Argentina 1-1 Bolivia: Batista tries two systems but neither works well as Bolivia grab point

July 2, 2011

The starting line-ups

Bolivia took the lead at the start of the second half, but Sergio Aguero’s thumping volley rescued a draw for the hosts in the opening Copa America game.

Sergio Batista’s main decision was whether to start Carlos Tevez or Angel di Maria on the left of his front three. He went for Tevez. Marco Rojo got the nod at left-back, and Sergio Romero started in goal.

Gustavo Quinteros chose a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 system, with Edivaldo Rojas just off Marcelo Moreno Martins upfront.

The stars here were Bolivia, of course, but all the tactical interest came from Argentina’s two systems.

Quinteros’ formation was extremely effective but also very simple – a defensive-minded shape with two narrow banks of four, trying to make it difficult for Argentina to play through them.

Argentina wide forwards

Just as in South Africa last summer, Tevez has forced his way into the side despite seemingly being out of the coach’s intended first XI shortly before the tournament started. He was asked to play as a left-sided forward here.

There was an interesting contrast, then, between the positioning and movement of Tevez and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Lavezzi is used to playing as a wide forward for Napoli all season (albeit usually on the opposite flank), and his positioning -starting outside the full-back, before making diagonal runs towards goal – suited Messi well. The number ten could dribble with the ball and then slip it between centre-back and full-back to Lavezzi, as he did most famously in the 5-0 Clasico. This produced a good chance on 25 minutes, but Lavezzi’s finish was wayward – and the Napoli man’s end product throughout the first half was poor, and didn’t take advantage of his good understanding of the system.

Tevez generally played narrower and was less effective at trying to stretch the Bolivia defence, which wanted to be narrow. They were also happy to play reasonably high up the pitch, however. Although one defender often came out to meet Messi, the full-backs tucked in to prevent the centre of the pitch opening up. They also had the pacey Ronaldo Rivero to cover, and besides, there was often no Argentina player looking to exploit the space anyway.

That problem was related to the role of Banega, who did a decent job with the ball at his feet connecting midfield and attack, but was cautious with his movement off the ball. When Messi plays in the centre and drops deep he attracts two or three players to him, opening up space for an attacking midfielder to exploit – at club level, most frequently Andres Iniesta. Banega remained quite deep, however, and there was no real need for him to do so with both Javier Mascherano and Esteban Cambiasso in that zone, plus no real driving runs from midfield from Bolivia.

Another difference between Argentina and Barcelona, in relation to Messi (it must be said that comparing Batista’s side to the greatest club side in the world and arguably one of the best of all time is extremely harsh, but since replicating those conditions for Messi has been one of his main goals, the comparison must be made) is the fact that Argentina don’t press anything like as much as Barca, and the wide players instead drop back when they lose possession. That leaves Messi as the highest player up the pitch in a 4-1-4-1ish shape, which prevents quick combinations between he and the two wide forwards on the break.

Second half

Batista switched to 4-2-1-3 for the second half

All of this meant that Batista immediately turned to his plan B at half time, a 4-2-1-3. Cambiasso was removed, with Angel di Maria on as a left-winger, and Tevez becoming a centre-forward. Messi moved deeper, behind the three forwards.

The issue is then about Messi’s positioning – he appeared too deep, generally picking the ball up deeper than the two Bolivia holding players, forced away from goal by Tevez’s presence. Just as Tevez rather got in Messi’s way and forced him too deep against Argentina last year as a second striker, he was broadly doing the same thing as the main central striker here. What kind of player would Messi want to play behind in this system? Tevez, a false nine at club level, is probably not the best option.

Amongst all this, something far more important happened – Bolivia scored from their first real attempt of the game, as Rojas flicked in a corner kick at the near post, and Banega miscued the ball over the line. Bolivia could then sit deeper, with Rojas dropping off as more of a fifth midfielder and pressuring Argentina’s two holders.

Argentina pushed up, which exposed the lack of pace of their centre-backs, something that will surely be exploited at some point in this tournament. Here, we had a brief glimpse of it – Moreno had all the time he liked with a one-on-one against Romero, but wasted the chance.

Batista had already reached for his alternative shape, and so had to stay with that same system. Sergio Aguero came on for Lavezzi and had an instant impact – superbly volleying home after Nicolas Burdisso had gone forward for a free-kick. That raised another question – whether Argentina needed a proper number nine who could, like Burdisso, be an aerial threat in the box.

Argentina rallied late on, but Bolivia defended well and were content to do the basics as Argentina struggled to work out their best system.


The tactical decision-making and the actual game were almost two different things here. Both goals came from set-plays – and from (a) a mistake on the line and (b) a brilliant finish, rather than any great example of combination play.

The match further outlined how many attacking options Batista has – Diego Milito, Gonzalo Higuain and Javier Pastore weren’t used at all – but provides more questions than answers. Tevez and Messi in the same team appears to be a problem unless their relationship improves significantly, and it would be a surprise if Batista starts against Colombia with the same team that played here.

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