Football

Published on June 14th, 2017 | by Peter Coates

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Sampaoli hits the ground running in Argentina reboot

Two matches, two wins for a new-look Argentina including a victory over Brazil leaves the Albiceleste in good shape for the future 

Jorge Sampaoli couldn’t have asked for more from his first round of fixtures as Argentina manager after such little time with the squad. Two wins from two and the chance to see plenty of players up close, Argentina now move forward to the far more important matter of World Cup qualification.

With the real test of Brazil passed on Friday, a Messi-less Argentina travelled to Singapore for the second friendly of the international break and as expected The Lions provided little opposition in a mauling so comprehensive that even the 6-0 score line didn’t do it justice.

Much was made of Sampaoli’s 2-3-4-1 formation in the build-up but it quickly became apparent that even the two-man defence of Emanuel Mammana and Federico Fazio would have a quiet evening.

Fazio eventually provided the breakthrough at a corner and Joaquin Correa stabbed in a second before second-half goals from debutants Alejandro Gomez and Leandro Paredes, a first international goal for Lucas Alario and a backheeled tap-in for Angel Di Maria.

With over 80% possession and 36 shots on goal to Singapore’s one had Argentina reached double figures it wouldn’t have been a great surprise.

The cash-strapped Argentine Football Association obviously profit from sending the star-studded selection to all corners of the globe for friendlies but the benefit to the team is a little less clear.

Victory over Singapore was akin to a training exercise played on half a pitch and while some may point to Argentina struggling to break down a stubborn Iran side at the 2014 World Cup, the Persians are vastly superior, as any qualified team at a World Cup would be.

Regardless, Sampaoli’s side did what was expected and there were still clear benefits to the trip ahead of the real work that lies ahead.

Most importantly, it allowed Sampaoli and the squad time to get accustomed and try things before the pressure cooker of World Cup qualification. Edgardo Bauza was thrown straight in with a qualifier against Uruguay but the new manager has had these two weeks to assess things, take a closer look at players and now go away and plan for the vital trip to Montevideo at the end of August.

The 2-3-4-1 formation used against Singapore is unlikely to ever see the light of day again and frankly the match was played at such a canter even that seems conservative in hindsight but it did allow Sampaoli to give minutes to more midfield and offensive options.

Sampaoli praised the players effort above anything else against Brazil in contrast to his appraisal after the Singapore victory, in which the 57-year-old said, “The main focus was to attack and put pressure on the opposition. I am happy with the team and the performance as they managed to translate my ideas onto the pitch throughout the 90 minutes.”

However, despite Friday’s flaws, the narrow victory over Brazil was of far greater use and provided much more of an insight.

The three-man defence certainly looks an option going forward and although switching to a back four surrendered the midfield to Brazil, Sampaoli showed the tactical nous to introduce debutant Guido Rodriguez and attempt to cut off the supply line. This flexibility and adaptability during a match is something that all too often left Edgardo Bauza looking woefully out of his depth.

The two matches gave a wonderful opportunity to shake up the squad and there were promising cameos over the 180 minutes of action from the likes of Papu Gomez, who made a goal scoring debut, Jose Luis Gomez, Manuel Lanzini, Eduardo Salvio, Nicolas Tagliafico and Ignacio Fernandez. All will hopefully remain in Sampaoli’s plans ahead of the Uruguay and Venezuela double-header but Joaquin Correa and Leandro Paredes perhaps shone brightest.

Correa, a player Sampaoli brought to Sevilla, was given more of an opportunity than anyone after replacing Gonzalo Higuain at half time against Brazil and starting against Singapore but the 22-year-old will have done his future chances no harm. A well taken goal on Tuesday was Correa’s reward for two energetic and versatile displays in something of a makeshift number nine role.

Paredes was only given 30 minutes to audition but the Roma midfielder showed glimpses of exactly what his admirers have lobbied for in the Argentina midfield. A simple assist for Papu Gomez within minutes of entering, a long range shot against the post and then an exquisitely taken goal, highlighted just a few of the 22-year-old’s talents and what has been absent under the tenure of Bauza.

Injury may have denied Mauro Icardi’s inclusion here but the mere fact that Sampaoli called up the Inter Milan striker, praising his attitude for trying to prove his fitness when he could have been on holiday, is a huge plus for Argentina.

Only a return to competitive action will really test Argentina but Sampaoli’s insistence on playing out from the back, his onus on progressive, possession football and focus on committing players forward to support Lionel Messi make La Albiceleste are far more exciting and dynamic outfit than they were some months ago.

A clasico win over Tite’s unbeaten Brazil and a glut of goals against Singapore provides a timely morale boost ahead of four huge World Cup qualifiers.

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About the Author

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Peter is a British football writer living in Buenos Aires, who specialises on Argentine football. His passion for the game in South America took him to Argentina in 2011 and aside from starting his own site 'Golazo Argentino', he has covered the national side for The Independent and acts as WhoScored's expert on the Primera División.



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