Why Argentina Must Bench Superstar Lionel Messi for the Upcoming Copa America Match Against Bolivia

Argentina

With the Copa America now in full flow, a few teams are starting to discern themselves from the pack. Brazil stand as clear favourites having won all three games and are looking like a very strong, balanced side. However, not far behind them are Argentina, led by the best player in the world in Lionel Messi, who despite not playing their very best football are still managing to pick up results.

Having taken seven points from their first three matches and already clinching qualification, they play their final group stage match against basement-dwellers Bolivia. Even in such an important competition, it’s in their best interest to not start Messi.

Argentina Must Bench Lionel Messi for the Upcoming Copa America Match Against Bolivia

Lionel Messi’s Fitness is Crucial to Argentina’s Hopes

In his opening three games, Messi has got his country off to an impressive start, with a goal and an assist, as well as being involved in virtually everything good for Argentina. But despite his attacking output being as reliable as ever, he looked visibly drained in the last match against Paraguay.

He played 90 minutes in three very tough, high-intensity matches all in just a week, and a maximum of one goal separated each of those games. The CONMEBOL set up the tournament in a way that gives each team one match week off, so Argentina did not play in Matchweek 4, which takes us to Matchweek 5.

Messi, who is reportedly close to signing a new contract with Barcelona, has stated many times that he does not like to come out of games because the end of games is where he can have the greatest impact.

“I don’t like to be replaced. I prefer to come from the bench and play less than to be taken out,” Messi told TYC Sports in 2019. “A lot of games are resolved near the end of the game, or you find more spaces then because you have more rivals that are tired. I prefer to come in and enjoy it than to leave and miss out on the best.”

Based on this quote, and the power Messi justifiably holds in Argentina, it’s safe to assume that if he starts, he’s playing the full 90 minutes. This would be a great detriment to his hopes of finally lifting an international trophy, as the quarter-finals begin just four days after the Bolivia match, with the semis potentially looming in three days after that.

If Messi, best-case scenario, can avoid playing at all against Bolivia, he’ll have nearly two weeks of rest to be at his very best for the knockout stages. If he’s needed off the bench, he’ll still have gained significant rest, which will come in handy as he gets deeper into the competition.

Argentina Have Very Little to Lose on Monday

While they could’ve easily won the opener against Chile and have first place already guaranteed, Argentina aren’t in a bad spot at all going into Monday.

They will be playing what is by far the worst team in the competition, a team whose only real threat, the insanely high altitude in Bolivia when playing at home, is nullified by a neutral venue. Bolivia have not picked up any points at all in the group, so losing to Argentina, with or without Messi, would be a huge upset.

But even without taking that into account, the lowest they could finish in the group is second, since Uruguay and Paraguay play each other on the final day as well. Finishing second is still enough to keep them on the right side of the bracket, simply put, the one which doesn’t contain Brazil. This means they could only face them in the final.

The only difference between first and second would be their quarter-final opponents, either the fourth or third-place team in Group B, which could be Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, or a significantly weakened Colombia. While they certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly, none of these teams should scare Argentina, and they’d be expected to beat each one, regardless of how the standings look on the final day.

Keep in mind, this is all assuming Argentina are unable to beat Bolivia, a shock in and of its own, but the reality is no matter the outcome of Monday’s fixtures, Lionel Messi and his team are in good shape heading into the knockout stages, so forcing him to play through fatigue is not only imprudent but unnecessary.

No Better Impact Sub in World Football than Lionel Messi

Even if somehow Bolivia are able to nullify, or even take the lead against Argentina, then coach Lionel Scaloni has the best possible ace up his sleeve.

Having the greatest player of all time not even starting, ready to come in during crunch time, when the opposition have tired legs, and most importantly tired minds, seems like an unfair advantage.

Bolivia will certainly be defending very deep and will get very little possession, so by the time the final half-hour rolls around, they will be exhausted. The thought of Messi coming on to pounce on any mistakes, slips, or slight positional missteps (he sees it all) would certainly be a mouth-watering prospect for Scaloni and co.

A star-studded attack containing true legends of the game like Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, as well as rising superstar Lautaro Martinez and savvy veterans Papu Gomez and Angel Correa, should really have no issue dismantling a mediocre Bolivian defence. However, knowing Messi is waiting in the wings as the ultimate “break glass in case of emergency” just puts this attack over the top.

Benching Lionel Messi on Monday doesn’t just make sense in terms of Argentina’s overall hopes of winning the Copa America, but it could also give them a tactical edge in the game itself, so Scaloni must resist the urge to start his best player and look at the bigger picture, as this decision will have a massive impact on the entire tournament.

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