Argentina need to find new system in which Messi can thrive after failed attempt to emulate Barcelona

Even the 4-1 defeat to Nigeria with a third string side in a friendly before the tournament gave little indication as to what would happen next.

First was a draw salvaged with Bolivia after a late equaliser from Sergio Aguero. It wasn’t then just the failure to beat Colombia in the next game which surprised, but the manner. Had Argentina dominated their opponents, maybe hit the bar a few times and not given the opposition a chance, it might have been deemed ‘one of those days.’ But they were not much better than an opponent who if anything created the better chances. And an opponent who were then dispatched by Peru in the quarter finals.

But having beaten Costa Rica in the last group game, albeit a Costa Rica made up mainly of youngsters, it would have been expected that Argentina would overcome the Uruguay team they then came up against.

Even though Oscar Tabarez’s men got to last year’s semi finals of the World Cup, on paper they are no match. A team containing the talents that Argentina do should at least reach the final of this tournament. Sergio Aguero, Leo Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, Angel di Maria, Ricardo Alvarez, Javier Pastore. The list is, if not quite endless, enviable. What international team can claim such a depth of attacking talent? Perhaps the first team of Spain is a match, or better, but no team has the strength in depth of Argentina on the world stage.

Yet Sergio Batista failed to form a cogent side. Based around, naturally, Leo Messi, he sought to create a team which played in the style of Barcelona.

Easier said that done.

As the esteemed Tim Vickery continually pointed out, a team can play like Barcelona if they are able to produce perfect football. It requires a patient, controlled style which can retain possession with something like the 90% accuracy that Barcelona achieve to be able to copy their system. Barcelona of course, have a team who don’t have a big player in their attack. Messi, David Villa, Pedro, Iniesta, Xavi…all under six foot tall. It’s a not dissimilar problem to that Arsenal face. Like Argentina, they have failed to produce the same immaculate passing football of Barcelona and therefore playing without a target forward to give penalty area presence simply doesn’t work. For Arsenal, they play better with Robin van Persie, a six foot player who gets into the area, in the team, and floundered two years ago with Andrei Arshavin as the focal forward, yet improved with the less talented but bigger and more direct Nicklas Bendtner.

Argentina found the same issue in the Copa America. Without that penalty area presence, they struggled in the final third to create the space required to make the chances to beat their opponents.
Ultimately, Batista has paid a rather harsh price for failure, but whomever takes over must learn his lessons. A highly talented team they may be, but the style and tactical structure is as important as the players themselves. Leo Messi did not fail to shine in this tournament, Argentina did. Barcelona is a team which plays with such skill and control that Messi can express to the full extent as possible his talents. Argentina are not able to create the environment yet in which Messi can show that. Until then, the Barcelona man will never reproduce his best at international level.

That is the dilemma facing whoever takes over from Batista. How do you get the best out of Messi, whilst creating a structure and style which is effective and gets the best out of the team as well, and more to the point, without copying Barcelona?