Argentina’s struggles against Iceland was through every fault of their own. Lionel Messi, rightly the star man for La Albiceleste, earned a better WhoScored.com rating (7.69) than any other Argentina player in the 1-1 draw with their European counterparts, with striker Sergio Aguero perhaps the only other player for Jorge Sampaoli’s side to come away with any credit from the stalemate.
Next up is Croatia and, without a doubt, their toughest opponent of the group stage. After a dire display against Iceland, Sampaoli is supposedly considering a change in system, with a three-man defence back on the cards. It’s a similar setup to the one used in the 3-1 win over Ecuador last October that finally sealed their spot at the World Cup, with Messi bagging the hat-trick in the key victory.
If reports are proved correct, it’ll see Messi line up in the number 10 role once more, but this time with Cristian Pavon alongside Aguero in attack, which will only serve as a boost in their bid to put three points on the board. However, for all of their attacking quality, Argentina’s defence is still iffy to say the least. A defensive three of Gabriel Mercado, Nicolas Otamendi and Nicolas Tagliafico hardly inspires confidence, and so Croatia will rightly fancy their chances of coming away from their Group D encounter victorious.
It’s a vital throw of the dice for Sampaoli, who is aware he needs to improve his Argentina side after a limp display against Iceland. The players effectively gave the ball to Messi and watched as he strived to break down a staunch Iceland backline. A well-drilled Croatia outfit with one of football’s best midfields will only prove just as difficult, if not more so, with the European outfit more than capable of retaining possession and making Argentina chase shadows.
It’s for this reason that Sampoali is likely to bring Enzo Perez into the fold alongside Javier Mascherano, with the battling pair looking to disrupt Croatia, but even then; Zlatko Dalic’s men are able to find their way past the pair and towards the Argentina goal. By switching to a three-man defence, it’s a risky move by Sampaoli, yet it’s one he needs to take. Failure to secure a positive result here could well spell the beginning of the end of Argentina’s World Cup journey.
Martin Laurence - Argentina 1-2 Croatia
Ben McAleer - Argentina 1-2 Croatia
Josh Wright - Argentina 1-1 Croatia