World Cup 2018: How effective are Argentina's fantastic front four?
On paper, Argentina undoubtedly possesses the world’s most lethal forward line up with the fantastic quartet of Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi, and Angel di Maria, who have been top performers for some of Europe’s elite clubs over last one decade. However, wearing national colors, as a group, they have not always lived up to expectations, and heavily relied on Lionel Messi’s individual brilliance for whatever success they achieved.
Under Jorge Sampaoli’s management, the highly talented but heavily under-achieved group of forwards will get their third -- and possibly last -- opportunity to lift the game’s greatest trophy, which their national side have not won for 32 years.
With Sergio Aguero just recovering from a serious injury, and Higuain missing the net repeatedly on big occasions, many expected Inter Milan talisman Mauro Icardi, Serie A 2018’s top scorer, to heal the Albiceleste’s woes, and help Lionel Messi take the national side to the promised land of World Cup glory.
Sampaoli, who broke many of his present disciples’ hearts in the Copa America 2015 final by taking an underdog Chile side to victory over favorite Argentina, has stirred some controversy after not picking the in-form Icardi in his 23-man World Cup bound squad. Perhaps, the Argentine boss wants to keep believing in the ability of the fabulous four who have substantial experience of playing together, and left conventional striker Icardi in favor of Juventus forward Paulo Dybala, West Ham midfielder Manuel Lanzini, and Boca Juniors winger Christian Pavon, who can ease the job of senior forwards with tremendous creative skills.
Prior to the beginning of World Cup 2018 in Russia, it is worth having a statistical look at how effectively Argentina’s top four have performed in their international careers in terms of scoring goals in different international tournaments.
Sergio Aguero, who is supposed to be Sampaoli’s preferred striking choice in Russia, is yet to score his first goal at the world’s best footballing event. Gonzalo Higuain, selected ahead of the Manchester City striker in the starting line-up of previous two editions of the tournament, has 5 goals, a number shared with the mighty Leo Messi, who often drops deep to create opportunities for others. PSG winger Angel Di Maria has scored only one goal, which proved to be decisive when Argentina knocked Switzerland out from the round of 16 in 2014 world cup.
World Cup Qualifiers
Argentine captain Lionel Messi, who almost single-handedly booked his nation’s place in Russia, unsurprisingly, has scored most number of goals (21) in three World Cup qualification campaigns. Higuain, who often played as the number 9, stands second in the list with 9 goals, while Aguero and Di Maria have scored 9 and 5 respectively.
In South America’s most prestigious tournament, the performance of Argentina’s top four forwards are pretty close. Leo Messi, again, leads the race with 8 goals, Higuain and Aguero have 7 each, and Di Maria has 4 to his tally.
Leo Messi, like major footballing events, is most successful in terms of scoring in international friendlies with 27 goals. Sergio Aguero, finding the target 20 times, is surprisingly leading Higuain (8) by quite some margin. In fact, Di Maria, with 9 friendly goals, comes third in the list.
Goal per Game
In terms of Goal per Game ratio, Messi (0.49), Higuain (0.44), and Aguero (0.43) are close to each other. Di Maria, who often does some extra work on wings and midfield apart from attacking, understandably has the lowest ratio (0.20).
Although Aguero and Higuain are often criticized for not being clinical for the national side, statistically they have not done too bad, considering goal per game ratio of some top strikers of their generation: Robert Lewandowski (0.56), Cristiano Ronaldo (0.54), Luis Suarez (0.51), Edinson Cavani (0.42), and Karim Benzema (0.33).
Impact of Goals on Win
Interestingly, Argentina have never lost a game in which Angel Di Maria scored. Messi’s scoring in a game is the next most auspicious event for the Albiceleste as they have finished victorious in 89% games when Messi hit the target on one or more number of occasions. Higuain and Aguero, with 87% and 80% goal scoring and simultaneously winning percentage record, appear next in the list.
What to expect in Russia?
Since Jorge Sampaoli's appointment, he has tried to experiment with the wonderful array of world-class forwards at his possession. Among them, Messi and Aguero were only successful in hitting the target with 3 and 2 goals respectively. Unfortunately, the other strikers -- Gonzalo Higuain, Dario Benedetto, Mauro Icardi, and Paulo Dybala -- failed to score a single goal.
Sampaoli, who has recently announced his desire to deploy a 2-3-3-2 formation while his side would attack, is supposed to pair Leo Messi up front with Aguero, while Di Maria is likely to continue his energetic contribution on the left side of the pitch. Consequently, Higuain will have to patiently wait on the bench to get another opportunity to make amends for the mistakes he made in last three major finals, and prove his haters wrong.
Although stats are only “on-paper” things, they do provide some compelling evidence that Messi-Aguero-Higuain-Di Maria have been crucial for the South American side’s success over last decade. Sampaoli, who showed trust on the fabulous four at the risk of massive criticism for dropping exciting options like Mauro Icardi and Lautaro Martinez, will hope these stats will appear meaningful, and more importantly, prove his selection right.