Copa America champion Argentina has named its 26-man squad for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. In the squad picked by Lionel Scaloni, the most glaring miss is Giovani Lo Celso, who will be out of the World Cup due to a leg muscle tear he suffered while playing for Villarreal. The two-time world champion is currently on an undefeated run of 35 games, just two away from equalling Italy’s run under Roberto Mancini.
With the absence of Lo Celso, Scaloni can resort to a 4-3-3 formation instead of a 4-2-3-1, where Lo Celso would have played the traditional No.10 role.
Emiliano Martinez is the obvious starter between the sticks. He was one of the most crucial players in Argentina’s winning run in the 2021 Copa America. With a towering presence in goal, Martinez is known to command great respect over his backline and is known for maintaining constant communication with his defence. He is also adept at organising his backline when it comes to set pieces. Be it shot-stopping or coming off his line to clear danger, Martinez has hardly put a foot wrong in recent times for his national side.
Nicolas Otamendi and Cristian Romero are most likely to start as the centre-back duo after winning the trust of Scaloni with their no-nonsense approach. Scaloni also has Lisandro Martinez in his ranks, who has been one of Manchester United’s best players this season. Contrary to all the backlash he got for his lack of aerial presence, Martinez has proved critics wrong, and has made up for lack of height with his expertise in anticipating the flight of the ball, and has made a habit of constantly disrupting and harassing his opponents.
For full-backs, Scaloni is expected to go with Nicolas Tagliafico and Nahuel Molina. Among the two, Tagliafico offers more offensive contributions and his runs on the overlap and underlap, can be beneficial for Argentina, especially with a finisher like Lautaro Martinez in the box, who has a good aerial presence. Molina’s offensive contribution might not be at par with Tagliafico, but he makes up for it with his tackling abilities. Also, even if he does join the attack, he has shown signs of quickly tracking back when his team loses the ball. This aspect will come in handy, especially when Argentina is hit on the counter.
Scaloni was bound to have a heavy heart when he could not name Giovani Lo Celso in his 26-man squad due to the player’s injury he suffered with Villarreal.
However, coming to the players that are available Rodrigo De Paul is the most obvious choice in the heart of midfield. De Paul might not be having the best season in club colours, but he has shown to be a completely different player when he dons that Blue and White shirt. A team player, he is the engine that Scaloni will depend on, to marshall the middle of the park and initiate play for the forward line. Apart from his agility to cover large parts on the ground and breaking up play, De Paul can find the occasional good pass to split defences. It was his pass that set up Angel Di Maria’s goal that won Argentina the Copa America title in 2021.
Along with De Paul, Scaloni is expected to field Leandro Paredes and young Enzo Fernandez, who plays for Benfica. Paredes comes with experience at the highest level, and his presence will help Fernandez to be bold when it comes to moving up the field as the extra man in attack. Fernandez has three goals and four assists for Benfica this season which means he is capable enough in the attacking third.
This is Argentina’s most exciting arena across the pitch. Obviously, having one of the best players in the world in Lionel Messi comes with its perks, but one of the best things Scaloni has done under his tenure is to move Argentina away from the ‘Messi-centric approach’ and make everyone accountable.
Messi, Angel Di Maria and Lautaro Martinez are the expected front-three for Argentina. Messi and Di Maria on the flanks will mean a lot of service for the target-man Lautaro, who will essentially play the No.9 position. Apart from Messi’s ability to take players on and score goals, over the years, he has moulded his style of play according to his strengths and has turned into one of the best playmakers in world football. He has 14 assists for Paris Saint-Germain this season which is enough proof of his ability to create chances.
Lautaro Martinez, who is in the middle of the front-three will need to maintain constant communication with his wingers. He does have the ability to beat his marker and score goals, but his fox-in-the-box approach will also be useful for Argentina.
Although not 100% fit, Scaloni has kept Paulo Dybala in his squad. Dybala, on his day, can trouble any defence, but often, he hasn’t been able to live up to the billing in national colours. Nonetheless, he is an important player to have.