World Cup 2018 Tactics: 5 Possible Options for Argentina
Despite its footballing heritage, Argentina has seen quite a few dark days in their long footballing history. They have lost the World Cup final three times, their superstar Diego Maradona has been suspended for drug use, they have suffered a 6-1 World Cup loss to Czechoslovakia, a 4-0 in a World Cup quarterfinal to Germany and even lost to archrivals Brazil in the 1982 edition.
Now Thursday’s game against Croatia can be added to that notorious list. The stakes may not have been as high, but the sight of a great footballing nation like Argentina being dismantled by Croatia was remarkable.
Nonetheless, Nigeria’s comprehensive victory over Iceland has given the Albiceleste hope of making the knockout stages. To do this, they will need to beat Nigeria- a game that may have seemed routine before the tournament but now feels like a coin flip.
After the thrashing against Croatia, manager Jorge Sampaoli will need to change his tactics if the Albiceleste are to progress into the Round of 16. His choice of a 3-4-2-1 vs Croatia proved disastrous as Argentina were exposed at the back and lacked tooth in attack.
While Argentina’ squad is ridiculously lopsided (amazing attack and mediocre midfield/defence), Sampaoli still has a number of tactical options open to him.
#5 Chile 2014: 3-4-1-2
While Sampoali’s 3-4-2-1 was a massive failure vs Croatia, a three-man defence could still be an ideal option for the Argentine team with some changes in personnel and minor tactical tweaks as shown in the formation below (created courtesy of buildlineup.com):
After all, Sampaoli has previously succeeded at the World Cup with Chile while playing a 3-4-1-2. The addition of a target man (Higuain) instead of an attacking midfielder (Meza) could be the change that Argentina needs. It would maintain Sampoali’s trademark “pressing” style- especially useful against Nigeria's inexperienced defence.
Furthermore, a shift in personnel could provide defensive solidity. Against Croatia, Sampaoli played two full-backs (Nicolas Tagalfico and Gabriel Mercado) in central defence and two wingers (Eduardo Salvio and Marcos Acuna) as wing-backs.
A better approach would be playing Tagalfico and Mercado as wingbacks while playing natural centre-backs Federico Fazio, Marcus Rojo and Nicolas Otamendi in central defence.
Rojo and Otamendi are both excellent passers while Fazio was among the best defenders in Serie A last season. Thus this defensive trio would have the right mix of passing and defensive ability.
Having Mercado and Tagalfico as wing-backs would also help nullify the threat of Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses: Nigeria's two most dangerous players. Such a defensive structure would help reduce the defensive vulnerabilities that proved fatal against Croatia.
This change in formation could also help Argentina’s attack as a stronger defence would enable Sampaoli to pick Ever Banega. When the midfielder was substituted on against Iceland, Argentina looked infinitely more dangerous due to Banega’s industrious style of play (strangely he did not feature against Croatia).
Banega’s excellent passing and ability to move the ball from defence to attack could reduce the pressure on Lionel Messi.
The little magician has been forced to play deep, preventing him from doing what he does best: creating chances for himself and his teammates. With Banega in the starting line up, Messi could play almost exclusively in the final third.
Finally, playing both central strikers in Higuain and Aguero would ensure that Argentina do not have to rely heavily on Messi for goal-scoring. Both Higuain and Aguero are excellent passers (both had six assists in their respective leagues in 2017-18) who could drop back when needed.
There are some issues associated with such a formation. Firstly, playing Mercado and Tagalfico as wing-backs would reduce the attacking threat from this position.
This formation would also result in a lack of width for the South American side- allowing Nigeria to defend compactly in the middle. Furthermore, if Nigeria continue to play three men in central midfield, Argentina would be outnumbered in the middle of the park.
These tactics are also unable to accommodate Paulo Dybala- perhaps Argentina’s second best player after Messi. Nonetheless, the formation’s defensive solidity along with the attacking threat of Messi, Higuain and Aguero together should make it a consideration for Sampaoli.