Successive major tournament titles for Argentina in the form of the World Cup and Copa America. What do you mean you don’t remember this happening?
It’s probably because it happened on Football Manager 2018.
Argentina suffered embarrassment in the 2018 World Cup, chief among which was the humiliation bestowed upon them by a 3-0 loss by Croatia in the group stages. To rectify this, Juan Carlos Osorio, taking charge during qualification for the 2022 tournament, opted for a re-imagining of the 3-4-1-2 system.
The plan was to stifle midfields and Osorio didn’t care for sentiment. Lionel Messi was used as a wing-back, for example. Franco Cervi served on the right wing-back role, although the pair would often change wings and be utilised in more of a free role in qualification.
With Cervi and Messi tucking inside and floating around, it became the job of Matias Kranevitter and Ivan Rossi to occupy the wide spaces whilst the high press of the Argentine frontline allowed for a more relaxed defence.
Nicolas Tagliafico was the only defender who survived the 2018 World Cup, with Emanuel Mammana stepping up to a more prominent role and Lucas Martinez Quarta playing centrally in the three. Quarta occupied the last line of defence and swept up whilst Tagliafico and Mammana would be more inclined to drift wide to receive the ball and to begin attacks.
With a deeper structure thanks to Rossi and Kranevitter in the midfield, this allowed the five attacking players in the aforementioned Cervi and Messi to do some damage alongside the triangle of Icardi, Marcos Saez and Paulo Dybala.
Saez played off Dybala who stuck to within the goalposts. Saez drifted whilst Icardi acted as a number ten behind Dybala who became the ultimate poacher. Often used at Juventus wide and Argentina in the past, Dybala’s reshaping as an out-and-out striker came to fruition at the World Cup. They were free-scoring in the groups, being one of two teams to record nine points, and with that ten goals. Half of Argentina’s group stage goals came from Dybala.
The triangle was working.
After coasting past Slovenia, Sweden and Uzbekistan, the same was expected of Wales in the second round. Argentina went two goals down in the first half and relied on who else but Lionel Messi, taking full responsibility in his free role to assist Saez for one and score the other. He would score in a penalty shootout win.
This change also impacted Cervi who shifted into the attacking pivot of a midfield three with Kranevitter and Rosssi behind him whilst Messi was given license to roam. The defensive midfielders would push wide when needed to supply the attackers.
Icardi’s double against Portugal and Messi’s double against Spain in the latter stages really showcased the importance of how Argentina knitted their defence to attack. Icardi and Messi were those strings that kept Argentina playing.
Messi would occupy any free space whilst Icardi more often than not stuck behind Dybala, picking up lost balls and was regimented in his central position. Saez, inversely to Messi, would occupy the other flank and he was the man of the match for his two assists for Paulo Dybala in the 3-2 final win over Brazil.
Argentina, all cogs working for the machine.