Argentina began their World Cup campaign in a rather unique atmosphere at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro Sunday evening with a 2-1 win against Bosnia. The partisan Argentine crowd was mixed with pockets of Bosnian supporters as well as the Brazilians eager for Argentina to fail at every possible opportunity.
Amidst the crescendo of noise, we saw the archetypal game of two halves with Alejandro Sabella’s tactical changes at half-time proving there is yet hope for importance of the dressing-room chalkboard.
Despite taking the lead inside three minutes of the first-half, Argentina were flat. Sabella’s side could create no attacking rhythm with Bosnia-Herzegovina looking the more likely side to score with Miralem Pjanic and Muhamed Bešić pulling the strings in midfield.
If Safet Sušić’s side had just been able to bring Edin Dzeko into play more, it would have been an even tougher period for the Argentine side.
The heavily discussed 5-3-2 system that Sabella employed at the beginning of the match was simply not working. Despite the system’s fluidity when changing into a 5-2-3 when in attack, the wing-backs were simply too far forward and wide to have any impact on the match.
The positioning of wing-backs Zabaleta and Rojo served to stretch the game and thus slow Argentina down when in possession of the ball. It was a rather bizarre situation to watch unfold as Sergio Romero would play a quick pass out to one of the three central defenders from a goal-kick only for all momentum to be lost with a long pass out wide to either of the two wing-backs.
This lack of forward momentum spread to the forward line with Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero all having absolutely no tempo to work with and the Bosnia-Herzegovina defensive policy of double man-marking made it incredibly difficult for the Argentine attackers to build a quick tempo from a standing start.
Another negative side-effect of the 5-3-2/5-2-3 formation was how isolated it made Messi.
Aguero had been positioned on the right hand side with Di Maria on the left whilst Messi was handed his preferred ‘roaming role’ through the middle. The problem came, however, when Messi did just that — roam.
Messi often found himself drifting out to the flanks in search of the ball or even deeper into midfield such was Argentina’s difficulty in playing at a quick tempo. With Aguero and di Maria’s commitment to their respective wide positions, there was often a gap through the middle where in a conventional system Messi would have been.