Keep Messi happy, check in on the walking wounded and maybe allow a defensive rock back from exile, Jorge Sampaoli has a busy time in Europe
Humiliation against Spain still in the back of the mind, Jorge Sampaoli has returned to Europe to speak to those players likely to go to Russia in only a couple of months. But ahead of such a big decision there are still plenty of question marks for the Argentina manager.
Keep Messi happy
Sampaoli’s first port of call was a meeting with captain Lionel Messi and so it didn’t take long for the mischievous media to suggest that the Barcelona star was giving instructions to Sampaoli regarding who is in and who is out for the World Cup.
Sampaoli met with Messi today in Barcelona. They talked about the World Cup and if he still had any discomfort in his leg. In the meeting, they didn't take about who is going to the World Cup, but how they will approach it. [md] pic.twitter.com/CCPrygCPnC
— Barça Centre (@barcacentre) April 23, 2018
Argentina are dependent on Messi and Sampaoli has been unable in his short tenure to find a solution with any cohesive formation and style. There is no question of that so naturally a conversation with Messi will cover this topic. Will Messi pick the squad? No, but Sampaoli will want to find those players who his captain is comfortable with and feels can bring the best from him.
Check on Agüero
One such player is Messi’s childhood friend Sergio Agüero, who is (or at least was) expected to start as Argentina’s first choice number nine.
Injury had already ruled the Manchester City star out of several of Sampaoli’s games in charge and now minor knee surgery will keep Agüero sidelined until just before the tournament. The player believes he will be back to full fitness; one of Argentina’s team doctors thinks that is highly unlikely.
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 18, 2018
How much faith does Sampaoli have in Agüero’s fitness?
The door opens for Icardi
One player who didn’t appear to be on the itinerary was Inter captain Mauro Icardi but Sampaoli is now expected to swing by Milan and sound out the divisive centre forward.
The 25-year-old spoke this week about his dream to play at the World Cup and certainly has done everything he could on the pitch to persuade Sampaoli. 26 Serie A goals as captain of Inter, there is no questioning Icardi’s quality.
Mauro Icardi: Yes, it could be (the right time). I’m 25, the captain of @Inter & I entered into the club’s record books. I dream of playing at the World Cup, whether it be now or in the future. If it isn’t now, it will be later.
FULL INTERVIEW 👉 https://t.co/DhYlhBLK50 pic.twitter.com/rouKCtamDo
— Peter Coates (@golazoargentino) April 25, 2018
Icardi’s brief chance under Sampaoli wasn’t really a fair crack at the whip and if he doesn’t get another opportunity, the media will once more go back to the stories of cliques and personal relationships.
Alternatives to Biglia
While in Milan, Sampaoli will be checking on another of Argentina’s injury concerns after Lucas Biglia suffered a fracture in his lower back. Like Agüero, the midfielder is hopeful of being fit before the World Cup but it is another concern for a player more than likely to form part of Sampaoli’s starting eleven.
Lucas Biglia admits "doctors told me I'll be out for six weeks, but I'm optimistic" about playing last two #SerieA rounds with #ACMilan and #CoppaItalia Final against #Juventus https://t.co/5DT7DE25Dj #Argentina #WC2018 pic.twitter.com/UvqnMXlHic
— footballitalia (@footballitalia) April 26, 2018
Argentina supporters may not be too upset with the likes of Matías Kranevitter, Santiago Ascacibar, Guido Pizarro and Iván Marcone being talked up as replacements but Sampaoli knows how important the number five is and just like his predecessors appears to prefer Biglia over all other options.
No way back for Garay
The question over Nicolas Otamendi’s defensive partner is still to be answered and although Ezequiel Garay broke silence to suggest he is available, his absence speaks volumes.
The Valencia defender was a vital part of the 2014 squad but has not featured in two years and regardless of what Garay may say, there is clearly something else behind why Argentina would not consider him.