Date: June 15th, 2019
Home Team: Argentina
Away Team: Colombia
Competition: 2019 Copa America
For every game that involves Barcelona or Argentina the conversation starts and ends with Lionel Messi. I am assuming there is nothing i can really inform you about Messi himself so I will point out the relevant stuff to this game/tournament. The end of the season for Barcelona was a conflicting one. On one hand they won La Liga, but on the other hand they blew a massive 3-0 first leg advantage in the Champions League semi-finals to Liverpool. The second consecutive year they have blown a major lead on the road in the Champions League. To top it all off, they lost to Valencia in the Copa Del Rey final. Now Messi puts on the Argentina shirt where things have been worse for him in recent memory. Argentina was once the creme-led-la-creme of the soccer world, but things are rough. They have not won a major trophy (World Cup or Copa America) with their savior Lionel Messi. The blame has gone back and forth between Messi disappearing and a lack of supporting cast, that is up for debate that I will not get into. But right now Argentina is coming into this tournament looking to win with Messi like always. Since their Failure in the 2018 Argentina has appointed Lionel Scaloni as manager. He is best known for his playing career with Deportivo de La Coruña but as for managing this is his first real job and his first real test. He has gone 6-1-2 so far but Copa America is deep waters and the first real test for him. As for Colombia they are coming off a mixed 2018 World Cup. They got through the group stage with the flair that we know Colombian teams to have. However they were ousted in the Round of 16 by England on penalties. The key thing to know though is the appointment of Carlos Queiroz as manager. Now, the defining trait of every Queiroz team is disciplined defending. His time with the Portuguese National team and Iranian National team was highlighted their ability to defend almost to a fault. So this will be and interesting clash of two ideologies between the defensive fortitude of Queiroz and the flair of Colombian soccer. Obviously the answer is a yin and yang mix of both but this will be a good indication of how Colombia will play going forward.
So let’s start with the supporting cast around Lionel Messi. We have premier league winner, Sergio Aguero. Of all the strike partners that Messi has had with Argentina, I believe Aguero has shown the most ability. Let’s be honest anybody but Gonzalo Higuaín, who has been known for turtling in the big moments for Argentina. On paper we see a 4-4-2 but I would guess we see Di Maria stay forward a little more while Lo Celso will support the midfield a little more to make it look like a 3 man midfield and a 3 man attack. Both are proper players who should mix pretty well. Lastly is the back line where there is some good and bad. Otamendi and Tagliafico are both solid Champions League caliber defender, but both are prone to lapses of judgment that could lead to chances being allowed. Then there is also Pezzella who had a solid season for Fiorentina. Then after having a revolving door at keeper, Armani has settled in as the number 1 for Argentina. Play will obviously flow through Messi but can also run through Di Maria as well. The question for me however lies in the center of midfield. It is almost always there for me. Paredes is a solid talent who has jumped from Roma to Zenit and now to PSG where he has been a main stay in the midfield. He and Guido will have to cover a lot of space in the midfield to break up play. I believe Paredes will be up to the task but Guido is untested for Argentina and he can either step up in the moment of fold. Tagliafico will also play high up the field to support Di Maria or whoever pops up on the left wing. This is a pretty well balanced team that will be an even match for Colombia. As for Colombia James Rodriguez is the talisman. He is coming off a good season for Bayern when he played however he didn’t get regular playing time. However he has always been a player who has stepped up for Colombia when he puts on the shirt. It says he will be playing on the right wing but he will be popping up all over the place to dictate play. With Cuadrado and James on the right side, those two combining will be a great match up to watch against Tagliafico and Otamendi. That will probably be the match up that dictates how this game goes. Falcao will also play key role in this game. He has the ability to do a lot of things but he is a striker that I constantly making runs and occupying the center back’s attention. All it takes is one run to work for him to get his chance that he will almost always score. The last thing of note is the Center back partnership. The premier league duo of Mina and Sanchez pose a strong opposition for Messi and Aguero. Davinson Sanchez is a complete center back with the ability to defend, anticipate and defend. It is Mina who can be a little weak in terms of positioning which does not bode well for Colombia when you are up against two of the best attackers in the world. Looks for Aguero and Messi focus their attacks towards Mina as opposed to Sanchez. Overall this should be a solid, evenly matched game which could require a moment of magic to spate the two teams.
