After dissecting England’s possible World Cup path last week, it is time to focus on one of the absolute favourites.
And if you don’t think Argentina should be considered with the likes of France, Germany and Brazil then let me persuade you otherwise.
While Germany will be thanking Pep Guardiola for how Leroy Sane has progressed this season, the City boss’ player development could bring Argentina their first World Cup since 1986.
Everyone knows how far Guardiola has taken Man City this season, turning them into one of the most entertaining passing sides in Premier League history and walking their way to the title.
Not only is their attack dripping with pace and power but Guardiola has also instilled a rock solid defensive stability at the back with the team conceding just 20 goals in 29 league games – the lowest in the league.
Many international teams will benefit from what Guardiola has created in Manchester and during his time at Barcelona but none more so than Argentina.
And with his intense coaching ringing in their ears in Russia this could be the tournament we see the glorious image of Lionel Messi lifting the World Cup.
Back when Guardiola was in charge of Barcelona he created the tiki-taka style of playing, you might have heard of it.
Andres Iniesta and Xavi were at the heart of it but it would only have been half as effective without the work he put in to release the talents of Messi and convert Javier Mascherano from a midfield block to a playmaking centre back.
Messi is Messi and he would have become the GOAT under any manager, but Guardiola’s approach to the game allowed the magical number 10 the freedom to impose his will on any opposition.
But how Guardiola turned the 5’7″ Mascherano into a centre back in the modern era shows Guardiola’s forethought and the brilliant adapatability of the player to transition so smoothly into the back line.
That was phase one of providing vastly improved players to Argentina’s national side.
Now we are seeing phase two of the Guardiola-Argentina supply line.
While Mascherano has been a rock at the back for Argentina he hasn’t had the solid partner that is required for a team to win football’s biggest prize.
But in Nicolas Otamendi, Guardiola’s coaching has helped to craft the perfect accompaniment for the Barcelona defender.
This season Otamendi has gone from potential liability at the back to commanding organiser with an eye for goal.
In Guardiola’s system at City Otamendi plays in a back three, similar to that Jorge Sampaoli was using in World Cup qualifying, and orchestrates possession while also launching attacks from the back.
The 30-year-old is finally looking like the £32million player City signed, he’s played 38 times for City this year and is established as one of the best passing defenders in England with an average pass completion rate of 92.2%.
Otamendi has also scored five goals this year and his power and appetite from set pieces could be a huge bonus for Argentina if a team is sitting back and frustrating their attacking riches.
While Otamendi has been taking care of things at the back, Sergio Aguero has also developed into something far more than just a deadly finisher.
Guardiola has forced Aguero to do more for the team than just finish off moves by pressing defenders into submission and working back to participate in moves.
With Argentina allowing Messi the free role and trying to fit in several other stars, Aguero’s desire to harry the opposition and ability to find the back of the net will be crucial in the latter stages.
Argentina have the most enviable forward line to choose from with Messi, Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higauin and Mauro Icardi all to choose from but World Cups are won at the back.
The Albiceleste got to the final in 2014 conceding just two goals but now with the new and improved Otamendi and the ever reliable Mascherano they have a platform to go all the way this year.
The bookies have Argentina as the fourth favourite to win it but with the solid backline, ridiculous attacking options and the relentless Messi don’t be surprised to see Maradona running onto the pitch in tears of joy as he anoints Messi the new king of Argentina.
Sampaoli should be sending Guardiola a lovely thank you card for his hard work.
Argentina shouldn’t have any problems finishing top of their group which contains Croatia, Iceland and weird arch rivals Nigeria.
They’ve played the West African side in three of the last four World Cups.
Yes Iceland knocked England out of the Euros but remember Argentina are not England and should comfortably get past the Nordic side.
Croatia will be the most difficult opponents with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in midfield and MArio Mandzukic leading the line.
If they finish top they will likely play the runner up in France’s group which could be Australia, Peru or Denmark and then from there it’s anyone’s guess.
But if they do win it, a lot of the ground work has been done by Guardiola at Man City this season.
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