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World Cup 2018: Breaking Down Jorge Sampaoli’s Provisional Argentina Squad

After suffering heartbreak at the hands of Mario Gotze’s extra time goal back in 2014, Jorge Sampaoli’s Albiceleste will be gunning for their first world crown since 1986 in Russia. With little faith in the team back home, will Sampaoli be able to solve the perennial question of how best to accommodate the country’s abundance of attacking talent?

Despite only sneaking through South American qualifying courtesy of some Lionel Messi magic in Ecuador, Argentina have been installed as fourth favourites to put their hands on the Jules Rimet trophy, but with questions remaining all over the pitch, it remains to be seen if they’ll live up to the tag.

In the following article we break down Argentina’s 35 man provisional squad, discuss who’s in and who’s out and provide insight as to what readers are likely to see from one of the world’s greatest footballing nations come June.

Check out our World Cup Trends: Previous Winners Stats And Facts pack, where Argentina are heavily featured!

The Squad:

Goalkeepers:

Sergio ROMERO (Manchester United, 31 years old)
Willy CABALLERO (Chelsea, 36 years old)
Nahuel GUZMAN (Tigres, 32 years old)
Franco ARMANI (River Plate, 31 years old)

Defenders:

Eduardo SALVIO (Benfica, 27 years old)
Gabriel MERCADO (Sevilla, 31 years old)
Nicolas OTAMENDI (Manchester City, 30 years old)
Javier MASCHERANO (Hebei China Fortune, 33 years old)
Federico FAZIO (AS Roma, 31 years old)
Marcos ROJO (Manchester United, 28 years old)
Nicolas TAGLIAFICO (Ajax, 25 years old)
Ramiro FUNES MORI (Everton, 27 years old)
German PEZZELLA (Fiorentina, 26 years old)
Marcos ACUNA (Sporting Lisbon, 26 years old)
Cristian ANSALDI (Torino, 31 years old)

Midfielders:

Manuel LANZINI (West Ham United, 25 years old)
Ricardo CENTURION (Racing Club, 25 years old)
Maximiliano MEZA (Independiente, 26 years old)
Lucas BIGLIA (AC Milan, 32 years old)
Guido PIZARRO (Sevilla, 28 years old)
Enzo PEREZ (River Plate, 32 years old)
Ever BANEGA (Sevilla, 29 years old)
Giovani LO CELSO (PSG, 22 years old)
Leandro PAREDES (Zenit St. Petersburg, 23 years old)
Rodrigo BATTAGLIA (Sporting Lisbon, 26 years old)
Pablo PEREZ (Boca Juniors, 32 years old)
Angel DI MARIA (PSG, 30 years old)
Diego PEROTTI (AS Roma, 29 years old)
Cristian PAVON (Boca Juniors, 22 years old)

Forwards:

Paulo DYBALA (Juventus, 24 years old)
Lionel MESSI (FC Barcelona, 30 years old)
Sergio AGUERO (Manchester City, 29 years old)
Gonzalo HIGUAIN (Juventus, 30 years old)
Mauro ICARDI (Inter, 25 years old)
Lautaro MARTINEZ (Racing Club, 20 years old)

Squad Overview:

With Manchester United keeper Sergio Romero the established number one, the contentious issue in the last line of defence revolves around the remaining two slots, which we’ve now established will be taken up by two of Willy Caballero, Nahuel Guzman and Franco Armani.

Club America goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin has paid the price for a poor showing in the friendly defeat to Nigeria, whilst Sampaoli has clearly favoured experience over youth in this department, leaving Geronimo Rulli unable to make his national team breakthrough.

Argentine sources would suggest that veteran Willy Caballero has the second slot locked down barring any late injury, leaving it a straight fight between Guzman and Armani for the last seat on the plane, one which we expect the latter to win.

Armani, who was rumoured to be considering taking up Colombian nationality. is becoming something of cult hero back home on the domestic scene, putting in one immense performance after the other during club River Plate’s red-hot end to the season. Such strong showings have seen him play his way into the squad for the first time and he looks to just have the edge over Guzman, who certainly cannot count on the same wave of public support.

