It’s completely understandable that after being appointed Argentina coach on August 1, Edgardo Bauza devoted considerable time and effort in persuading Lionel Messi out of ‘retirement’.
How much it was worth is unclear, as there is a suggestion Messi never really retired in the first place, but in prioritising the efforts towards the world’s best player, Bauza has overlooked other fundamental issues with this Argentina team.
Because while they have missed the 29-year-old to an extent – as three wins from three in South American qualifying with him in the side compared to one victory in seven games he’s not been fit shows – Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss at Paraguay and the 2-2 draw in Peru last week, sought to highlight cracks the Barca star has increasingly papered over.
Defensively La Albiceleste are a mess and Derlis Gonzalez’s winner in the first half in Cordoba encompassed all that is wrong. As an Argentina attack broke down, Javier Mascherano tried to make up for his reduced reactions by attempting a rash challenge in midfield, allowing Angel Romero to dart past him.
Argentina fans to Messi, then and now pic.twitter.com/GAUJIP4Enn— GeniusFootball (@GeniusFootball) October 12, 2016
Marcos Rojo elected not to shadow Gonzalez’s run over his shoulder and instead was sucked towards the ball and made an ill-advised attempt to try and tackle Romero.
Mateo Musacchio was too far to the right to get across and stop Gonzalez, with goalkeeper Sergio Romero also offering the forward a considerable amount of space at his near post to finish. From an individual and collective standpoint it was appalling.
The fact Rojo and Romero are starting, alongside a 35-year-old Martin Demichelis, is alone, an alarming situation. Granted, three of Bauza’s regular back-four were suspended with Ezequiel Garay injured, but the manager’s faith in ageing legs or those not playing for their club sides is troubling.
Marcos Rojo is miles out of position again but it's ok Romero has got his near post covered...— United (@UnitedView7) October 12, 2016
Because, in falling back on triedand-tested but flawed experience, Bauza has given an indication he doesn’t trust his defensive system.
Argentina’s vulnerability to pace is staggering and yet was all so predictable with a defensive core of Mascherano, Rojo and Demichelis surely ranking as one of the slowest in football but Bauza fielded all three against a Paraguay side who play relentlessly on the counter.
Musacchio was partnered alongside Demichelis for the first time and it showed with little sign of communication, leading to a display lacking in any coordination; emphasised by how disorganised they looked at set pieces.
Another staple of Paraguay’s gameplan. Bauza’s reputation was garned largely by being a pragmatic coach who got the best out of underwhelming teams, but so far there have been precious few signs of any of the solidity he brought to San Lorenzo and San Paulo.
Two months is precious time to implement any long-term ideas and methods but such is the nature of the beast of international football, the paucity of face-to-face work with your players means you have to get your message across quickly.
Alejandro Sabella once remarked that whenever opposition teams attacked Argentina he would, “close his eyes and pray”.
With Brazil and Colombia up next, Argentina fans must hope these last two performances have left Bauza’s eyes wide open to their failings.
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