How Argentina finally cracked Barcelona’s Messi code

Photo by Ignacio Iribarren/LatinContent/Getty Images

Past Pele’s record of goals in a calendar year. Ten short of surpassing Gerd Muller’s record of 85 (the all time record), and currently tied with  Batistuta for most goals for Argentina in a calendar year. One goal against Saudi Arabia and the Argentinian record will be all his. It would be an understatement to say that Messi has had a brilliant 2012, but while his performances for Barcelona continue to hover above the extraordinary, it is the dramatic improvement in his form for Argentina that has been the subject of discussion. Daniel Edwards on Goal.com explains why he thinks this change has come about.

The scene in Santa Fe would be forged into the minds of Argentine football fans across the globe. The hosts crashed out of the Copa America at the quarter-final stage, eliminated by bitter rivals Uruguay by way of a penalty shoot-out after an uninspiring 1-1 draw. Question marks were once again building over the head of Lionel Messi. Once more European champion with Barcelona and on his way to claim a third successive Ballon d’Or title, the little genius was not by any means poor throughout the championship but he failed to hit the net in any of Argentina’s four games before premature elimination.

Fifteen months down the line, ‘La Pulga’s’ luck could not have changed more drastically in international colours. Handed the captaincy by Sergio Batista’s replacement Alejandro Sabella from his very first game in charge, Messi responded to the challenge magnificently to record his best ever season for the Albiceleste, finally expelling the doubts that had continued to linger in his home nation over why a player who dazzled the world in Catalunya somehow could not repeat that form for his own country.

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The changes in the system have been subtle, with Batista’s attempt to imitate Barcelona with a 4-2-3-1 line-up using Gonzalo Higuain as a sole centre forward tinkered with rather than overhauled. In its place, Sabella has favoured using three strikers, playing Messi in a more advanced role alongside Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero. ‘Pipita’s’ goalscoring exploits are barely a secret, but it has been the regular inclusion of Diego Maradona’s son-in-law that has been key to Messi and Argentina’s renaissance.

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A perfect example can be seen in the Barca star’s first strike in October’s 3-0 demolition of Uruguay. Striding towards the area, the Messi of 2011 would have been isolated from his team-mates and forced to either lay the ball off or go it alone. Now though, he has Aguero right by his side. ‘Kun’ has the option to take the ball himself as his team-mate continues into the area, but he leaves it for Di Maria who threads in a perfect pass for his captain, finished impeccably to put the Albiceleste into the lead. It was a goal worthy of Camp Nou, Xavi and Iniesta, but 100 per cent made in Argentina.

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It is a cavalier style of play that does occasionally leave Argentina exposed at the back, which is one reason that the full-back position continues to be the side’s Achilles heel. But with an incredible seven wins out of eight in 2012, including four World Cup qualifying victories that have propelled the giants to the top of the table, no-one can argue with its results in the opposition area.

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Read the entire article, complete with diagrams, here on Goal.com

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