Despite having conceded the second least amount of goals in qualification, the backline remains a real issue heading into Russia, evidenced by shipping four to Nigeria and six to Spain. There’s noticeably no domestic players in this group of players, meaning young Independiente right back Fabricio Bustos misses the cut, with his poor end to the season with Independiente seeing him drop out despite a strong year and national team debut in the friendly with Italy.

Ezequiel Garay continues his 3 year exile from national team ranks despite a good season with Valencia, whilst Copa Libertadores winner Walter Kannemann is also ignored. There is room for Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori after his recent return from injury, but he’s not likely to be a part of the final 23, watching from home alongside Cristian Ansaldi and the uncapped German Pezzella.

Competing with an array of talent, the likes of Alejandro Gomez, Emiliano Rigoni, Erik Lamela miss out, whilst there’s no room for holding midfielders Matias Kranevitter and Santiago Ascacibar in what has to be considered a very attacking group of players.

After an injury scare at the weekend, Lucas Biglia is included and will be key to Sampaoli’s plans in Russia and with Javier Mascherano able to step into the midfield if needs be, Pablo Perez, Enzo Perez and the uncapped Rodrigo Battaglia are not expected to make the final cut either, as Guido Pizarro edges them out for a seat on the plane

In more attacking terms, the notable inclusion is the previously uncalled Ricardo Centurion, who despite numerous off the field issues has given himself a real chance of being a part of the 23 after a fantastic 2018 with Racing Club, joining fellow Superliga winger Cristian Pavon amongst those unlikely to be culled, making it difficult for Leonardo Paredes, Maxi Meza or Diego Perotti to force their respective ways in.

And thus we arrive to perhaps the trickiest debate amongst all of the squad’s heading to Moscow, who will join Messi in the attempt to fire Argentina to glory?

Such an enrichment of talent leaves it hard to envisage Racing youngster Lautaro Martinez travelling in the end, despite Sampaoli having made several personal visits to watch the hitman. “El Toro” undoubtedly has an unbelievable future in the game, but up against such well renowned names, the 20 year old may have to bide his time and wait for Qatar.

That leaves one of the established names to cut and it would appear that Mauro Icardi is going to be the unfortunate casualty, barring any late hitches in Sergio Aguero’s recovery. The Inter forward has plunged home close to a goal a game this season, but is far from established in national team terms, and it looks as though he’ll be watching on TV, as he’s pipped to the post by Aguero, Higuain and Dybala.

Star Player:

He really needs no introduction, captain and 2014 Player of the Tournament Lionel Messi, fresh off the back of 45 goal season with Barcelona. Messi really is the heartbeat of this Argentine side and without him, they probably wouldn’t even be in Russia, as he single handedly dragged them over the qualification line.

Expect to see Messi in all areas of the pitch for his country, as you do with Barcelona, with Sampaoli set to build the system around someone he describes as “the best player in history”. Make no mistake, if Argentina fail to get the best out of their talisman, they’ll be nowhere near the Luzhniki Stadium turf come July 5th.

One to Watch:

Cristian Pavon Argentina

Boca’s flying winger Cristian Pavon matured noticeably as a player over the last season and has impressed massively in his handful of friendly appearances. The 22 year old possess blistering pace and numerous tricks in his locker and has started to add composure to his game, plating up assist after assist on the way to lifting the domestic title with his club. Although he’s likely to grace European turf soon anyhow, a strong tournament would surely seal the deal.

Check out some of the other potential breakout stars this summer in Russia.

Potential Lineup:

Although Sampaoli has a tendency for deploying a three man back line, Argentina are expected to start the tournament in a 4-2-3-1 base shape, albeit a very fluid one, that could be adapted at various points of games. A possible lineup for the opener against Iceland could read as follows, but is far from secure:

Romero; Mercado, Otamendi, Fazio, Tagliafico; Biglia, Lo Celso; Pavon, Messi, Di Maria; Aguero.

So that concludes our analysis of the provisional Argentina squad. Who would make the cut if you were in Sampaoli’s shoes and how do you rate the chances of those in light blue claiming glory for the third time?

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