So to get the most obvious fact out of the way first, Argentina should beat Bolivia. They should hammer them off the pitch. Messi should be dancing around the bloodstain pitch at full time with the still beating heart of Arias, the Bolivian goalkeeper, in his hand. Only metaphorically though.
But they didn’t. In fact they could have easily lost in their opening game of the Copa America, in which they have been the runners up to Brazil two years in a row, which must grate particularly hard. Bolivia went ahead at half time and spurned other chances even if Argentina did as well, and in the end deserved the draw they took from the South American giants.
Argentina didn’t even have that much of an attacking threat behind their football – chances which should have been flowing against Bolivia were few and far between. Bear in mind here, that Argentina have such attacking riches that Aguero, Higuain, Pastore and De Maria all sat on the bench as Lavezzi, Tevez and Messi instead took the attacking reigns. So again, to score just one goal against Bolivia is all kinds of sad and mediocre.
So why is this? Simple really – Argentina are trying to copy Barcelona’s formation. Messi playing as a false nine, Lavezzi and Tevez as wide strikers. Behind them, Banega and Cambiasso patrol midfield while Mascherano drops between the defenders while in possession, allowing the fullbacks to get forward. Great in theory, but it won’t work because…
Argentina’s ‘wingbacks’ aren’t up to the job.
Want to know why the defensive midfielder for Barcelona drops between the centre backs? It’s not just to keep possession, making the defenders hard to press and making it easier for Barcelona to play out from the back, but it’s also to unleash the wingbacks into the attacking half. While the front three play narrow and draw defenders, the wingbacks are supplying the width on both sides of the pitch – and when your wingbacks are both as good in the attacking half as Barcelona’s (Maxwell and Alves) that is quite some trick to pull. So it’s understandable to see why Argentina would try… no. No it isn’t.
Lets make this quite clear. Argentina’s left back against Bolivia was a player called Marcos Rojo, a starlet for Spain. Now I can’t pretend to know a great deal about this player, but I guess that’s the point – he’s a starlet having just made his move to Russia. He’s not the attacking, dynamo of a wingback Argentina are going to want to use to win the world cup, not really.
But it’s when you come to the other side of the pitch that things get even worse for Argentina. Talented, experienced, sensational legend as Zanetti is, at his age he isn’t on the same planet attacking wise as Alves. And worse he is not the future – if he is still being picked for Argentina at the age of 37 (very soon to be 38) then what does that say about his potential successors?
And this is a massive problem. At most clubs wingbacks aren’t the most vital piece of the puzzle – free raiding fullbacks are a luxury as opposed to absolutely essential in the modern game. For Barcelona, they are hugely vital. For Argentine thus, they are hugely vital, because if those wingbacks aren’t offensively capable enough then the space they leave is a weakness, just as it is for Barcelona, as previously demonstrated. Albeit, it is a small one for the Catalans, because their wingbacks are sensational.
For the Argentines it is a huge problem. Because their wingbacks aren’t good enough, their flanks are weak. Because their flanks are weak, the whole formation that Barcelona play (essentially a diamond formation) falls apart – and I’m not going to make any wild predictions here, but Argentina will never, never win anything with the wingbacks they have at present in this formation. Simple.
Messi is only a good false nine for Barcelona
It feels like a long time ago now that Messi switched positions. For the majority of Barcelona’s first all conquering season in 08-09 Messi played mostly on the right, linking up with Alves in what was arguably one of the most devastating wing partnerships the world has ever seen – for a small amount of time at least. Then, at some point towards the end of the season, Pep Guardiola decided that Messi would become the fulcrum of the formation and stuck him into the centre where Eto’o would have usually played. Ever the wise man Pep, his decision paid off first in the champions league final and then ever since.
So to a degree you can certainly understand why Argentina would want such a force working in their favour as well. They too have shifted Messi from his previous wing position to the centre of Argentina’s side, again the fulcrum, again the player who things go though. Except this poses a whole new set of problems for them both. Messi doesn’t and likely never will have the same level of chemistry with his Argentine teammates as he does with his Catalan ones, and for the false nine position that is almost everything. Especially when your opposition are stacking players in front of you to crack open, the lesser chemistry is going to impact your ability to break them down – especially when your creative player relies on this chemistry, that pass and move and intelligence that Barcelona so value.
