On Monday, Argentina's National Team played its last friendly prior to the World Cup. The match was a mere formality for the Argentines. They showed their scoring prowess by stomping on a weak Canadian side before cementing a 5-0 Victory.
The match was the typical pre-world cup friendly. It was a means for the Argentines to gain confidence, regale their fans with a showing of effort and passion, and come out of it without any injuries.
They played to a Monumental stadium at full capacity. Argentina's musicians came out to celebrate the bicentennial and the fans couldn't have been happier.
The team stroke their nationalist ego, elevated the patriotic flag and were sent off to fight the soccer war. Good-byes abundant as Maradona's team was sent to conquer a trophy that has eluded them for 24 years.
But beyond the natural fanfarre of the event, there was a football game. If anyone was looking for answers about Argentina's starting eleven, they didn't fully find them here. But there are a few things that one can deduct from the game.
First, it is clear that Maradona has his defense in place and barred any injuries nothing is going to change there.
Demichelis and Samuel are his central defenders. They are both cut from that Argentine line of strong albeit a little slow defenders. Micho and Il Muro are the typical though, strong defenders with an attitude.
On the right back, with the absence of Zanetti and Maradona's reluctance to play Clemente Rodriguez from the start, it would seem that Otamendi has the deed to the right parcel of the field. Meanwhile, at left back it is clear that el gringo Heinze is the man that Diego trusts the most.
Second, the midfield is Mascherano, Veron, Di maria and one more.
The Captain is the only one that can do his job. Bolatti is Mascherano's natural replacement, but he showed his inexperience in the game against the Canadians. He has talent but I have a feeling that even if Mascherano were to be absent, Veron would take his place. That would lead Maradona to opt for Maxi in order to replace the Estudiantes play-maker.
Di Maria is the most talented creative midfielder in the team and along Veron would do wonders to open up the game.
The problem begins from here on. Depending on the system, the fourth midfielder would be either Messi, Jonas and now perhaps Pastore. If Maradona made Messi the main playmaker, he would have to drop down. Potentially and arbitrarily, Messi would use all the field in front of Mascherano and Veron to create lanes for Di Maria and the right back to come forward.
Messi is invaluable in any position you play him. If he drops down to midfield it opens the possibility for Maradona to play with a more static center-forward and a winger. If he plays up top, then Maradona needs to play a more mobile center-forward and a fourth midfielder.
In that case, Jonas or Pastore would take Messi's place in the midfield.
Jonas is a workhorse. He runs up and down the right flank and could be used by Diego as a pure winger. Jonas would not leave the wing and that would allow Veron to Push forward a bit more in the center of the pitch. It also would allow for a more balanced attack as Di Maria would open up the left flank. Jonas was the most obvious choice a month ago, but with Pastore being called up to the team, Maradona might be thinking different.
Pastore gives Maradona less pace and more brain power than Jonas. He has less intensity but he can pause the game to open up lanes. With Messi and Jonas at the helm, the game could potentially end up constantly being run at 150 percent pace, without any rest or break to look for open up space.
It ultimately is Maradona's choice, but I believe he would choose Jonas Gutierrez.
Third and last, the fight for starting forward is a hard one if you are in this team.
We all know Messi is locked in. Perhaps the reason why he didn't play yesterday was to prevent an injury and to give him rest. Maradona is making sure his ace is healthy, hence the protection.
But who will play up front?
If yesterday's game is an indication, it would be either Tevez or Higuain. They both had great years, and scored a ton of goals. They both feel more comfortable as the second striker. They are not as effective being the main guy in the box but they can do the job. However, they like to participate in the game and be more active contributors.
It all comes down to what system Maradona uses. If he drops Messi to a midfield position and plays with two strikers, then I believe the main target should be Milito. We didn't see him yesterday but his play for the first goal in the Champions League Final is the epitome of what a center-forward is supposed to do—receive the ball, hold the defender back, turn around to the open space, then finish with class, intelligence and calm.
Milito is tall and has strength. He can carry defenders while still skillfully dribbling past them. He is the closest to Batistuta or Crespo that this team has. He is the closest to a powerful striker that Argentina has.
Tevez and Higuain both have tremendous skill, but they lack size. Their air game is not as powerful as Milito's, and I just think they are better suited to be an accompanying forward.
In a two forward system with Messi playing behind, it's Milito and either Higuain or Tevez.
In a four midfielder system and Messi playing forward, I believe Higuain should be the other striker. He is more mobile than Milito, and can come back to collaborate and help Messi create plays. He can move in and out of the box with dexterity and has enough size to hold defenders in form. Tevez has similar characteristics but he lacks the size to be the only reference in the box.
I don't want to bring into the conversation the names of Aguero or Palermo because in my opinion they are both a step behind and would only see playing time in strenuous circumstances.
With only two weeks until kick-off, Argentina has to fly to South Africa, make themselves at home and prepare to battle until the end. Maradona has the non-enviable task of choosing among a team of super-stars for the supporting cast to Messi and Mascherano's team. It should be quite difficult.
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