France did not come up with a perfect plan for Argentina. How could Messi destroy ‘Les Bleus’?

Military minds like to keep that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Replace “enemy” with “opposition” and we have a fair estimate of the situation Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni has faced twice in his short coaching career.

One of them was in his team’s opening match at the World Cup. Argentina came to Qatar on a 36-match unbeaten run based on one idea — a patient, ball-controlled midfield would control the ball, bringing Lionel Messi into the game regularly, many of them quite close to the opposition. aim to do serious damage.

– World Cup 2022: News and features | Parentheses | Timetable

Saudi Arabia gave Scaloni a rough comeback to the World Cup, with a ferocious high line that forced Argentina into the kind of game they were uncomfortable with – and forced Scaloni to rethink. Since then a lot of tinkering has been done, almost everything works. If Messi is going to be more sporadic, then there should be more mobility up front — hence the inclusion of striker Julian Alvarez in place of the struggling Lautaro Martinez.

If a team is not always in control of the ball then there will be times when a switch to a back three is advisable. Initial contact with opponents, then, required the Argentinian coach to make variations on the theme.

Near the start of his reign, Scaloni had to do something far more drastic. He had to ditch the entire project. Appointed after the 2018 World Cup, initially as caretaker, Scaloni served on the observing staff against Argentina. What left the deepest impression was France — the team that eliminated Argentina in the second round.

“France robbed the ball and were in a position to shoot in three or four seconds,” he said in his introductory news conference. “That’s how football goes, football I love and the time has come to introduce this in Argentina. We will be more direct and vertical.”



Rob Dawson previews the World Cup final between France and Argentina.

And his French-inspired Argentina is — predictably enough — a disaster. This is not a game idea that suits Messi and the resources that Scaloni has. The first competitive game under the new regime will be the opening game of the 2019 Copa America against Colombia. Argentina were dreadful, laying all over the pitch and easily picking their way to a 2-0 defeat. Scaloni’s plan clearly didn’t survive his first contact with an opponent – ​​and the coach had the good sense to back out. For the rest of the competition the Argentinian groped towards something more plausible, sketching out a possession-based style which has since served them so well.

And now comes the final challenge. Scaloni is almost certain to face Brazil, or possibly Spain or Germany in the semifinals. Croatia came as a pleasant surprise; a team with an excellent midfield — Scaloni paid tribute to Croatian captain Luka Modric and his team-mates after the game and admitted that it was 3-0 flattering La Albiceleste — but not the side with the firepower to ask its defense units the most serious questions.

This is now changing, and to win the title Argentina will have to beat a devastating front four with Kylian Mbappe the main attraction in a star constellation. How can Scaloni plan a win against a team he so openly admires, and perhaps fears? The evidence from the previous matches showed that France could be attacked. France manager Didier Deschamps will no doubt be concerned about the left of his defense – with Mbappe not falling back to help, and full back Theo Hernandez could be exposed.

An avid reader of the game, Messi will find and investigate his weaknesses, and surely Angel Di Maria will be let go at some stage in the process. Even less fit, in the last few minutes of the quarter-final against the Netherlands, Di Maria lit up the game both with individual flashes and with quick combinations with Messi. He wasn’t needed against Croatia but will no doubt have an important role to play on the big day.

Messi and Di Maria on the right side seem to offer Argentina’s best chance to penetrate the ranks of France. But this is a case of the old balancing act. How can Argentina land a hit of their own while dodging an incoming haymaker? They may be able to control the midfield for some parts of the game, but at some point the French counter-attack will be unleashed. How to cover a level of talent that Scaloni’s team has never faced?

Centre-backs Nico Otamendi and Cristian Romero will operate out of bounds – especially Romero, providing cover on the flanks where Mbappe made his forays. Will Scaloni bring back Lisandro Martinez and return to a back three? He may have in mind defensive midfielder Guido Rodriguez – who was unwisely introduced for the second game against Mexico but may be more useful now. The Argentinian coach is bound to come up with some sort of plan, which leaves a thrilling question; how well will it survive contact with the reigning world champion?

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