I know it's in a week's time, but what an exciting (friendly) game this could be from two attack-minded teams with plenty of flair between them. Being the staunch Albiceleste fan I am, I want Argentina to win, but La Furia Roja are growing on me as well. They can hardly fail to, with the type of players they have. Anyway, preview time.
Two highly important players have had to pull out for Argentina with injuries. Hernan Crespo, the only center forward named in the 22-man squad, picked up a muscle strain playing for Inter and will be out for a month. Gabriel Heinze got injured playing for Manchester United and will be out for two to three weeks. (Side note: this also means that there are no Serie A players in the squad, strangely enough given Inter's tendency to collect Argentineans. Or maybe not, since half of their collection - Cambiasso, Cruz, Samuel, plus the aftementioned Crespo - is injured.)
Basile has not named any replacements, unfortunately. To my mind he should have at least called up a proper center forward - either Diego Milito or Cesar Delgado would do - since one of the problems Argentina had against Brazil was that they lacked a proper finisher. How that's going to change with the same forwards this time is beyong me, but we'll see what happens.
My preferred starting 11, with the personnel changes (assuming he plays 4-3-1-2 again):
I considered previous track record with the team, but mostly it's based on club form and how well these guys have linked up in the past. Abbondanzieri is the undisputed number one, not only because he had a great World Cup but also because he's been doing very well for new club Getafe this season.
At the back, young Zabaleta has been giving his all for Espanyol as usual, even when played in strange positions. I think he's played at left-back, right-back, holding midfield and right side of midfield for them - and that's just this season. Random aside: I do wish he would find a better club. Nothing against Espanyol, but they're so inconsistent despite all the talent in the team and have therefore looked like they're in relegation danger since the beginning of last season. If they do well this season then it's all fine, but if they do get relegated, then I really hope he gets out of there. Anyway, Argentina have had problems filling the right-back position, and he's played well when called up before, so he should start.
Ayala should of course start and be captain, no question about it. Gabriel Milito did well in the single match he played in the World Cup and should fill Heinze's boots effectively once again, partnering one of the best central defenders in the world. He's excellent for Zaragoza and to my mind cannot be blamed for the club's inconsistency as a whole. Again, they have some brilliant players - Aimar, D'Alessandro, Diego Milito, Ewerthon, young Gerard Pique - but somehow fail at getting results in week in week out. Coloccini of the crazy hair should not play unless there's an absolute need, since he utterly fails at being consistent.
Arrubarrena has been a great leader at Villarreal for a long time, giving 100% in every match, and I expect to see the same from him for Argentina after his surprise call-up. I'm not sure how solid he is in defense, but he goes forward quite well - typical Argentinean wing-back, in other words.
In midfield, Maxi Rodriguez's World Cup heroics, not to mention his recent great form for Atletico should see him start. I've put him on the right since Daniel Bilos played on the left against Brazil and did very well, hence his inclusion instead of Luis Gonzales. Somoza starts at holding midfield instead of Mascherano because what I've heard about his form for West Ham hasn't impressed me, plus he's not even properly match sharp yet. It pains me to write this, since I really like Masche and he's been always been great for Argentina, but he was very poor against Brazil and we can't afford that again. Somoza in contrast has been doing very well at new club Villarreal, earning good reviews, and played well against Brazil when he came on.
Insua I haven't seen too much of, nor was I convinced by his performance against Brazil, so - unfairly or not - he hasn't been considered. Aimar has really found a new lease of life at Zaragoza, playing in a more South American style alongside Andres D'Alessandro. His recent form for the club has been very impressive, although there has been the usual murmurs that he should pass more and dribble less, etc. But to me, that's not Aimar's style. After Riquelme's retirement, Aimar is now Argentina's best player, as well as the most creative. Like Riquelme his style is distinctive, and like Riquelme he can run a game if he feels like it. I'm hoping he has a good day, continuing with the great understanding he showed with Messi at the World Cup.
