Spotlight on Argentina's attack
All of a sudden, the focus seems to have shifted in the Argentina camp. After so many worries and questions about the defence and the switch to their secondary formation of 3-5-2 against Bosnia-Herzegovina, all the questions are now suddenly being directed toward the team's attack.
Should Gonzalo Higuaín have started up front on Sunday? Do Argentina have the tools to keep the pressure on in attack if Alejandro Sabella decides he needs to play with three centre backs again? Are the tactics and training sessions now revolving around Lionel Messi's whims, following his outspoken news conference after the 2-1 win on Sunday?
Baier: Messi's preferred formation
Although there were whispers pre-match that Messi had asked to play with only Sergio Agüero up front, that seems unlikely to me. Messi's own words after the game made clear that he realises Argentina are best in a 4-3-3, and I can't see why he'd have gone against that pregame. It's not as if he has a vendetta with Higuain; to all appearances, he has been actively trying to talk Higuain into joining him at Barcelona.
More likely, Higuain was left out of the starting lineup due to his lack of participation (thanks to fitness issues) in the pre-World Cup friendlies. His importance to the attack -- and Messi in particular -- has rarely been better illustrated than by his half time introduction against Bosnia-Herzegovina; opening up space for Messi to run into, his lay-off for Argentina's second goal was a classic demonstration.
In fact, if Argentina do at any point revert to two up front for some reason during the tournament, I think if everyone's fit and suspension free, we're most likely to see Higuain playing alongside Messi.
It might prove just as important to the attack that Rodrigo Palacio also returned to full training this week; Argentina finally have all 23 players fully fit this weekend. Palacio is important because of his willingness to play a tactical role in the side; he's not as big as Higuaín, but is perhaps the best substitute for him given Ezequiel Lavezzi's iffy form in the pre-tournament friendlies.
It's perhaps as much Palacio's injury as Higuain's which caused the decision to start with just two up front on Sunday.
As for Messi's whims dictating things, I suspect talk is being overstated somewhat. We won't find out at least until Sabella gives his news conference on Friday (and probably not even then), but it's worth bearing in mind Messi was far from the only player to point out that the side's preferred system was the 4-3-3 used in the second half.
Sergio Aguero's muted display, of course, didn't help things on Sunday either. Much of the criticism was reserved for Messi (who, let's not forget, took the free kick that led to the opening own goal, and scored the second himself), but Aguero's shooting was poor and on one or two occasions his runs took him down blind alleys (the one for the above mentioned free kick notwithstanding). Even off form, though, Agüero should probably start on the left of the front three.
That's partly because of Lavezzi's poor showings and the fact that Aguero could produce a flash of brilliance at any moment, but more than that it's because he already knows how the other members of the group the Argentine press dub the "Fantastic Four" (the front three plus Angel Di María) work.
Aguero below par, in Argentina's first choice system, still knows precisely the runs Higuaín and Messi will make, and knows when and from what angle Di María is likely to join the attack.
That's not to say Palacio and Lavezzi can't do the job in his role if needed, but even if his final ball isn't working I'd still stick with Agüero because the link play is that bit more instinctual for him -- and against a well-drilled side sitting deep as Iran are likely to on Saturday, that could prove vital.
If anything, the first half showing on Sunday has only reinforced the feeling that Argentina's best chance in this World Cup is to make use of their abundant attacking resources. It has been a tournament well-suited to attacking sides so far, and few would deny Argentina have what it takes to take advantage of that.