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Argentina v Croatia: Lionel Messi’s side are a misguided mess and it’s beautiful to watch – The Warm-Up

Argentina v Croatia: Lionel Messi’s side are a misguided mess and it’s beautiful to watch – The Warm-Up

Tuesday’s big stories

Argentina, Messi and aggro are front and center again

Argentina is both flawed and elevated by the utter brilliance of Lionel Messi.

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This was illustrative in their quarter-final penalty shootout win against the Netherlands, which witnessed – in what will be the warm-up – some of the World Cup’s most iconic moments.

First, Messi threaded a pass that was hardly imaginable – however drivable – through the eye of the needle at Lusail Stadium for Nahuel Molina to open the scoring.

It was a moment that was rightly celebrated. Gary Lineker said of Messi: “It’s like he’s watching the game from above while he’s actually playing it.” The PSG striker would then hold his nerve to add the second from the penalty spot to put Argentina on the brink of the semi-finals.

Yet, as the match entered its 90th minute – and moments after Wout Weghorst had cut the deficit in half – a lack of composure set in Messi’s Argentina. It was similar to – but not the same as – the fear that struck them in the Saudi Arabia defeat.
Leandro Paredes completely lost his head, hacked down Nathan Ake and then caused an “uproar” by teaching the ball into the bench in the Netherlands.

And then after winning on penalties, Nicolas Otamendi absolutely dominated the beaten Dutch players – putting them in front as he stormed the Martinezs of Emi and Lautaro. He was not alone in doing so.

Chris Sutton, on BBC 5 Live, called Paredes an “idiot”, while there were further pearls held over Otamendi and Co’s guffaw. The fallout has prompted Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni to defend his players.

“We have to end this idea that we are not good winners or losers,” Scaloni said. “It’s very far from who we actually are as a team, as a team and as the way we represent this nation.”

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Yes, this Argentina team represents a nation, but it’s not just that. It feels as if they are also carrying – not particularly well – the weight of a legacy. This team is not only chasing its own greatness, but seems terrified of stopping Messi from polishing his.

This fear has manifested itself in many ways so far – from the blind panic in the Saudi Arabia game to the flashes of aggression, aggro or petulance seen during the Netherlands game.

These acts of desperation are often tempered by the calmness of Messi’s brilliance. It is a sensational assault on the senses. And it has made them the most watchable team at the most watched event in the world.

Meanwhile, Croatia, with whom they are fighting for a place in the final later on Tuesday, are a team with goals, a team with composure, and that was evident in the poise with which they engaged Brazil in extra time before the penalty shootout.
Much of that composure comes from a midfield trio of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic, whom team-mate Josip Juranovic has called “the best Croatia midfield in history” adding that “when you give them the ball it’s safer than having money in the bank.”

The glorious chaos of Argentina will battle the harmony of Croatia at 19:00 UK time.

Ancelotti to Brazil fits perfectly

Brazil’s reported shortlist to replace Tite is quite something. Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, according to most reports.

And Brazilian outlet UOL Esporte report that the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) first contacted Ancelotti in October. Furthermore, Ancelotti would be open to taking on the role at the end of the current season.

There are a couple of obstacles.

  • Ancelotti has a contract with Real Madrid until 2024.
  • Brazil have some games to negotiate in late March and early April.

None of these obstacles are insurmountable. And as such, if CFB can get Ancelotti over the line, they must. Firstly, it is important to address the disadvantages of the other two fixtures of international football. Guardiola’s concepts are too complex to emerge in the short windows that are international breaks. If there is an international team less suited to Mourinho ball, then the warm-up has yet to see them.

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Ancelotti ticks both boxes required for this role. Box one: he’s a cup manager – that’s where the lion’s share of his success comes from. Box two: he is able – see his Real Madrid team that won La Decima – to design a tactical system to house the most top-heavy attacking sides in a coherent, functional form.

Brazil want to win the World Cup and they have an absolute shame about attacking riches. Ergo, this fits perfectly.

Felix to Villa doesn’t make sense

Aston Villa is a historic club. A prestigious one. A giant of the English game. They are hardly dormant, but they are currently 12th in the Premier League table and finished 14th last season. They are not an elite level club.

Joao Felix is ​​an elite level player. He is the fourth most expensive player of all time. Ergo, he should not be linked to Aston Villa.

And yet, here we are. The year is 2022 and The Athletic are reporting that Jorge Mendes is “pushing” Felix towards Villa Park.

Here’s what the ever-reliable David Ornstein wrote in an article titled: The transfer deals that have been the talk of the World Cup.

“Aston Villa is an option that Felix’s agent Jorge Mendes is believed to be pushing. He has a strong relationship with the Villa ownership after doing the deal for Unai Emery to be appointed manager.”

It would truly be an astonishing coup if Villa sealed this signing. Absolutely astonishing. But once the fanfare for this marquee signing had died down, who would benefit?

It will hardly be a player or a club.

This Aston Villa team is – to be polite – unbalanced. It is top heavy. Philippe Coutinho and Emiliano Buendía are players who largely operate in the sphere on the pitch that Felix likes to knock on. None of them – in their time at the club – have performed to the level they are capable of. This suggests that Villa have not yet built a structure where players of the same type can excel.

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So why would Felix want to go there? Or why does Unai Emery want him if the team is not set up to get the best out of him?

The move – should it happen – appears to be at the behest of Mendes. It seems unlikely that Felix would agree to the switch, as reported by Marca.

The fact that the 14th best team in the Premier League is even in the conversation for the services of the fourth most expensive player of all time is good for the Premier League, but not so good for the rest of Europe, and competition.

RETRO CORNER

The aggro between Argentina and the Netherlands was multifaceted throughout the quarter-finals.

Some of that was founded in the perceived mistreatment of Juan Roman Riquelme by Louis van Gaal when he was Barcelona manager. This, the theory goes, was the reason behind Messi’s Riquelme-esque celebration during the match.

And the thin link brings the warm-up nicely to the dirtiest, most gruesome act of beauty on a soccer field by the aforementioned Juan Roman. The Warm-Up gives you the absolutely-no-touch-of-the-ball nutmeg.

The first angle does it only a fraction of the justice it deserves. Hold tight for the other wider angle.

COMING UP

The big. Today is Lionel Messi Day. Argentina vs. Croatia for a place in the World Cup final.

Ben Snowball will be here tomorrow to debrief on that.

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