Sampaoli’s adventurism may be exactly what Argentina need

On the eve of the 2018 Fifa World Cup, football fans and critics have both been quick in omitting Argentina from their list of potential winners, thanks to their apparent disorganisation and top-heavy squad.

However, if there is one man that can get this side to play coherently, it is ‘Bielsaista’ Jorge Sampaoli.

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A stern follower of fellow Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa, Sampaoli has done what no other manager in charge of this Argentina side has done before.

Rather than try to facilitate the fact that the attackers are the only real world class players in the squad, Sampaoli has embraced it, and looks set to play a 2-3-3-2 formation in Russia this summer.

In this set-up, Nicolás Otamendi and Federico Fazio will play as two stoppers, with either Javier Mascherano or Lucas Biglia acting as a midfield sweeper in front of them.

Flanking the midfielder will be two wing-halves, most likely Ajax full-back Nicolás Tagliafico and Benfica wing-back Eduardo Salvio, tasked with both defending and making direct runs forward.

Directly ahead of the sweeper will be a more attack minded central midfielder, with wingers either side hugging the touchline.

Angel Di María will start on the left, with the central and right-sided positions most likely being taken up by West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini and Paris Saint-Germain’s Giovani Lo Celso, respectively.

Boca Juniors winger Cristian Pavón is also rated highly by his coach, and could be in for a surprise start on the right.

Sampaoli instructs his wingers to hug the touchline in order to free up space for the wing-halves to run in to and stretch the opposition.

Further forward, captain Lionel Messi will start as an ‘enganche’ – the Argentinian term for a classic number 10 – dropping deep and linking up the play, with one of Gonzalo Higuaín or Sergio Agüero as the out-and-out centre-forward.

Unlike previous coaches, Sampaoli seems to favour Agüero over Higuaín, and, should he be fully fit, will more than likely start the first game against Iceland.

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Whilst playing with only two centre-halves and such an attacking formation seems ludicrous, it may work for Sampaoli.

Much like Bielsa, his attackers are his first line of defence, pressing high up and doing so continuously, and his defenders are tasked with starting the teams attacks and playing out from the back.

They play with a high intensity and bombard the opponent with seemingly never-ending attacks and while his players were exhausted after the 38 game La Liga season during his sole year spent in the Spanish top flight with Sevilla, this approach has proven successful on the less intense international stage, with Sampaoli winning the 2015 Copa América with Chile.

In the World Cup, they have, on paper, got an easy run to the quarter-finals. They have been paired in group D with Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland and should they avoid any slip-ups, they will most likely meet Denmark in the round of 16.

Get past them and Spain should await them in the last eight. This is the match that will likely define Argentina’s world cup, and should they advance past the former champions, they will really start to believe in themselves.

They clearly have the talent and the right coach at their disposal, all that remains now is to see whether or not he can get them to gel in the time that remains.

The Author

Robert Barter

18 year old lifelong football fan from Dublin, Ireland. Aspiring journalist. Twitter handle @RobertBarter16.

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