5 Things Alejandro Sabella Should Test in Argentina's Friendly with Slovenia
With his starting XI virtually locked in, Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella has been able to use the final warm-up matches before the World Cup to try out some different players and tactical variations.
The Albiceleste's last friendly fixture before the tournament gets underway will be no different, as they take on Slovenia on Saturday in La Plata.
Here are five things that Sabella should test out before Argentina set off on their World Cup journey.
Which Reserve Forward Is in the Best Form If Palacio Is Injured?
With a front three of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain likely to start against Serbia and Montenegro, there is no place in the XI for Rodrigo Palacio, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Enzo Perez or Ricky Alvarez.
However, in most World Cup matches, Sabella is going to want to inject some fresh legs into the attack.
After his showing against Trinidad and Tobago in Argentina's last friendly international, in which he scored one goal and set up another, Rodrigo Palacio was probably first in line to play that substitute role.
Unfortunately, he suffered a sprain in his left ankle during that game and is now in doubt for the Slovenia match.
The remaining forwards should all be given some minutes to determine who is most deserving of a chance to come off the bench in the first World Cup group game.
Can Biglia Do Gago's Job?
Sabella took a gamble by cutting Ever Banega from his final squad of 23. The Newell's Old Boys man was the most obvious back-up for Fernando Gago in midfield.
Against Trinidad and Tobago, Gago came off at half-time for Lucas Biglia, so the coach has already had a chance to have a look at how the Lazio player fits into the formation.
Biglia did a fair job in the second half, but he did not dispel the notion that he is more of a defensive-minded player than Gago, with many of his passes heading in a backward direction.
To be fair, Argentina were already leading the match at that stage. In any case, it would be interesting to see if he can play a more creative role as well, in case he is needed to perform that task during the World Cup.
Minutes for Aguero and Garay
Two players who are certain starters when fit, Sergio Aguero and Ezequiel Garay, both missed Argentina's last friendly due to minor injuries.
Aguero has been suffering from discomfort in his left thigh, while Garay has a similar problem in his right thigh.
Sabella will be keen to give both of them some match practice against Slovenia, assuming they are deemed fit enough.
How Would Mascherano Fare as a Centre-Back for Argentina?
Traditionally a defensive midfielder, Javier Mascherano has played as a centre-half for club side Barcelona over the past few seasons.
He still plays in the centre of midfield for Argentina, however, where he is vital in shielding the back four.
Sabella has thus resisted using the "Little Chief" at centre-back. However, just in case circumstances require him to drop back at some point during the upcoming tournament, it would do no harm to see how he fares in that position for a period on Saturday.
How the Team Plays Without Messi
The loss of Argentina's main man would without doubt be a colossal blow to the team's chances of claiming glory in Brazil, but that does not mean Sabella shouldn't have a back-up plan just in case the unthinkable actually happens.
This outfit is entirely built around Lionel Messi and relies heavily on his creative spark and his goals.
It is rare for Messi to be withdrawn in any match, for either Argentina or Barcelona, but it would not be a bad idea for Sabella to give the team a 45-minute spell without the No. 10 in order to see how they adapt.
One option could be to replace him directly in the front three with a player like Ezequiel Lavezzi, who offers some of the attributes that Messi does, but obviously not all of them.
Another setup the coach could try would be to switch to a 4-4-2, push Angel di Maria further left and bring in another skilful wide player—such as Enzo Perez, Augusto Fernandez or Ricky Alvarez—to patrol the other flank and attempt to create chances for Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain up front.