Argentina boss, Jorge Sampaoli, has been touring Europe trying to find solutions to problems all over the pitch, starting with what to do with Mauro Icardi
Jorge Sampaoli has been doing his rounds once more in Europe, finalizing plans and catching up with players expected to be in his World Cup squad but as ever there was one meeting that made the headlines above all others.
A rendezvous with Mauro Icardi was always going to spark contentious debate over whether the Inter captain should be included and if rumours are to be believed it was bad news for the prolific yet polemic centre-forward.
Icardi had appeared to have worked his way in once Sampaoli took control with a starting role in World Cup qualifying and the 25-year-old was even included in friendly squads prior to injury in November. However, reports suggest that Sampaoli has informed Icardi that unless Sergio Agüero is ruled out, there won’t be a place available in Russia.
Agüero continues recovery from knee surgery but is expected to be fit and so the Man City striker and Gonzalo Higuain will once more be Argentina’s first-choice number nines.
Whether Higuain and Agüero should be getting another shot ahead of Icardi is a valid argument and the Inter captain’s personal life will always create speculation but make no mistake, almost every nation in Russia would take Argentina’s so-called ‘chokers’ and for Sampaoli there are far more pressing issues.
There is a little over a month until Argentina kick-off against Iceland in Moscow, just ten days or so until Sampaoli names his preliminary squad and a couple of warm-up friendlies and as of right now, La Albiceleste have no clear formation or structure and only a really, really good number ten to build around.
Dependence on Lionel Messi has never been greater and so finding a balance to get the best of Argentina’s captain and not relying on moments of individual brilliance remains the key to success in Russia.
Sampaoli’s preferred back-three, pressing high up the pitch leaves a somewhat slow, immobile defence badly exposed and even a switch to a more familiar back four, still leaves questions surrounding who best partners Nicolás Otamendi, who provides the necessary attacking width while still performing defensive duties at full-back and who is Argentina’s best goalkeeper?
All the possible solutions have either not impressed, need time (which Sampaoli doesn’t have), or the luck required for those pieces to click into place immediately.
And if that wasn’t enough to still be mulling over, the engine of the team, that which will protect defence and support attack, free Messi, and balance the entire eleven — the midfield is still anyone’s guess.
Lucas Biglia’s injury raises further doubts, is Mascherano still the number five Argentina need him to be, do the likes of Leandro Paredes or Giovani Lo Celso step up to be the main men in a new look, youthful midfield?
Questions need to be answered and if they prove anything it is that, whether Icardi is in Russia or not is probably quite low on the list of priorities.
Focusing on the individual in such a way and fine-tuning the team would be perfect if Argentina had sailed through qualification and something like a settled starting eleven. Unless Sampaoli finds that identity, the debate over who wears the number nine shirt is pretty futile.