This game was thoroughly dominated by Colombia and it wasn’t really close. Carlos Queiroz came up with a great game plane to control Argentina and the players executed it perfectly. There are a few aspects to the plane to hit on. First was the play of James and Cuadrado. We all know Cuadrado as the flashy winger but it was quite different in this game. He played as a number 8, playing deeper than usual. Since Colombia was in such of control of the game his defensive abilities were not tested that much. He was playing a deep lying play maker and it worked well. He was dictating play from around deep and occasionally combining on the wing, but he made smart passes that led to chances. James was also on his game higher up the field, this allowed Colombia to have to main play makers at different levels of the pitch creating different types of opportunities that also created difficulty for the Argentinian defenders. To go along with this Sanchez and Mina were given free rein to step into midfield and create, or spray balls across the field. Long passing and cross field switches were Colombia’s most potent form of attack. I don’t like the phrase long ball because it denotes a pass that is really just being kicked forward hoping something good happens. In this game Colombia were passing the ball long with purpose and success which is refreshing. People have gotten so fixated on passing the shit out of the ball and trying to pick the opponent apart because it take “skill” while it takes just as much ability to hit a teammate in stride 20-30 yards down field. Colombia where able to create a majority of their chances through sequences that started with a long pass a lot of times bypassing the Argentinian midfield press.
Now on the other hand you have to ask why it seemed like Argentina couldn’t get a foothold on the game and that is in part to their lack of execution and the work of Colombia. Colombia had a clear tactic of pressing intermediately after losing the ball. A lot of the times they would win it back without Argentina being able to string along a couple of passes. When they were not pressing they were able to set up defensively and really stifle any creativity from Argentina. Whenever Messi received the ball he had at least two guys marking him which is pretty much saying we dare anybody else to beat us. At least in this game nobody really stepped up to help out Messi. Games like this why people say Messi doesn’t have any help. Now I would argue that there is enough talent out there but they are just not getting it done. Le Celso was solid in this game on both ends of the pitch buts this game is screaming for someone like Di Maria to help out and he’s just not for what ever reason. The last reason Colombia was so dominant was because they hacked the hell out of Argentina. It was feisty match up that had 30 fouls, 17 for Colombia, and 7 yellow cards given. It seemed like Colombia used their tactical fouls at the right times and toes the line of playing dirty without crossing. Even when they were not fouling they were actually winning the ball back having won 18 tackles. Overall Colombia were on the front foot the whole game. They were first to every ball, making all the right passes and defending in as a team in a disciplined manor. I would say a 2-0 victory was a pretty fair result. Hat tip to Carlos Queiroz.
Martinez 71’- First off this came from a goal kick where Sanchez ushered the ball perfectly out of bounds, boxing out Messi. One my favorite plays a defender can make. Then after the goal kick, James is able to pick up the ball at the half way line and ping a gorgeous cross field pass to Martinez on the left flank. Martinez controls it beautifully then and not only takes on Saravia, he breezes by him like he is not even there. From there he rifles a scorcher around Armani who had no chance of stopping it.
Zapata 86’- The substitute starts this run of play by holding up a throw in in the middle of the field. He shows great composure to hold up play and pass it wide. Argentina are pushing up for an equalizer so this pass put them on the retreat and scrambling to organize. Martinez finds Lerma on the overlap with tons of space to work with. He whips the ball in perfectly between to Argentinian defenders for Zapata to redirect it straight into net. Game. Set. Match.