Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi is universally accepted as being one of the greatest players of all time but against Iceland he was largely anonymous – apart from seeing his second half penalty saved.
Argentina have a wealth of attacking talent but they are over reliant on Messi. So how should head coach Jorge Sampaoli utilise the 30-year-old?
Here, we take a look at some of his options ahead of Argentina’s huge game against Croatia on Thursday night.
Where should Lionel line up?
Is Messi a striker? A false nine? A number 10? Or something else? These are questions that continue to be asked when it comes to Argentina, and which a succession of national team managers have failed to find a suitable answer to since Messi made his international debut in 2005.
Messi’s best moments in an Albiceleste shirt came under Alex Sabella, who took over in 2011. While his predecessor Sergio Batista tried to emulate Barcelona’s style of play, at a time when Messi was still playing out on the right. Sabella saw a more counter-attacking style based on less possession and no fixed position for Messi as the way forward – the kind of role he now plays for his club.
It was under Pep Guardiola that Barcelona began playing this way, getting rid of the likes of Samual Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to enable Messi to roam more centrally and participate more.
Out wide not right for Messi
Messi has evolved as a player in a positional sense as the years have passed by at Barcelona, but this has not happened in the national team. He began out on the right when he first arrived on the scene but it is years since he occupied that role at the Nou Camp.
However, Gerardo Martino, Edgardo Bauza and even Sampaoli on occasion have attempted to play Messi out there in recent years. With a player of Messi’s talent, it is a waste to confine him to one part of the pitch.
Messi is effective in any attacking role and the team should revolve around him, rather than the other way around. When Messi is out on the right, Argentina’s attacking play lacks an edge.
These days at Barcelona, Messi is the top goalscorer and the top assist maker, giving up the penalty box to a world class out-and-out striker in Luis Suarez. Argentina could have a very similar set-up as they have Sergio Aguero.
Lessen the burden on Lionel
Messi was unquestionably Argentina’s best player against Iceland, despite failing from the penalty spot once again, but his shadow appears to hang over the rest of the team, inhibiting them and stifling their natural instincts.
In Messi, Maxi Meza, Angel Di Maria and Aguero, Sampaoli arguably has the best attack at the World Cup. Aguero got the goal against Iceland but he along with the others was largely anonymous thereafter – and certainly when Argentina needed them when time was running out to get a winning goal.
Messi needs his team-mates to put their heads above the parapet, especially when things are not going Argentina’s way, and take some of the pressure and weight off his shoulders.
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