The last time i posted was after the 1-0 win against Uruguay. It was Edgardo Bauza’s first game in charge of an Argentina side that had just come back from a disastrous Centenario final loss and all the fiasco that followed with Messi’s supposed retirement and AFA’s implosion.
If anyone remembers my post back then, i was emphatic and full of praise for the new manager who seemingly gave Argentina a new face in terms of style, strategy and vision. It was like a breath of fresh air. Against a strong Uruguay side at home, Argentina played exceptionally well in the first half and after taking the lead through a typical Messi-moment, they went down a man as Dybala saw red. With 10 men, they then held their ground to finish off the game in the second half and earn their last 3 points.
However, since that night Argentina have been a total disaster… totally rubbish! I don’t know where to begin. Not a single aspect of their game has been convincing, be it defending, clearing set pieces, ball control, maintaining possession, creativity, crossing into the box, or linking up in the final third. Absolutely nothing, even against the weakest of opposition! I hate to say it, but they have been utterly painful to watch, and the unacceptable humiliation against Brazil was the final straw. It’s official, this Bauza team has transformed into the Venezuela of the CONMEBOL qualifiers. If they miraculously scrape enough points to make it to Russia 2018, they would be a ticking time bomb waiting to explode, just like they did in South Africa 2010 against Germany under Maradona.
Honestly i don’t know where to pin-point the key problem. It has become a grey area. Whether it’s Bauza’s incompetency or the players’ lackluster performances is anyone’s guess. If it was just the former, Argentina would be playing badly but scraping points through individual brilliance. If it was just the latter, Argentina should have been gradually improving with some appropriate managerial input by now. But neither has been happening, so obviously both the players and management are guilty of what this team is currently going through.
Let’s begin with the players…
This generation has given us a roller coaster ride throughout the past 6 years, steered mainly by incompetent coaches, some average and one brilliant one. There is no doubt that the quality of these players is essentially the reason for dominating the world cup qualifiers and reaching 3 consecutive major finals (although losing them all). However, it must be mentioned that even during the good runs they were never consistently convincing, especially up front, even under the brilliant one.
On paper, considering the level of the players, what was always supposed to be Argentina’s strength was their weak link: the attack. Rarely did Argentina consistently batter opposition with chances. Even during the qualifiers for the 2014 world cup, goals came mainly through counter attacks that looked even easier because of individual brilliance and occasionally rare link ups which didn’t materialize as often as they should have. Then during the world cup itself, all the forwards disappeared except Messi who steered the team alone in the group stages and it took some fortunate rare moments from Di Maria and Higuain to add just enough goals to send Argentina to two more goalless games against Holland and Germany in the latter stages.
So it was Argentina’s momentary individual brilliance that finally came through to send them far in competitions, albeit without registering a single goal in 3 finals that included extra time, that’s 360 sterile minutes. I am not trying to denounce their accomplishments. In the end they must have had something complementary going for them to reach that far, and that was defensive stability. When you can defend well and take your chances up front when the moments come, you have a pretty good formula.
In case you haven’t guessed yet, the brilliant one i’m referring to was none other than Alejandro Sabella. Before him, Argentina were suffering from an extremely sloppy defense. During his tenure, Sabella managed to transform the defense into the team’s strongest area. This strengthening brought the team much needed balance and allowed the team to play less anxiously and with greater composure. His work provided the baseline for this generation of players (even under the next few coaches) to come so agonizingly close to finally winning silverware, 3 times, but it just never happened.
Yes, losing 3 consecutive finals does not roll well on your confidence. As a fan i already know the disappointment and heartache, but still to be fair, i can’t even begin to imagine the mental damage inflicted on the players themselves, their confidence, their morale, their motivation and their energy to keep pushing forward despite all the pressure from the millions of fans and media (Mundo Albiceleste and this article included).
In the past few qualifiers, their inferior attitude was evident, especially against Brazil. The fire in their game is out. Their legs are slower, and their movement is heavier. Unfortunately, the team has grown older and it’s obvious that the team is in desperate need for fresh players who are mentally motivated, hungry to play and fired up to battle, rather than being mentally battered and demoralized from past events.
An overhaul is now long overdue. This generation of players has come a long way and given us a great ride. I hope i speak on behalf of many when i say we thank them for everything they’v done, their commitment, their spirit and their bravery to keep fighting. But it’s time to say goodbye to some faces, and maybe relegate others to the bench as backup.
Goodbye: Romero, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Biglia, Di Maria, Lavezzi, Roncaglia, Gaitan…
Bench: Rojo, Banega, Aguero, Higuain…
Introduce & Integrate: Rulli, Kranevitter, Vazquez, Perez, Paredes, Lamela, Dybala, Icardi, Acuna, Correa…etc.
As for Edgardo Bauza….
So far, Edgardo Bauza has been making even Diego Maradona look like a managerial genius. As much as i praised him after the Uruguay win, it seems it was all maybe just a coincidence that things looked so positive, or the stars in some far away galaxy just happened to line up correctly for Argentina to have a good day, or maybe Uruguay were just that bad. Whatever it was, it wasn’t any genius work from Bauza, that’s for sure.