Ignoring that little niggle that says Messi simply doesn’t play as well for Argentina, the false nine role is simply more complicated at international level. Really he should just be left to his devices on the right again. For him beating players is simple, akin to strolling in the park. But as ever, playing the playmaking, striker role that is false nine is complex – some might argue, too complicated for a level where there is little time for making the players gel.
Of course it would help if there was a little more creativity from midfield.
Argentina’s midfield aren’t on Xavi and Iniesta’s level
Seem’s a little harsh doesn’t it? Comparing Mascherano, Banega and Cambiassio to Xavi and Iniesta. That’s because it is, but ‘football is no fairy tale world’ (Morgan Freeman.) Fact is, what Barcelona play is a diamond formation, with Messi as an attacking midfield with licence to roam. The two strikers stay wide then average strikers, and when it comes down to it, Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets have to pick their way through what is at times a narrow field of play Barcelona basically create on purpose. Less so Busquets who as pointed out previously drops into the defence when Barcelona are in possession.
The same of course applies to Mascherano, who drops back into the midfield to allow Banega and Cambiasso to run the midfield. Fine. Except if the opposition team don’t bother about pressing a defensive line that is going to find a space to play the ball out anyway, and choose to nullify the midfield instead. Then Argentina, again, have a problem. Banega and Cambiasso don’t have the creativity of Xaniesta (My new, ‘cute’ name for the Catalan duo) they don’t have the chemistry and they don’t have the attacking instincts. So what Argentine could well fine is these two being overwhelmed in the centre, especially if the opposition decide that the defenders, who can’t really do a lot of harm, aren’t worth bothering with.
Of course there is Messi too, who can drop very deep to help out the two defensive midfielders but then that nullifies his threat even more and doesn’t even allow him close to the wings where at international level, he could at least do more damage. Basically, having three players in a defensive line in possession is fine – but only if your midfield are up to the job of controlling the midfield and attacking. Which, Argentina’s midfield arguably aren’t.
The wingbacks (yes, again) don’t have the energy levels to play that game
I know, I’ve already been doing enough metaphorical kicking of Rojo and Zanetti in the gonads today, but hell, I’m evil. So we have these somewhat blunt fullbacks trying to supply width for Argentina – meanwhile, when Argentina lose the ball they are pressing to win the ball back, just like Barcelona do. In fact in order to do it the same way as Barcelona they must press furiously – hemming the opposition into their own half, strangling all resistance. Which again is a problem for the fullbacks, who basically at times have to cover entire flanks by themselves. So in likelihood they are the ones who will get tired first. This doesn’t apply for Alves, whom has been proved to be powered by prototype nuclear fusion reactors.
But anyway as these fullback get tired it makes them vulnerable, more so then any other part of the team because it means they will leave more space, attacking or not attacking – entire flanks are a lot of space to patrol, and space will open up as these players get tired. Even more so for Zavier Zanetti, who if he’s doing his job properly will be considering retirement at the 60 minute mark of every game he plays this role. So basically, not only will these wingbacks not be great on the attack but on the defensive they will leave space as well – and allow opposing wingers to get at them.
So if this is so, how do Barcelona cover this up? Usually, by being five goals up by half time. Argentina don’t have that kind of capability because the rest of the team in this formation isn’t working either.
And forgive me for not mentioning Argentina’s defenders in this mile long slur of their football team, but mentioning the defenders who would be a problem regardless of the formation played felt superflous when it came to arguing that Argentina simply cannot work Barcelona’s formation. There are plenty of reasons up and down the team why Argentina can’t make it work, the most important of which are above. However, the overriding conclusion is…
Argentina aren’t Barcelona and should get their own damn formation.
I’m quite serious. Barcelona have tailoired their formation to suit their players in order to elevate them to the very best players in the world. Of course having Messi, who seems to never ever miss helps. But still, this formation suits Barcelona down to the ground. But even for them it required some large amounts of tinkering – such as bringing in Dani Alves for 25 million pounds. Arguably, Barcelona may not have won anything in their first year of Guardiolaism without him. Even for them they needed to buy players and draft in players purely to suit this new formation of theirs.
What Argentina are doing is pure laziness – just copying another teams formation seemingly because it is the most in thing at the time, because it doesn’t suit the team at all. Only the attacking part of the side fits into the game, and with the options they have up front they could fit their strikers to suit any formation. The rest of the team? They need their own damn formation! They need to not have to live up to the standards of the greatest team the world has ever seen in order to succeed. It is really that simple.