Argentina’s, and therefore also Lionel Messi’s, World Cup ended in dismay as they were knocked out at the Round of 16 stage.
Their tournament never quite hit the heights that their individual talent would suggest, as they progressed only narrowly out of their group and qualified with the joint fewest points of any of the other nations (only Japan equaled them with a mere four points).
But for all their illustrious talent, Messi and his side failed to make any real impact in the biggest footballing competition in the world.
Chopping and changing
Argentina have made the most changes in their starting line-up in comparison to any other nation. From goalkeeper to supposed goal scorers, changes were prominent throughout their side. This seemed to disrupt the fluency of what was supposed to be an exciting, ball playing South American side. They started every match with a different midfield which ultimately restricted any real service reaching their incredible attacking force.
They altered formation from a 4-4-2 to a 3-4-3 before finally settling on a 4-3-3 for their final two matches of the campaign. The front three were never the same and no real partnerships were ever established.
Argentina want to play free and quick football. To be successful in this, players must know where their teammates are going to be or where they want to be. The Argentinians would have had trouble knowing who their teammates even were, never mind where they were going to be on the field, with so many personnel changes taking place.
Counting your stars
Their talent is unquestionable; the individual talent that Argentina had to choose from would have given manager, Jorge Sampaoli, sleepless nights. For fans, the attacking prowess of Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Angel Di Maria make for the sweetest of dreams. Such was the array of talent, they even left Serie A superstar Mauro Icardi at home.
But this impressive pool of players caused Sampaoli more problems than it perhaps should have. Instead of internally battling with himself as to which of these attackers would play for their country, he might have just tried playing them all. Dybala was not shown nearly enough play time than what his ability deserved. Aguero too saw little game time. To get the best out of these wonderful players, it might have been a wise idea to just actually play them.
Behind the scenes
Rumours emerged during the early stages of the World Cup that the Argentinian camp was unsettled, and the relationship between players and coaching staff was ruined. It is believed that Sampaoli lost the dressing room from as early as game one. The players (apparently) didn’t trust his judgment and began managing themselves under the watchful eye of captain, Messi.
The players allegedly started switching wings and positions in-play without the instruction of Sampaoli. When the manager lost the respect and faith of his players in a World Cup, the team could simply not be expected to go too far.
France’s midfield simply outran the middle men of Argentina. Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi had far too much energy and power for the likes of Enzo Perez, Ever Banega and Javier Mascherano who all showed little to no desire to run and get at the heart of a clearly vulnerable France.
This created a huge hole between the midfield and the false 9 position Messi reluctantly played in. There was no interlinking as the three (ADM, Messi, Pavon) all seemed quite happy to do the same job of sitting in and stopping a France counter attack, often resulting in a foul and a freekick to their opponents.
He is without a doubt one of the best footballers to grace this planet. He is, on his day, unstoppable. But for his superb class, it is fair to say that he did not reach the heights his entire country and football fanatics all wished he would.
Receiving passes off Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic as well as feeding off the energy from Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele is something very different to attempting to get on the end of a Cristian Pavon cross. Messi simply didn’t have the service throughout the tournament and Argentina were left to pay for it.
The magic man managed one goal and two assists in four games. For some this might be seen as admirable, but for one of the world’s best? Disappointing to say the least.