Jorge Sampaoli must ensure Argentina are not over-reliant on Lionel Messi at the World Cup

Tom Biggs 18:07 28/03/2018
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Argentina's Lionel Messi talks with his coach Jorge Sampaoli

With just three months to go until the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and following the conclusion of the final mid-season international friendlies, we take a look at four bosses who still have plenty of work to do ahead of the start of this summer’s tournament in Russia.

We’ve picked out two key areas that each manager must focus on between now and June if they are to enjoy a successful World Cup campaign.

JORGE SAMPAOLI – ARGENTINA

Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli watches on against Spain

Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli watches on against Spain

Over-reliance on Messi

When you have a player capable of producing magic every time he touches the ball, it’s difficult not to try and build your team around him. But Jorge Sampaoli appears to have forgotten that those accompanying Lionel Messi for Argentina this summer aren’t at the level of his Barcelona team-mates. Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala are both likely to be left at home this summer, simply because Sampaoli believes they do not fit Argentina’s style. But what is the style he talks about? Messi’s magic, but as has been the case previously, he can’t win a World Cup on his own.

Playing out from the back

While Argentina are blessed with a plethora of options going forward, the same cannot be said defensively. While Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo and Manchester City’s Nicolas Otamendi are likely to form the heart of Sampaoli’s defence, his options are limited elsewhere. Trying to get his side playing out from the back complicates matters further. Sampaoli must find a way to shore up the defence and not be the creators of their own downfall.

FERNANDO SANTOS – PORTUGAL

Fernando Santos may have won the European Championships, but Portugal have problems

Fernando Santos may have won the European Championships, but Portugal have problems

Aiding aging central defenders

With no more international breaks between now and the end of the season, Fernando Santos looks likely to rely on experienced central defenders this summer. Jose Fonte, Bruno Alves, Pep and Rolando are all over the age of 30, but look like they will be heading to Russia at the end of May. The Netherlands made light work of Portugal’s defence on Monday night, and Santos’ primary focus must be ensuring his aging central defenders get the cover and support required. An extra defensive midfielder may provide that, but creativity going forward could be seriously impacted.

The Ronaldo conundrum

Cristiano Ronaldo has shown his quality as a central forward for both Real Madrid and Portugal this season, but his switch from a wide position gives Santos a problem. His side severely lack natural width, and with Ronaldo and Andre Silva in attack, as was the case against Egypt, Goncalo Guedes and Gelson Martins – two players with genuine pace – would miss out to make way for more secure midfield options. Santos must decide whether he wants Silva to support Ronaldo, or whether players who provide width and speed is the way to go.

DIDIER DESCHAMPS – FRANCE

Didier Deschamps doesn't know his best team – and that's a problem

Didier Deschamps doesn’t know his best team – and that’s a problem

France’s fine margins

Such is the strength of France’s pool of talent heading into the World Cup that Didier Deschamps’ biggest problem comes in the form of selecting his 23-man squad for the tournament. The French boss admitted during the international break that these friendlies were designed to give everyone playing time, but many of his counterparts chose to go as close to full strength as possible in at least one of the two games. Deschamps has to ensure that France aren’t left behind in their preparations.

Pogba’s creative presence

France’s attacking possibilities are endless, but the importance of Paul Pogba cannot be ignored. With the likes of N’Golo Kante, Adrien Rabiot and Blaise Matuidi as alternative midfield options, Pogba’s creative ability from deeper positions could be vital in games in which the opposition afford France plenty of possession. That’s likely to be the case in all three group games, against Australia, Peru and Denmark, meaning Deschamps must ensure Pogba is firing come the summer – even if his frustrations at Manchester United continue between now and May.

GARETH SOUTHGATE – ENGLAND

Gareth Southgate must find a creative spark and decide on his number one

Gareth Southgate must find a creative spark and decide on his number one

Creativity is key

Gareth Southgate has moved to lessen the blow of a lack of creativity in midfield by switching Kyle Walker into the heart of the defence and asking him to step out with the ball and get the team moving forward. But that tactic will only get England so far up the pitch. Without a creative midfielder who can unlock defences regularly, the Three Lions will struggle to score the goals they need to challenge this summer. Southgate must hope either Adam Lallana or Jack Wilshere can find some regular form and game-time between now and the end of the season.

Guessing the goalkeeper

Does Southgate really know who he will start in goal when England take on Tunisia in their opening group game? No-one can be sure, with both Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland getting 90 minutes each in the two friendlies. Southgate must decide who gets the nod sooner rather than later to allow the goalkeeper enough time to prepare himself fully, while also giving the defence the chance to build a strong understanding with the man behind them.

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