Argentina’s preparations for the World Cup concluded with a friendly thumping of the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi, 5-0. The Albiceleste enter the tournament as one of the favorites to lift the coveted trophy.

Head coach Lionel Scaloni, though, is far from set in his bid to lead the side to its third World Cup. He must figure out how to replace the injured Giovani Lo Celso in the Argentina starting eleven.

The Villareal star played an integral part of the squad since Scaloni took over in 2019. However, he sustained a hamstring injury with muscle tear that ended any chances of his participation in Qatar. The nimble left footed midfielder was left with no other option than to finally undergo surgery. He vacates a massive hole for Argentina in the middle of the park.

Lo Celso formed a great understanding with Leandro Paredes and Rodrigo De Paul in the midfield three controlling the game and dictating possession for the South American side. Scaloni had earlier mentioned that the 26-year-old is irreplaceable ‘footballing wise.’ Now, the injury forces a replacement for the irreplaceable.

Potential Giovani Lo Celso replacements for Argentina

Enzo Fernandez

The 21-year-old is having a terrific season in Benfica. Now, a host of European giants, including Manchester United, Liverpool and Barcelona, keep close tabs on the Argentine. Fernandez fits perfectly in Scaloni’s preferred 4-3-3 system. Surely, he is among the top players to consider for a place in the starting eleve.

He has played a stellar role for Benfica, who are unbeaten in the domestic league. Plus, Benfica finished top of a vaunted Champions League group that included PSG and Juventus.

One of Lo Celso’s biggest strengths was his ability to link up with Messi in the final third. It is a key component of Argentina’s current unbeaten run hitting 35 fixtures. While the Benfica starlet plays in a deeper role, he has excellent ball retaining capability with an envious passing range.

Should the Benfica player start, this could mean that Rodrigo De Paul plays a little further forward when Argentina are in possession.

Alexis Mac Allister

Another player who could rightfully claim a place in the starting eleven would Alexis Mac Allister. Like Enzo, Mac Alliser is having a great season at Brighton. The 23-year-old played second fiddle to Pascal Gross at times. Yet, this season, he has been a real revelation for Roberto de Zerbi.

Mac Allister has been the anchor for the Premier League side and rarely makes a poor pass. He also has an eye for the goal and is adept at taking set pieces. Essentially, he can seamlessly fill the void Lo Celso thrived on.

Mac Allister’s father, Carlos, has coincidentally played with Argentina’s cult hero Diego Maradona at Boca Juniors in the early 1990s during the latter’s second stint with the club side.

Mac Allister started the friendly against the United Arab Emirates alongside Paredes and De Paul. Eventually, Enzo Fernandez also featured.

The others

Having been placed in Group C with Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia, it feels as if Scaloni will change his starting eleven depending on the opposition.

Messi and company start their campaign against Saudi Arabia. Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez is a fit if Argentina decide to use a more attacking lineup. The 34-year-old is primarily a winger. Therefore, the Albiceleste will line up in a 4-2-3-1.

Exequiel Palacios of Bayer Leverkusen is another option for Scaloni who shone in his last Bundesliga game against VFB Stuttgart. He picked up an assist as his side won, 2-0.

Guido Rodriguez could be a formidable option, too. Rodriguez can play as a central defensive midfielder. Leandro Paredes can occupy a holding role while de Paul pushes up into an advanced role. Guido Rodriguez also played a substitute role against the United Arab Emirates.

Argentina begins its World Cup conquest against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Nov. 22.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Icon Sportswire

Guide to World Cup 2022

Here are some resources to help you get the most out of the biggest event in soccer!
TV Schedule: All the info on where and when to watch every game
The Groups: We breakdown each group and all the teams
The Kits: Check out what every team will be wearing on the field this fall
Predictor: Play out every scenario with our World Cup Predictor
World Cup Bracket: Map out the entire tournament, from the groups to the final