As Argentina keeps struggling to score in the qualifiers, last night was the best showcase as to why Argentina are having issues: The obsession with optimizing Messi and not the others.
Last night vs Peru, Argentina failed to score, with a few chances wasted. Messi was dispossessed a staggering 14 times. Him losing possession has become a regular occurrence, and it is making his defenders/fans blame it on him being alone on the field, with no help. As most fans and critics should understand, Argentina has unbelievably talented footballers. Their purpose for getting called up to the team is not only from their reputation and name, but most importantly, their current form. These are players who are in the best form out of the choices they have, yet still have trouble scoring/creating scoring chances. We have to address it and find out why.
Let’s break down some recent history. We remember Higuain being Argentina’s scapegoat not too long ago for failing to convert chances. Now, he is off of the National Team. Since Sampaoli was hired to bring back Argentina to its best, the same issues are occurring. Higuain is gone, Icardi is in. He has brought in talents such as Dybala, Icardi and Papu Gomez (all stars in Serie A). Sampaoli has tried different strikers in his squad for numerous recent games, and still the goal scoring is left wanting.
The elephant in the room that nobody is happy to mention is how Messi’s role on the field has become negative for the rest of the team. I am not by any means suggesting he should not start, as everyone knows his quality, but the way they play as a team must change. Most will reply with “he does it all on his own and nobody can finish”. This is a lazy response without analyzing the deeper issue. Sampaoli and past coaches have made Messi not only the focal point, but the ONLY point of this team.
Messi has no real position, he goes where he desires. Many times, he drops all the way to a holding midfield position, and plays quarterback. Other times he goes where the ball is in order to be the sole creator. There are world class, and above average talents alongside him who are perceived as if they play for Estonia. This is the coach’s fault, and also Leo’s for not getting the best out of the team’s talent. Sampaoli is cradling Messi making sure he gets the ball when he wants, meanwhile, players like Dybala, Icardi, Di Maria, Pastore, Aguero, Banega, and Gomez can’t perform anywhere close to their form for their clubs because virtually every play revolves around Leo for Argentina.
Not to bring in a direct comparison, but it is necessary in this matter. We have heard many times from Fernando Santos, Portugal’s coach that Cristiano Ronaldo had to sacrifice his position to fit into their Euro 2016 system. He has been part of a less talented squad than Argentina’s and still accepted the coach’s tactics. This is what was best for the team, whether he liked it or not.
Although Argentina will still most likely defeat Ecuador and advance to the World Cup, Messi needs to trust in a system that maximizes the class talent on his team, and not just his own. We have seen what Sampaoli could do with a less talented Chilean squad, and how he turned Sevilla into one of the most exciting teams to watch last season. Hopefully, a balance will be found where Messi and his fully capable teammates can score several beautiful goals in the World Cup next summer.