He has shown to be way out of his depth with this side, at the very least with these players. He has failed to impose any obvious game plan, and so far it’s been as if he just shouts “4-2-3-1” and names his players to run onto the field. Maybe not, but we’r getting the same end result. The players have no idea what their roles are, nobody in the middle to receive a pass, nobody giving anyone else good options, and nobody deputizing the other when out of position. They have been a total mess and Bauza has been clueless in addressing any of his tactical errors, or even reading the game. A big fat zero on his report card.
For one, he has failed to shake up the names in his team. His starters are largely the same starters as his predecessors, except for Dybala who was an obvious introduction, and Mas, a failed project. An under performing Romero, a club level sub keeper for way too long, is still the first choice keeper ahead of the likes of Rulli who has been inspiring of late. A slow and expired Zabaleta has been brought back as right back, and even a forgotten Demichelis has returned as the first choice CB back up! All the while ignoring probably Argentina’s best CB out there in Garay who he hasn’t called up yet.
At left back, he has introduced Mas who has been way below par. Credit for effort in attempting a change, but no. It is very clear that Argentina are lacking proper full backs right and left at the moment (though i do like Mercado somewhat), so maybe it would be best to eliminate them altogether by using a 3-5-2 formation a la Antonio Conte, especially considering that Argentina do have decent CB’s in Otamendi, Funes Mori, Garay, Mussachio and maybe even Mascherano. These 3 CB’s would sit behind the cover of the two DM’s and less defensive yet more balanced left/right midfielders, which Argentina do have as well.
In the middle he has continued to use 2 DM’s. Granted, with a 4-2-3-1 formation you need them, but Biglia’s time is obviously over. Great with defensive responsibility, but significantly lacking in possession and passing ability. As for Di Maria, he is one mystery that we’ll probably never understand. How he continues to cement his starting position with Argentina is beyond me. For so long, he has been the team’s primary source of disrupted play and possession give-away, and it seems to be obvious to everyone except Bauza at the moment. Lamela is a much more talented, balanced and efficient option in his position and Bauza didnt even call him up for these November qualifiers. On the other side of midfield, Perez showed he is capable of providing that needed energy and creativity going forward against Brazil, but for some odd reason Bauza replaced his best player of the first half, and from the looks of it, Perez will be benched against Colombia.
With the staggeringly abundant talent Argentina have up front, one would expect a trio even better than Barcelona’s MSN. But even in the past, the Messi-Aguero partnership was never as dangerous as many expected, nor the Di Maria-Higuain one, nor the Messi-Higuain one. Throw in Lavezzi, Tevez, Palacio and combine them as you wish, they all just never clicked right. Enter Pratto, Alario, Dybala and maybe even Icardi next, and you get the impression that things just wont change, ever. As much as Messi tracks back to create play from deep, they continue to lack ideas going forward.
What’s missing is obvious, another creative attacking midfielder alongside Messi to ease the burden and complement his play, a true number 10. But gone are Argentina’s golden days of creative central/attacking midfielders like Riquelme, Veron, Aimar, Gallardo, D’alessandro…etc. For some time, Banega has been the best option, but his inconsistency, especially in important games, has been damaging. There was hope for Pastore to be that man, but he has disappointed as well. Therefore, with the obvious lack of true 10’s, the only man that can truly fill that role is Messi himself. But who can take Messi’s place? Maybe Dybala. True, Bauza has played him whenever he was available, but his inability to make up for his absence has resulted in Messi being isolated.
In summary, Argentina are in need of change, in all aspects. Maybe we are being a bit cruel in criticizing Bauza given that the players’ forms are also letting him down, we cant deny that, but he has time and time again proved unable to address these issues, something we got used to with Sabella who always had answers.
Argentina are in a dangerous position at the moment and i’m out of my denial phase, i seriously mean it when i say Argentina are in danger of missing out on the World Cup. The CONMEBOL qualifiers are the toughest and there are no easy games ahead, no guaranteed points, no easy venues. Messi was right in the Brazil post match interview when he said that their fate still rests on themselves. But the reality is that the team has hit rock bottom and confidence is low among the players. What is needed is change, which naturally comes with a risk of failing, and Argentina have run out of games where they can afford that risk.
The good news is that in the first half of the qualifiers, Argentina won only 4 games, all of which came consecutively starting with the same reversed fixture against Colombia. Therefore, these next few games will be Argentina’s best bet of earning the needed points to rectify their situation.
With the next game coming 4 months later in March, there is also the highly probable scenario of losing to Colombia, hitting panic mode, seeing Bauza sacked and a new coach selection process ensue. But knowing the AFA, this in no way guarantees a better replacement. So personally, i don’t know what to wish for. But all i know is that the status quo is a total chaos, and this is the true nature of Argentina’s current situation. We can only hope for the best and for whatever series of events that suddenly turns Argentina’s fortunes around for the better.
As always, Vamos Argentina!