Speaking of which, my favourite Barca youngster should be very pleased to be playing alongside his childhood idol in Aimar. I was concerned with his form after the game against Racing, but it would be crazy not to start him after what he's done in recent games against Werder Bremen and Atletic Bilbao. So the question becomes who is going to partner him? Tevez should not be in contention to me, because he hasn't really gotten into his stride for West Ham and the stress surrounding all that means he probably won't play all that well (like against Brazil).
Saviola on the other hand has been on great form for Barca, where he has suddenly gotten a new lease of life due to the injury to Sammy Eto'o. He would probably just edge Aguero in my book because he has shown 1) that he can score goals right now and 2) he can play well with Messi. Those two train together everyday and therefore probably have a better understanding. Aguero has been on great form too, but - like Messi on a bad day - I'm still not convinced by his finishing. While the two claim that they would play well together because of their friendship and understanding, I'm not convinced since they've hardly trained together. Besides, they both seem more like second strikers to me, and we had that problem against Brazil already.
The major problems I can see with the line-up above, besides the striker issue I've already highlighted, would be 1) a lack of height, 2) a lack of width, and 3) midfield strength. Height problems are pretty normal for an Argentinean side because we've always had great but short players. But this proud tradition could find its most absurd expression in this formation, since the front attacking triangle could have an average height of about 1.67 meters (Aimar-Saviola-Messi). Aguero and Tevez aren't much taller. Thankfully the Spanish team aren't exactly giants themselves, nor are they always solid at the back or good at defending dead balls, so it's not exactly a disaster. Imagine if Argentina were playing the giants of Germany, though.
The second problem mostly stems from the specific opposition we're facing. This Argentina team is usually pretty good at using the wings, attacking with the full-backs linking up with the midfielders who feed the front three, but the single pivot style plus a front two does limit the width up front. This isn't normally a problem, but Spain do play my favourite formation, the 4-3-3, although they don't do it nearly as well as they could, to me. However, they do have excellent wingers and full-backs, not to mention great midfielders to link them, so our full-backs need to be careful, especially since the front two won't be able to help them push the opposition on the wings back in this kind of formation.
The last problem is linked to the second, namely that I can see this midfield being stifled out of the game. Maybe not by Spain, unless they play three central midfielders again (which would be stupid of them, judging by the last time they did such a thing), but Aimar is very liable to being shut down by a physical team, so Maxi and Bilos are going to have to cover for him, maybe even more than they did for Riquelme.
This will be less detailed as I don't know nearly as much about Spain as I do about Argentina. Still, they're fast climbing my favourites list, despite an admirably consistent tendency towards failure. On to squad news, and Reyes has pulled out with an injury, which is bad news since he's been in such good form lately for Real Madrid. Racist bastard coach Aragones could call up a replacement, but we're not sure who that will be just yet. Raul has been dropped for the first time in forever (literally), which is kind of awkward given the fact that he seems to be getting back to form. I'm not quite convinced that he is, so let's leave that and move on.
My preferred starting 11, out of the 17-man squad list (4-3-3):
*My preferred replacement for Reyes, since there's no one else in the present squad list who can play on the left wing
I love the fact that Spain use 4-3-3 but hate how flat and wingless their particular version can be. So my preferred Spain formation will probably never happen because it actually uses the wings, but nevermind. If Senna was fit he'd play instead of Cesc, because no matter how much I like the Arsenal boy Senna is still more reliable. Angulo and Vicente should be used because they're actual wingers, unlike some of the other players Aragones has used in their positions (Villa and Torres), who would provide some proper width, and they're on form. Villa is preferred to Torres because I think he's the best Spanish center-forward, period, and completely wasted on the wing.
On a final note, this will be a very interesting game in one sense because most of these players will be very familar with each other, since the majority play each other all the time in the Spanish league. So Sergio Ramos knows the joys of defending against Messi, Aimar and Aguero, for example, while the entire Argentine backline (all of them playing in La Liga) will know what a pain Villa can be to stop. It will also pit team mates against each other in Barcelona players Puyol and Xavi against Messi and Saviola, not to mention Atletico Madrid's Pablo, Antonio Lopez and Torres against Maxi and Aguero, and Valencia's Albelda, Angulo and Villa against Ayala. Should be fascinating to watch. Here's hoping for a good game.