2018 World Cup was shambolic for Argentina. They were in danger of not making the WC until a last day hat trick from Lionel Messi ensured Argentina made the trip to Russia. After Bauza was sacked midway between the qualification campaign, Sampaoli took the reigns and his stints with Chile and Sevilla brought an air of optimism in the Argentina fan camp. However Argentina were knocked out at the round of sixteen by eventual champions France by a score of 4-3. Whilst losing out to the eventual champions in a tightly fought affair is not bad in itself, but for a team like Argentina ,who aspired to win the WC, the result was heart breaking. Add to that the troubles during group stages which included a thrashing from Croatia, plus news of mutiny inside the camp, meant that Sampaoli’s stint with Argentina NT was truly underwhelming.
Lionel Scaloni is highly inexperienced and was given the reigns as interim manager along with Aimar just after the WC , until AFA find a suitable high profile candidate to take the helm. Whilst appointing a new manager for Argentina in December or January might still be on the cards, but news is that views are changing regarding Scaloni among AFA top brass and for the good. In his short stint, he has shown flashes of promise and optimism which is making AFA think about whether they want someone else at the helm. Scaloni was handed an Argentina side which was the oldest in the WC by some distance. He was tasked with rejuvenating the team and he has given breaks to sixteen new faces until now. Though he is yet to face a real tournament, his results so far is encouraging. Until now he has not shown anything remarkable tactically, but he is flexible and has completely freshened up the midfield with introduction of players like Battaglia, Palacios,Paredes , Lo Celso,Meza, Ascaibar,Pereyra etc. He has tried other keepers like Rulli apart from Romero. He has tried various combination of defenders like Foyth, Saravia, Funes Mori,Kanneman, Mammana etc. He has tried attacking combinations of Icardi,Dybala, Martinez, Simeone, Dybala,De Paul, Pavon etc. He has shown flexibility switching between a 4-2-3-1, 3-4-1-2 and 4-3-3 during his various stints. But most importantly, he is getting out results and the team in general is showing signs of improvement in all facets. He has lost his most high profile game which was a friendly against Brazil, but that was in the 93rd minute from a Miranada header. He has won the rest of the games and in all the games he has managed, whether win or lose, there is a defined plan and structure in view.
Style wise Scaloni is more of a Bilardist that a Bieslaist or Cruyffist. He does not depends on possession or build up from back, but he relies on high press from his forwards and wingers and tends to sit back and try to pass the balls to the wide channels and then work it inside the box. This leaves somewhat of a gap between the forward line and the midfield plus defensive line which leaves space in middle to exploit for a technically gifted side, but this has stabilized the porous defense which was leaking goals left,right and centre. The various midfield combos Scaloni have tried until now, either two men (with protection from flanks), or three men, have shown insufficiency in closing the tactical gaps. Perhaps a three men midfield of cambiasso, mascherano and riquelme in their primes could have provided the work rate, defensive cover, stability and technical ability to link the defence which sits back and the forward line which presses high. But since players of such caliber are currently not available , Scaloni has experimented with a series of midfielders with varying degrees of styles and abilities viz. ascaibar, battaglia, palacios, lo celso, paredes, pereyra etc to find that acute balance of box to box abilities, high work rate, defensive cover, technical ability and flair in his midfield. Whether he succeeds or not, can only be known after he decides on his fixed set of players. Also it will be interesting to see that, in times when possession based football with pressing, playing out from back and attacking intent comprising of flair, speed and technicality is ruling football, how Scaloni’s Bilardist or Italian philosophy of ceding possession and first prioritizing defensive stability fares. With Copa America next summer, there is only one break left in March 2019, where he shall get his final chance to set on a final squad. If Scaloni remains as the Argentina Manager, which seems more and more likely with each passing day, and if he can find the balance which he is so dearly trying for, then it provides him a perfect opportunity to integrate Messi, Aguero and Otamendi in his final Copa Squad. This can make this team a beautiful blend of youth plus experience, a far cry from the old team which went to Russia.
If everything goes right, Argentina can be gearing up and depending on two Lionels this time to lead them to Copa glory next year, one might be leading them on the field,another will be leading them from the touchline. This can be the start of wonderful new chapter for the Albiceleste, one if successful can define Argentine football for the next decade.