Even though Argentina has one less Copa America title compared to Uruguay, it is without any doubt the best performing team in the history of the tournament and a total of 26 appearances in the final testify this fact. But in the recent years, the performance of the team in the tournament has been below par. If Gerardo Martino desires to lift the trophy for the record-equalling 15th time and erase the bad memories of the recent past, then he has to play Javier Mascherano in the midfield.
On having a thorough look at the Copa America squad of Argentina, one can draw resemblances to the problems the team was facing exactly a year ago. Alejandro Sabella, this time last year, was solving the jigsaw puzzle of getting the right combination of the forwards and the defenders to fit into his system. He was short of the right kind central defenders and even though Argentina was weaker in the defence compared to other sections, Sabella never used Mascherano in the defence. Martino too should not try to fit a square peg in a round hole by playing Mascherano in the defence. Here are the two main reasons why Mascherano should be used in front of the defenders:
Reason 1: Stability to the team.
First and foremost, apart from Lucas Biglia, none of the other midfielders in the squad can be trusted with the role of the defensive midfielder. A defensive midfielder holds the key to unlocking a team’s defence. While Ever Banega and Roberto Pereyra are more adept to playing an attacking role, Fernando Gago has not been up to the mark for Boca Juniors, as far as his performance on the pitch is concerned. The only other midfielder left is Javier Pastore, who, as we all know, is not of the defensive mould.
A Biglia – Gago/Banega – Pastore midfield trio will result in chaos in the defensive phase, however effective and lethal it might prove while attacking. So playing Mascherano as one of the central defenders will put further pressure on Martino, as he would have to scratch is head to find the right balance or stability in the midfield. Of course, leaving an experienced player out would lead to unstable situations, which would also have negative effects on the forwards. Even though a team with Mascherano at the back might look strong on the paper, it would face big problems while on the field. Would Martino want such a situation to arise? I surely think, he doesn’t want to.
Reason 2: Third central defender
Mascherano dropping between the defenders and being the team’s Bat-Man (yes, Lionel Messi is the Super-Man) by working hard, making those brave last man tackles and even getting kicked by the opponents was a common scene in Argentina’s World Cup matches last year and we enjoyed every bit of his actions. He was the unheralded hero (although he came into the limelight as the tournament progressed). It was in fact very shrewd of Sabella to play Mascherano in the midfield. Mascherano, by covering for the two defenders acted like a libero and muscled the frail defence of his team. Against a very physical and direct team of Ecuador earlier this year, it was Mascherano who played exceptionally well as the defensive midfielder to secure a somewhat lucky 2-1 win for Argentina. Mascherano is the heartbeat of this Argentina team.
Although he has partnered Gerard Pique at Barcelona most of the times season, that should not be a problem for the Argentine since he has done very well as a midfielder whenever he was given the chance. By playing Mascherano in the right position, Martino will have one less problem (yes, there’s one more – right combination of forwards).
This article was published on SportsKeeda. You can read it on Sportskeeda’s website by clicking here.