Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella opted for a slightly surprising 3-5-2 formation from the start in his side's 2-1 win tonight over Bosnia. It's a formation Argentina have used under Sabella but one they were only expected to go to against sides that can at least come close to matching Argentina's prolific individual talent. Bosnia have plenty of quality but it's their first appearance at a World Cup and in a home atmosphere for Argentina at the Maracana the formation seemed a bit too cautious.
To some extent Sabella's decision is understandable. Argentina's weakest area is their defense and Bosnia were a remarkably attacking side in UEFA qualifying. In switching from their usual 4-3-3 to 3-5-2, Sabella was basically replacing center forward Gonzalo Higuain with a third center back to shore up the defense. Messi and Aguero were partnered up front and, along with Angel Di Maria shuttling forward from midfield, were expected to provide the bulk of the attacking thrust.
The formation didn't offer enough options in the final third. Messi was guilty of trying to do too much on his own in the first half and conceded possession too often but he also had fewer passing options because of the shape. When he dropped into midfield to receive possession, Aguero was often the only player in a more advanced area. With only Aguero offering a threat behind the Bosnia defense, they were able to focus more attention on Messi. Pablo Zabaleta and Marcos Roja were remarkably conservative in their positioning as wing backs and didn't offer an attacking option in the channels. As a result the shape was basically 3-5-2.
In the second half Sabella moved to a 4-3-1-2, bringing on Higuain to partner Aguero up front and dropping Messi into a #10 role. With Bosnia leaving two players high up the pitch defensively and defending in two banks of four, the new formation meant Argentina had a 4 v. 2 advantage in the middle of midfield. After Bosnia controlled large segments of the first half, Argentina were able to boss possession more after the change. Bosnia's center backs had to concern themselves with Aguero and Higuain, meaning they couldn't step out to Messi when he collected the ball between the lines. Messi found more space in the half and combined with Higuain for a brilliant second.
Argentina did look more exposed defensively after the change and perhaps the 3-5-2 has its place in a final at the Maracana against Brazil. However, with the incredible talent they have at their disposal and playing on South American soil, Argentina should be able to win playing a more attacking brand of soccer than we saw in the first half.