Argentina’s recent 6-0 decimation at the hands of Bolivia, was rapidly claimed to have been an anomoly and to have been due to the much criticised conditions in Bolivia, namely the oxygen levels which are abormally low. Diego Maradona, the Argentinian national coach, ventured down the jingoistic route of manufacturing the claim that baring witness to each Oblivia goal was akin to a ‘stab in the heart’. However, it could be so that oxygen levels, nationalism and altitude are at the east of Argentinian worries.
I recall the emphatic 6-0 demolition of Serbia during the 2006 World Cup. The side on that day contained a midfield quartet of Javier Mascherano, Lucho Gonzalez, Maxi Rodrigues and Juan Roman Riquelme, offering a narrow 1-2-1 formation centrally in midfield, with Riquelme providing the attacking fulcrum between midfield and attack. His recent departure from the national side is something, fundamentally, that Diego Maradona appears tacticaly unable to cope with.
Against both Bolivia and Venezuela, the latter which produced an Argentinian victory, here is the setup Maradona has installed:
—Fullback———–Centre Back—-Centre back————Fullback—
—————-Javier Mascherano—Fernando Gago———————-
-Maxi Rodriguez———PROBLEM AREA———-Lucho Gonzalez
——————Centre Back—–Centre Back—-Centre Back————-
——————Javier Mascherano——-Fernando Gago—————-
The area higlighted ‘Problem Area’, is quite simpy, the prolem area, and indicative of Maradona’s tactical shortcomings as manager. The area in question was previously owned by Riquelme – he roamed freely, collecting the ball off Mascherano and Gago, providing fluidity within the final third, ensuring that the sheer tempo, skill and movement of the frontline, was complemented with an impeccaby accurate, consistant supply channel to feed off. Unfortunately this spply route has disappeared, without being replenished and the consequences for the Argentinian national are patent and grave. Even against Venezuela, when Argentina scored four, not one goal was consequence of a gradual, fluid, progressive passing move we associate with the Argentinian side – a style of goal, incidentally, which rose to fruition in the 6-0 thrashing of Serbia in 2006, in which Riquelme prooved an integral part. Each goal against Venezuela occurred primarily due to a defensive lapse and counter attacks, and Argentina’s passing was riddled with distortion – the Venezuelan defence, despite a four goal deficit, it is safe to say, had a field day simply marshaling Argentina’s front five, who each were in yearn of a playmaker to roam behind them, providing the passes and linking play.
For example, he is the most renowned goal of that game:
Notice how Riquelme provides the link between midfield and attack, is constantly foraging deeper to collect the ball and direct it in whichever way he feels best. His role as the traditional Argentinian ‘enganche’ or playmaker, is simply pivotal to the Argentinian side, and a role one feels Argentina need to refill. The side currently lacks fluidity to any degree – with either a trident of attacking players supported by wing men in Maxi and Jonas, or two upfront supported by two wing-men, Argentina’s formation can currently be described as ‘4-2-4’ or ‘3-2-5’.
This is simply not adequate when vying for success at any level, as the gap between the two holding players and the four or five frontmen fundamentally, is too great to successfully employ a gradual passing style. An individual with similar creative attributes is rapidly required to inherit Riquelme’s mantle and provide a link between the midfield and attack, hence allowing Argentina’s passing game to flourish.
So what exactly, can Maradona do to rectify his side’s recent shortcomings? Obviously, a playmaker is required – Pablo Aimar, Lucho Gonzalez, Juan Sebastien Veron – all legitimate options.
The little Argentinian, since flourishing in the Valencia side of Rafael Benitez, has struggled for form mainly due to injuries, and has since moved to Benfica in order to resurrect his career. What does he offer? An unrivalled ability of ingenuity and a fearsome strike of a football. Aimar could quite possibly be what Maradona is after, yet as we have seen previously; what Diego wants, and what Diego requires appear to be two separate entities, independent of one another.
Juan Seba Veron
Veron remains among the elite distributors of a ball in world football. His ability to dispatch an 80 yard through ball into one’s feet is up there with the likes of Riquelme, Alonso and Pirlo. He does however, prefer to employ a deeper role within pitch – something currently occupied by Fernando Gago, who appears to be a Maradona favourite.
Regardless of Maradona’s decision, it seems obvious that he is need of tactical rethink regarding his side – he is unlikely to reconcile with Riquelme, due to the stubborn nature of them both and the future success of the Argentinian national side rests in the hands of Maradona’s ability to recognise a previous error, and to rectify it accordingly – a true test of his abilities as a manager. If he manages to do, the national side, boasting the attacking prowess of Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero while possessing stability in Mascherano and a playmaker, could well find itself in possession of a world cup next year. If not, Maradona’s days as Argentina coach may well be numbered.
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