After securing just a single win in the group stage, La Albiceleste will play their quarterfinal against Venezuela.

Argentina somehow managed to scrape through the group stages after they won 2-0 against Qatar in the final game. Argentina, as a team, still look like the disaster they were in Russia last year and Scaloni’s changes haven’t helped them a lot either. 

They face Venezuela up next in the iconic Maracana Stadium in Rio and before the quarter-finals, here are 5 aspects of the game they need to work on to have a fair shot in the knockout stages:

5. Argentina need to circulate the ball better when in possession

In the first game against Colombia, Argentina started with a flat 4-4-2 with Aguero and Messi playing through the middle. In the first 15 minutes of the game, they had 55% possession but they could only circulate the ball backwards and sideways and both Aguero and Messi were isolated from the rest of the team.

Match Highlights: Argentina 0-2 Colombia

This can be improved by tucking Lo Celso as an interior and occupying space between the defensive lines of the opponent and disrupting their shape and by asking Messi to drop deeper so that he sees more of the ball.

4. There is absolutely no pressing from Argentina

When the opponents are building out from the back, the forwards need to press actively and force the backline to make mistakes and cut out supply to the midfield.

With both Messi and Aguero choosing to stay back and not press actively, their opponents have enjoyed fair time on the ball and have been able to circulate the ball well, building it out from the back. Against Qatar, Lautaro was the only one who pressed well.

Messi staying back makes sense since he does this with Barcelona as well, where he is most effective to spend energy in the buildup and final third but Sergio Aguero playing as a 9 needs to press the centre-backs more frantically.

3. Lionel Scaloni needs to figure out how to find Messi in better positions

It goes without saying that for Argentina to have any hope of progressing far, they need to figure out ways to involve their best player more on the pitch so that he can influence games more. Argentina haven’t done that at all so far and Messi himself has looked frustrated.

The problem originates with trying to play Lionel Messi on the right flank where he no longer has the pace or energy to play direct wing attack and inadvertently drifts inside.

In such a scenario, there is usually a cage of two to three players that surround him and Lo Celso aside, no one in the Argentine midfield is capable of finding him with well-executed passes.

Scaloni should move Messi deeper and closer to Paredes and Lo Celso to participate in the buildup and push Rodrigo de Paul, who impressed against Qatar, higher up to capitalise on the chances created.

Match Highlights: Argentina 2-0 Qatar

2. The substitutions haven’t been up to the mark

Against Colombia where Argentina were chasing the scoreline, Scaloni took off his best number 9 in Aguero and subbed on Matias Suarez instead, who was an even bigger disaster. Even against Paraguay, he brought on Angel Di María from the bench who had no impact on the game whatsoever.

Match Highlights: Argentina 1-1 Paraguay

Such changes are a waste of personnel since it is not helping the team’s structure. Scaloni’s subs saw some improvement against Qatar when he brought on Dybala and he immediately created a couple of chances and looked bright.

This begs the question that if Paulo Dybala cannot be integrated into the starting XI, why can’t he be used as an impact sub?

1. There are too many holes in the defence

This is by far the biggest problem infesting the Argentina team right now. Their defence and their goalkeeper looks really, really weak and will crumble against any top team. Scaloni still hasn’t figured out his best XI which includes the centre-back pairing.

Otamendi has partnered both Pezzella and Foyth and neither combination has impressed so far. Even the full back pairing of Saravia and Taglaifico has left a lot for desire, especially in the buildup process and in stretching the wings.

Armani has looked vulnerable in between the posts and is not really comfortable with playing the ball out from the back.

Nicolás Otamendi needs to step up as the obvious leader and organise the defence better but he has also looked rash and reckless. It’s absolutely crucial Argentina management works on this aspect of the game.