Ottmar Hitzfeld Must Make Key Changes in Midfield for Switzerland vs. Argentina

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Ottmar Hitzfeld Must Make Key Changes in Midfield for Switzerland vs. Argentina
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Switzerland's stay at the 2014 FIFA World Cup relies on them pulling off a major upset and knocking out one of the tournament's heavyweights, in Argentina.

While Alejandro Sabella's squad are yet to appear fully functional as a unit, any side with Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria will be met with a degree of trepidation.

Given the manner in which the Swiss defence capitulated against France, it's hard to envisage too many nerves in the Argentine camp.

Progression will be tough, but Switzerland stand a far better chance if Ottmar Hitzfeld makes some important changes in midfield.

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

 

Xherdan Shaqiri Must Continue as a No. 10

First of all, Switzerland looked far more penetrative in their third group game, albeit against a weak Honduras side. A key change in that match was Xherdan Shaqiri's switch to the No. 10 role, which happened almost by accident.

Christophe Ena/Associated Press

Patrice Evra had completely nullified the Bayern Munich man early on against France, causing Hitzfeld to shift Shaqiri left.

When this was similarly ineffectual, Shaqiri eventually finished the game as a No. 10, which coincided with Switzerland's two late strikes.

Hitzfeld started him there against Honduras, and the attacker responded with a fine hat-trick, combining impressively with Josip Drmic throughout.

Their chemistry and interplay will be key against Argentina—especially on the break—and this pairing must be retained for this match.

 

No Granit Xhaka on the Right

While this switch brought out the best in Shaqiri, it had a negative effect on Granit Xhaka, who swapped places with him and played on the right.

While the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder has been far from influential as a No. 10 thus far, he was completely wasted on a flank against Honduras.

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

This is something Switzerland cannot afford to do with a player only narrowly behind Shaqiri in terms of importance to the side.

Xhaka's passing and understanding of space are key facets to Switzerland's combination play, and he must be used in a more central berth.

 

Leave Out Valon Behrami

Aside from his magnificent last-minute tackle against Ecuador, Valon Behrami has endured a poor World Cup.

The Napoli man was sloppy against Ecuador and appeared error-prone and hesitant against France. It was a surprise he kept his place against Honduras, and, with Xhaka's influence needed in the middle, Behrami must now make way.

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While Xhaka has predominately been used in a more attacking berth for his country, playing him deep against Argentina would aid Hitzfeld's approach. 

Switzerland are likely to sit back and hit their opponents on the break, and having Xhaka in a central berth would better arm their counter-attack.

The midfielder has one of the best passing ranges in Europe with his longer passes especially accurate. Indeed, Toni Kroos (8.6) was the only Bundesliga midfielder to average more accurate long passes per game than Xhaka (8.1) last season.

As a No. 10 or on the right, Xhaka has not utilised this trait at the World Cup, averaging under two successful long passes per game. This is the match to bring that asset to the fore.

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By playing the above side, Xhaka would provide Switzerland with the quickest way of getting the ball to Shaqiri and Drmic following any turnover.

Importantly, it would also make far better use of Switzerland's strengths and strengthen their spine.

 

Bring Back Valentin Stocker

Finally, Hitzfeld will need more pace on the counter-attack and must recall Valentin Stocker.

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With Shaqiri central, the right is suddenly a little problematic for Switzerland, with Stocker and Tranquillo Barnetta far more comfortable on the left.

However, Switzerland's mantra must be all about condensing the centre of the pitch in this game.

Having Stocker and Admir Mehmedi as narrow, inverted wingers would make the team more compact and help force Argentina wide. Should width be needed, it will come from Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez.

For Switzerland to have any chance against Argentina, they will need big returns from their key players. Playing Xhaka in the middle and Shaqiri behind the striker gives both players a better platform to shine.

 

All statistics via WhoScored.com

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