Do Argentina Need to Be More Offensive to Win the World Cup?

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2014

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JULY 09: Head coach Alejandro Sabella of Argentina reacts with Lionel Messi at the end of extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match between the Netherlands and Argentina at Arena de Sao Paulo on July 9, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

While Germany received plenty of acclaim, congratulations and, to an extent, awe for the manner of their progress to the World Cup final, rivals Argentina were somewhat less on the receiving end of such plaudits after a series of largely uninspiring performances saw them into the last game.

Perhaps it's because the tournament as a whole has seen plenty of attacking football, perhaps it's because of the expectation of seeing Argentina as an attacking force—understandable, given their options in the final third—but there generally seems to be rather a bitter taste in the mouth that this team has made it so far.

An exciting tournament demands an exciting winner, and being the highest scorers by far in open play at the finals, that is Germany. It begs the question: Should Argentina go on the offensive in their last game in search of World Cup glory?

Keep Shape at all Costs

Alejandro Sabella's remit appeared to be to build a team which can incorporate and get the best use of Lionel Messi. Fine, and perfectly rational, but the rest of the side needs to perform too, to claim regular victories in such a competitive environment.

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Argentina's path through the finals, though, has seen an insistence on retaining men behind the ball, always half the team and frequently more, to deny opponents the chance to exploit spaces after turnovers and quick transitions.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JULY 09:  Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot against goalkeeper Sergio Romero during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match between the Netherlands and Argentina at Are
Julian Finney/Getty Images

With Javier Mascherano protecting the defence, and one of the other two midfielders rarely venturing forward into the final third, Argentina's team shape is solid, compact and invites teams to play and pass through them if they are able...or to commit an overload in key areas, if they dare.

Downfall of Netherlands, Can Germany Afford the Same?

The biggest failing of Netherlands against Argentina was to not commit numbers forward into the attack; Arjen Robben and co had proven they were adept at playing through and scoring against good, organised defences.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JULY 09:  Javier Mascherano of Argentina controls the ball as Georginio Wijnaldum of the Netherlands gives chase during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match between the Netherlands and Argentina at Arena de Sao Paulo on July
Clive Rose/Getty Images

The lack of bravery to do this, though, meant Argentina comfortably won the ball back in their own defensive third more often than not.

It was understandable that Netherlands didn't want to overcommit; looking for an overload going forward invariably means they would be caught short at the back if the South Americans won back the ball and played forward quickly—the exact plan Sabella has been counting on to find Messi in space a couple of times again, opening up the pitch for his front men.

Think #ARG will pose #GER more problems than people think. Physical and defensive but also have enough individual class to hurt them.

— Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) July 9, 2014

That cost Switzerland at a vital moment as they searched for their own late goal; Netherlands wouldn't make the same error. Instead they went the opposite way—they didn't give Argentina enough to worry about at all.

Germany's force in the World Cup so far has been in their attack: Relentless, clinical and fast-paced in possession. Switching from that to keep more solid in the middle third will take away from their biggest strengths. Where does Jogi Low judge to be the tipping point in a game of this magnitude?

90 minutes of defensive excellence. Now this World Cup really has had everything... #NED #ARG

— Joe Wright (@JoeWright004) July 9, 2014

Reliance on Forwards

The previous two sections seem to insist that Sabella and Argentina should do exactly as they have done: Wait the game out, keep strong at the back and look to exploit the one or two moments in a game when Messi finds time and space on the ball to work his magic.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JULY 01:  Lionel Messi of Argentina takes on Gokhan Inler (L), Gelson Fernandes and Ricardo Rodriguez of Switzerlandduring the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Argentina and Switzerland at Arena de Sao Paulo on July
Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

With Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and backups Rodrigo Palacio and Ezequiel Lavezzi in attack, there should be movement and goals in the attack anyway even aside from Messi—but just one goal between them all is the sum total contribution in front of goal at the finals.

Angel Di Maria provides thrusting runs from the channels in midfield, as did Enzo Perez in the semi-final, but aside from that, there is not an awful lot of support for the front three. Neither full-back consistently gets forward into the final third, supporting and crossing or linking play with the wider forwards, meaning it is consistently a case of moving the ball back into midfield, across the other side, or looking for Messi to attack solo through the middle.

Lionel Messi: Completed more successful dribbles (10) against Holland last night than any other player has in a World Cup 2014 match #arg

— (@WhoScored) July 10, 2014

It places a huge stress on the front three to come up with the goods; so far it has largely been Messi who finds that moment of genius, but against a fiercely committed Germany, an organised defence made up of strong centre-backs and the hugely impressive Manuel Neuer, even that might not be enough this time around.

Sabella might have to go for it more than previously or else risk another penalty shootout to decide the fate of the final. And, despite Argentina moving through that way against Netherlands, there won't be too many who would back against Germany falling short in that fashion.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JULY 08:  Andre Schuerrle of Germany celebrates scoring his team's sixth goal with teammates Mesut Oezil, Toni Kroos, Benedikt Hoewedes and Thomas Mueller as dejected Brazil players look on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Se
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

A second, equally threatening risk, would be that Germany have the capacity to create chances against Argentina's strong defence anyway—and if they take the lead, and force Argentina to go on the offensive, Andre Schurrle and the like have been amongst the most dramatically effective counter-attacking players in Brazil this summer.

It's stick-or-twist time for Sabella and though his side have come this far without reaching an attacking peak, he might be forced, one way or another, to offer more support and numbers to Messi on the biggest stage of all.