Should Argentina drop Lionel Messi for Nigeria clash?

Desperate times call for desperate measures and Argentina might benefit playing without its best player, Lionel Messi, in a must-win World Cup match against Nigeria.

Accommodating Lionel Messi may play into the opposition's hands. Photo: Getty Images

Some teams are built to defend, some teams excel at attacking and few, if at all, are great going forward and watertight at the back. And the one reason Argentina is at risk of exiting the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup at the group stage is because it doesn’t fall into any of those categories.

Under Alejandro Sabella four years ago, La Albiceleste kept four clean sheets, scored eight goals and conceded only three in the six matches en route to the final.

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The emphasis was more on stifling the opposition, but Sabella had a well-drilled defence — Javier Mascherano in his prime, the under-rated Ezequiel Garay adding muscle to the backline and the reliable Sergio Romero between the posts — which managed to keep the opposition attackers at arm’s length. This allowed Argentina to win matches 1-0. It won three of its seven matches with this scoreline and lost one — the final against Germany.

With Argentina having to beat Nigeria — for which a point might be enough to progress — to have a chance of qualifying for the round of 16, the blueprint cannot be the same as in Brazil four years ago.

The manager, Jorge Sampaoli, or the players (who have reportedly revolted against the manager and asked him to hand over the team selection duty to them) must come up with an attacking formula that can beat the Eagles.

Here is a look at the formations which can bring the best out of Argentina’s attacking players. All talk has veered around Messi and his inability to get going, but there are possibilities that La Albiceleste could consider. However, it will take a brave person to consider one of these, because it does not revolve around Messi. In fact, it is designed to leave Messi out of the team!

3-4-1-2

This system provides defensive security because the wingbacks can slot in alongside the three centre-halves when the team is out of possession. With Nigeria boasting quality wingers — Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa, among others — Argentina can help itself by playing this system. The 3-4-1-2 is an offensive formation, too, because it accommodates two strikers up front and a creative player behind them.

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Sampaoli has played only one striker in both the matches so far and Sergio Aguero, who is reportedly in danger of being dropped for this fixture, has, along with Messi, been left isolated. Even if the Manchester City striker is dropped, Argentina can play with the Juventus duo of Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala.

Higuain and Dybala are very different types of forwards and they will add variety to the attack. Chile, under Sampaoli in 2014, thrived playing this system.

4-4-2, the no-Messi formation

Desperate times call for desperate measures and Argentina, which has been underwhelming so far, might benefit from not having Messi on the park for this crunch fixture.

It is a formation that you rarely see these days, but Argentina, which has lacked attacking fluency, might benefit from playing 4-4-2.

Accommodating Messi, who turned 31 on Sunday (June 24), will be difficult because he has to either play wide right, in which case he will have the burden of defending, or play up front. And playing him in those positions will only make him more ineffective and play into the opposition’s hands.

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Angel Di Maria was inexplicably not involved in any capacity in the match against Croatia, but with his ability to complete take-ons and deliver from wide positions, he can thrive in this formation. Playing two strikers means neither Higuain nor Dybala will be isolated. Given Higuain's aerial prowess, this formation, with the two wingers swinging crosses into the box, will also play to his strengths.

A case in point is Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani thriving for Uruguay.

3-4-3

Roberto Martinez, the Belgium manager, has brought the very best out of his attacking players by deploying them in the 3-4-3, which will be perfect for the players Sampaoli has at his disposal. While only one out and out centre-forward can play, Dybala or Di Maria can be accommodated behind the striker and alongside Messi.

Like the 3-4-1-2 system, it also provides defensive security with the wingers tucking alongside the centre-backs when the opposition has the ball.

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