Assessing Argentina without Aguero
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil -- A new story may be starting for the Argentina football team. Not only because the group stage has finished and the knockout stage is beginning, but because of the injury to Sergio Aguero.
The absence of the Manchester City forward opens a door for manager Alejandro Sabella. It could be a unique opportunity to abandon the 4-3-3, the system favoured by the players which strengthened the national team, but which is not untouchable in the manager's eyes.
Many wonder why there is a need to change after three consecutive victories. The answer is simple. The coach is not dogmatic about opting for three forwards and is seeking greater balance, particularly against Switzerland in the last 16 and hopefully in the latter stages.
When Aguero had to go off after 37 minutes of the first half against Nigeria, the manager didn't hesitate: he put Ezequiel Lavezzi on and kept the attacking formation in search of the victory that would assure Argentina of the top spot in Group F. Why Lavezzi? Basically because Rodrigo Palacio is not 100 percent fit and because Lavezzi offered a guarantee of support in closing down in midfield.Tuesday, July 1
Sabella is not only guided by results. He believes that keeping the three forwards, against certain rivals, is too risky.
Indeed, Argentina suffered in defence against Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria, who ought to be fairly straightforward opponents.
What needs to be considered is how the players may react to a possible return to a more conservative system. The 5-3-2 barely lasted the first half in the opening game in the Maracana, and the players did not hesitate to make their preference clear after the match.
Is it possible to go back without causing unrest in the dressing room? There is nobody better than Sabella to assess that possibility. An intermediate step would be to put Augusto Fernandez or Maxi Rodriguez on the right, to strengthen the midfield, allow a better defence without the ball and avoid headaches.
Argentina seem to be inspired by a 4-3-3. They play with freshness, options and greater creativity in the final third. However, the defensive issues have still not been successfully addressed, and the obstacles to come could make them more acute.
It is true that neither Palacio nor Lavezzi have the reputation Aguero has, more because of his career so far than his present form. The absence of the Inter Milan and PSG forwards in the starting XI shouldn't be so traumatic.
We will know as the days go by whether Sabella is guided by his conviction in the search for balance, whether he goes for a 4-3-3 in the end, or whether he prefers to maintain the status quo in order to avoid upset.
The door is open.
Nicolas Baier is senior editor based in Buenos Aires at ESPN.com/ Latin America. Nico is in charge of coverage of the Argentine National Team, having reported on Maradona's Argentina squad at World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Follow him on Twitter @NicolasBaier