Argentina are always one of the favourites at the World Cup, and next summer’s tournament in Brazil will be no different. With the competition taking place in South America, the current Ballon d’Or holder ready to lead the line and a squad full of talent, many will back Alejandro Sabella’s men to be a real force in June and July.
However, the problem that the Argentina manager faces in attack is simply who to play, with so many top-notch options available.
If fit and available, Lionel Messi is obviously going to be the focal point for the nation’s offensive efforts. The Barcelona man has suffered niggling injuries this season, but talk of his diminished influence at the Catalan club is sacrilege. The immensely skilful attacker will strike fear into defences across the competition, with Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran in the immediate Group F firing line.
With talk of the Barca star being regarded as one of the best players to ever play the sport, Messi has a world of expectation on his shoulders. Argentina’s last World Cup success in 1986 was spearheaded by the individual exploits of a certain Diego Maradona, with the retired playmaker now adjudged as the nation’s best-ever and one of the top players to set foot on the pitch.
For the Barcelona man to follow in his compatriot’s legacy and book his place in footballing folklore, a similar feat is needed. Messi has all the attributes to lead Argentina to glory, but he needs to have the right players around him.
Sergio Agüero has been in sparkling form for Manchester City this season, and despite a recent injury has already hit 13 Premier League goals and is leading the Etihad Stadium club’s charge for major honours.
His versatility to play either as a number nine or ten will be a key bonus for his country, but Sabella must decide where to use the City forward and how he can best be utilised to maximise Messi’s efforts.
Gonzalo Higuain is becoming an instant hero at one of Maradona’s former clubs, Napoli, and has the eye for goal, movement and predatory nature to be the top goalscorer in the World Cup next summer if given the chance.
Whether the former Real Madrid man can feature in a team alongside both Messi and Agüero remains to be seen, and is a decision Sabella will need to consider carefully.
The sheer quality of this attacking trident is as good as any in world football, but Argentina’s wealth of offensive talent does not stop there.
Ezequiel Lavezzi is a supremely talented attacking asset that could play anywhere along the forward line, and has the pace, incision and technique to be a match-winner. The 28-year-old faces a battle to make the Albiceleste’s contingent for the World Cup however, as he has been limited to nine Ligue 1 starts for Paris Saint-Germain this term.
Rodrigo Palacio is also in the reckoning, as he is having a strong season with a transitional Inter side in Italy. The former Boca Juniors man has hit nine goals in Serie A this season, and has been the figurehead for a club desperate to get back into the top three in Italy, but are currently lacking the players to get them there.
When selecting strikers, Sabella must also consider the sheer amount of attacking midfielders at his disposal also, with the likes of Erik Lamela, Ricky Álvarez, Javier Pastore, Éver Banega, Ángel di María and countless others ready to back up the forward line.
Finally, a wild card exists that could well be the difference between glory and failure. He is never far from controversy, and has not represented his country since 2011. His name is Carlos Tévez.
The tempestuous forward has looked rejuvenated since swapping Manchester City for Juventus, with Tévez netting an impressive ten goals in 16 games this season. Undoubtedly one of the most mercurial gamechangers when on form, the 29-year-old is not in Sabella’s favour currently due to a disagreement between the pair. If his scintillating form for the Italian champions continues, pressure in Argentina will mount for the national selector to bury the hatchet and bring Tévez back into the fold.
Inspired by Messi, Argentina have all the weaponry to win the World Cup next summer – but only if Sabella gets his selection and personnel correct, with an enviable amount of options to consider.