With Argentina just hours away from kicking off their World Cup campaign against Nigeria in Johannesburg this afternoon, Diego Maradona could be on the cusp of scrapping the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 that he so strongly favoured throughout the latter stages of qualification and the pre-tournament friendlies in order to accommodate Carlos Tevez in a 4-3-3.
There are strong rumours that Maradona is set to dispense with the defence comprised of four centre-halves that he has persisted with recently, with Velez Sarsfield’s Nicolas Otamendi potentially being replaced at right-back by the Newcastle United winger Jonas Gutierrez.
Should Gutierrez drop out of the midfield, Maradona would leave himself with a midfield trio of Javier Mascherano, Juan Sebastian Veron and Angel Di Maria. With Mascherano playing the holding role in front of the defence and Veron adopting a central position as the team’s deep-lying playmaker, Benfica’s Di Maria would likely be give license to get forward on the left side, although possibly cutting infield more frequently to allow more room for the third forward.
In attack, the Argentina Coach is thought to be considering a trident of forwards including Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Manchester City’s Tevez. If he does go with that approach this afternoon, we will likely see Messi remain in his usual role as the team’s trequartista, occasionally instigating attacks from the right side, but more often than not leaving space for Gutierrez – a player with excellent fitness levels – to get forward with regularity from full-back.
Real Madrid’s Higuain would play through the middle as the centre-forward, whilst Tevez likely would take up a role on the left side of the trio, supporting Higuain in attack and also using his high energy levels to get back to help Di Maria and Heinze in the defensive phase.
Although adopting such a system at short notice has its inherent dangers, playing a 4-3-3 against Nigeria could well prove an intelligent piece of management by Maradona. With the Super Eagles missing Jon Obi Mikel, their key holding midfielder, Lars Lagerback’s side could be lightweight in the centre of the field with only the relatively inexperienced Dickson Etuhu charged with providing cover for the back four.
Furthermore, Nigeria are likely to start with two very adventurous full backs in the shape of Taye Taiwo and Chidi Odiah who, despite possessing excellent attacking qualities, at times lack a degree of positional awareness. This could be exploited to good effect by Argentina should they decide to go with the 4-3-3, in particular by the combination of Messi and Gutierrez attacking down Nigeria’s left side where Taiwo, the more marauding of the two full-backs, will be stationed.
Maradona has been much-maligned since taking over as Argentina’s Head Coach in the December of 2008, but it seems he is much more tactically aware than many have given him credit for during his tenure with La Albiceleste. It should be a fascinating game at Ellis Park this afternoon.