón has made a somewhat surprise return after not featuring since 2018. At that time Jorge Sampaoli turned to the Boca winger with Europe seemingly his next stop but a slight detour has ended up with Pavón in LA.

Still lightning quick and able to cut in and provide a goal threat, Pavón has four goals and one assist in eight MLS appearances this season and looks to have recaptured the form that had so many clubs circling two years ago.