Later tonight, the Argentina national team will square off against Peru in a frustratingly crucial World Cup qualifying match. Argentina needs to win and so does Peru. In order to create a raucous environment for the opponent, La Albiceleste has decided to play this match at La Bombonera, the fabled Boca Juniors stadium that allegedly shakes from within its core.
With both Argentina and Peru on level terms when it comes to points and goal differential, both teams will be looking to come away with three points. Argentina hasn’t won a qualifier since March 23, while Peru is coming off three straight victories in qualifying matches. While both teams seem to be going in opposite directions, there are intriguing storylines within both teams from a purely soccer standpoint.
When going through these matchups, keep in mind that it’s clear I believe the true key to winning is Lionel MESSI. The entire team runs through him, as he’s the best player in the world, but Argentina can’t win with only one player. Therefore, it’s important to consider the ulterior matchups that could decide this game.
Javier MASCHERANO and Nicolas OTAMENDI vs. Paolo Guerrero
Head coach Jorge SAMPAOLI has opted to go with a line of four at the back, instead of his usual back three. His three-center back pairings haven’t looked all that comfortable or reassuring, so it’s a good idea to go a little bit safer by slotting in Marcos ACUNA at left back. But he will still shake things up a bit, slotting in Javier MASCHERANO in place of Federico FAZIO, who had started the last two qualifiers. It’s a bit of an odd decision considering Peru’s danger man, striker Paolo Guerrero, is tall and strong. FAZIO seemed like a better choice to mark him, but SAMPAOLI has elected to go with experience and a quicker player in such a huge game.
Standing 6-1, Guerrero is Peru’s all-time leading goalscorer, having broken the record on June 4 of last summer and adding five more goals since that date. One of the goals during that span came against La Albiceleste in the 2-2 tie in Lima in October of last year. Guerrero’s ability to hold up play with his size and strength, as well as his finishing prowess, makes him a scary proposition to defend. Just ask Ramiro FUNES MORI how tough it is. MASCHERANO and his center back partner, Nicolas OTAMENDI, will need to be on their A-game tonight. Any way of slowing down Guerrero, whether it’s fouling to frustrate him or just being more physical than usual, will be needed to keep Peru off the scoresheet.
Argentina Defense vs. Set Pieces
Maybe it’s just me, but every time Argentina concedes a foul in its own half, I get a gut-wrenching feeling deep down inside. Argentina isn’t inept at defending set pieces, but free and corner kicks are so dangerous and random that a goal can materialize out of nothing. In Argentina’s last match against Peru, La Albiceleste’s defense was not confident when defending set pieces. Time and time again, Peru got opportunities either through the air or on the ground after the initial set piece was taken.
With a tall striker in Guerrero on the pitch and Argentina sporting a relatively short team all throughout (OTAMENDI is the tallest outfield starter at 6-0), this is a game where Sergio ROMERO must be active and Argentina must be the first to meet balls in the air. A goal from a set piece is demoralizing and can sink a team, so Argentina must be wary of those opportunities presenting themselves for Peru.
Ever BANEGA and Lucas BIGLIA vs. Peru Midfield
For as long as we can remember, Argentina’s problem hasn’t been strikers missing chances or Sergio ROMERO being unsure of when to come off his goal line. The issue behind Argentina’s struggles during this round of World Cup qualifiers has been its midfield. Simply put, Argentina lacks creativity from its midfielders. Outside of his stellar passing, Ever BANEGA is too slow with the ball to threaten defenses. Lucas BIGLIA offers nearly nothing on offense, but can track back and be solid in defense. These pitfalls of both players forces MESSI to drop back and receive the ball deep in order to create on offense.
The same problem has persisted for years, and not since players like Juan Román RIQUELME and Esteban CAMBIASSO wore sky blue and white has Argentina had comfortability in midfield. Peru is very fortified in midfield, despite their penchant for attacking with regularity. SAMPAOLI was flirting with the possibility of starting Leandro PAREDES in this game, which would’ve solved some problems, in my opinion. PAREDES has the ability to recuperate the ball in his own defensive half and quickly push it forward to initiate offense. With BIGLIA playing instead, BANEGA will be tasked with dictating play from the middle, with BIGLIA taking on his usual defensive role. Both players need to be better than they have been in recent years for Argentina to make the World Cup.