Unleashing Lionel Messi and accommodating Carlos Tevez key questions for Argentina

Ahead of this summer’s Copa America, South American teams are finely tuning their squads in advance of the competition in Chile in June and July.

With Brazil having won their last eight games, holders Uruguay and dark horses Colombia possessing real star quality, alongside hosts Chile and their strongest team in recent memory, it looks set to a top-drawer tournament.

However, many people’s favourites will be Argentina due to their sheer star quality and absolute embarrassment of attacking riches.

The number of world-class strikers available to the Albiceleste has increased by one since Alejandro Sabella relinquished the role of national selector, with former Barcelona boss Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino taking the reins.

Carlos Tevez has been reintroduced to the Argentina fold, as his feud with Sabella no longer impacts his stance on representing his country.

The Juventus forward has been a talismanic figure in the Turin outfit’s unrelenting domination of Serie A in recent seasons and can fairly be judged in the top 20 strikers in world football.

However, the problem that Martino has is that there are at least three other attackers originating from Argentina in that venerable category and fitting them all into one team seems impossible.

Complaining about having too many world-class strikers may seem farcical to other less-blessed nations, but finding the best formula to unleash the attacking potency of Argentina’s forward line will be the difference between competition glory this summer and Martino potentially being given his marching orders.

To not win the Copa America with such talent at your disposal would be seen as a major failure and as such the national coach has some hard decisions to make.

Added to the glut of top-notch number nines is the presence of Lionel Messi; a footballing phenomenon that is threatening to leave his competition behind with some simply breathtaking form for Barcelona in 2015.

The four-time Ballon d’Or winner’s sheer God-given ability and versatility means that he can play anywhere along Argentina’s chosen front line, but again this stipulates that the man picking the team must concoct a formation and system that gets the best out of Messi.

This is not new ground for Martino.

Lionel MessiThe ex-Newell’s Old Boys trainer managed Messi for a season at Camp Nou and faced the same dilemma of choosing between playing his compatriot as a false nine like Pep Guardiola did, in a free role behind a central forward or starting him on a flank.

Despite Messi scoring 28 La Liga goals in the 2013-14 campaign, more than most attackers could ever dream of, it was his lowest tally for five seasons and that figure has already been surpassed this term.

As such, Martino’s failure to get the 27-year-old firing on all cylinders was a key reason Barcelona finished last season without silverware and the 52-year-old walked away from the Catalan club.

It is clear that deciding on the role Messi should play will dictate which system Argentina operate.

In recent friendly games against El Salvador and Ecuador, Messi has been carrying an injury and as such not featured; Martino in turn fielded 4-2-3-1 formations in both matches.

However, since taking over after the World Cup, the coach has also toyed with bespoke versions of 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 systems, with Messi operating on altering flanks and as a striker in different games.

With the Barcelona man wreaking havoc from the right wing at club level, it surely makes sense to use the star in this position for Argentina.

Even if Martino does have this train of thought, to fill the remaining three attacking berths he must decide between Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel Di María, Nicolás Gaitán, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, Rodrigo Palacio and the returning Tevez.

This is without even considering three of European club football’s brightest young attackers – Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and Luciano Vietto.

If Martino gets it right in Chile, the Albiceleste will undoubtedly be too hot to handle at the Copa America and walk away with their 15th title.

If he gets it wrong it could be another frustrating campaign for Argentina’s passionate fans, who have endured plenty of false dawns despite incredible talent at their disposal in the past.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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