It’s perhaps difficult to read too much into Argentina’s straight-forward 4-0 win over Haiti, but as La Albiceleste jet off to Barcelona to complete World Cup preparations, here are a few takeaways
Hopes lie with Messi
Even against such lowly opposition, Argentina’s dependence on their inspirational captain was clear. Lionel Messi’s sixth international hat-trick aside, everything that Argentina tried to generate went through the world’s best player.
Three goals and an assist, Messi was once again creator and scorer and despite Jorge Sampaoli trying to tweak the system and personnel, his number ten was still dropping deep to get on the ball.
Agüero over Higuaín
Sampaoli’s decision to take Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín as his two number nine options was contentious but if there was anything to garner from the win over Haiti it was that the Man City man should be first choice.
Con muy buenas sensaciones! Y más con tanto apoyo y aliento. Gracias a todos ?Vamos ??! pic.twitter.com/YAyMNOjRdh
— Sergio Kun Aguero (@aguerosergiokun) May 30, 2018
Ten minutes after coming on, Agüero had looked livelier than Higuaín had in over an hour. Linking up play well and looking to dart in behind, Kun latched onto one of Messi’s through-balls to score and looks far better suited to what Sampaoli wants.
Javier Mascherano was honoured before kick off in La Bombonera to mark his record-breaking 143rd appearance for Argentina and while his days may be numbered, El Jefecito deserves all the praise that comes his way for a tremendous international career.
Feliz de haber llegado a esta marca con esta Camiseta. ??
Gracias a todos los que lo hicieron posible. pic.twitter.com/Lrd98Ld7FW
— Javier Mascherano (@Mascherano) May 30, 2018
Haiti didn’t provide much of a test and if fit Lucas Biglia will be preferred option in defensive midfield but Mascherano could still play an important role in Russia.
Pavón gives a fresh option
“The truth is that I found a new partner in Pavón, he’s a very good player.” If Lionel Messi gives the thumbs up, you are doing something right.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) May 30, 2018
Cristian Pavón came off the bench and gave Argentina an immediate boost with his pace and directness down the left. Supporters at La Bombonera are well used to it but it created Messi’s third and has forced many to ponder whether the 22-year-old should replace Di María in the starting eleven.
The new Gago?
Like Fernando Gago or not, Argentina’s midfield has struggled for balance since the fragile Boca star, succumbed to injury in 2014. Alongside a more defensive number five, La Albiceleste have needed that incisive passer, who can move the ball forward quickly and efficiently, ideally into Messi’s feet and that could be Giovani Lo Celso.
— Giovani Lo Celso (@GioLocelso) May 30, 2018
Far bigger tests lie ahead but the Paris Saint-Germain youngster has likely forced his way into the team.
Nicolás Tagliafico is now unquestionably Argentina’s best left-back but Jorge Sampaoli’s decision to go with winger Eduardo Salvio on the right shows just how he expects his full-backs to play.
Both were able to bomb forward with relative success but given the lack of defending required against Haiti that was made simple. Salvio particularly will be targeted against stronger sides at the World Cup and so there is more to the position than simply providing width.
Argentina’s number one
Sergio Romero’s injury has left the status as Argentina’s number one up in the air. Chiquito’s replacement Nahuel Guzman was given the shirt in the squad list, Willy Caballero played against Haiti but River Plate’s Franco Armani is probably the public’s favourite so the question is who starts against Iceland?
— Selección Argentina ?? (@Argentina) May 29, 2018
Sampaoli has kept everyone guessing despite hinting that he won’t be changing and while you may disagree, it would be impossible to base any decision on a friendly victory in which Caballero didn’t need to make a single stop.