Morale building assumes a whole new dimension with Lionel Messi standing in the other half. Mexico interim manager Ricardo Ferretti is in a tough spot already as he tries to cobble together a cohesive squad in short order and work through a series of belated arrivals, injuries and withdrawals during this international window. The prospect of trying to thwart Messi in the final match before the Confederations Cup playoff against the United States next month rather complicates matters.
At least Argentina boss Gerardo Martino hedged on Messi's status for this glamorous friendly in Arlington, Texas on Tuesday. Messi's possible absence for a portion of this affair looms as a potential boost to El Tri's preparations, though his teammates certainly boast the incisiveness and the quality -- if not the singular force of nature -- to make this night uncomfortable on their own.
Truth be told, Argentina ranks somewhat far down the list of concerns at the moment. Ferretti faces a host of issues as he attempts to engineer a reply to the disappointing 3-3 draw with Trinidad & Tobago in Sandy, Utah on Friday and place his team in good stead for the one-off match at the Rose Bowl next month. He is short on defensive options, short on numbers in general and short on time to implement his tactical plans. It is why he addressed his players on Sunday and told them to focus on producing a good performance above all else.
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"Yesterday, we had a talk to discuss this issue," Ferretti told reporters in his pre-match press conference on Monday. "Tomorrow's match should help us play a good game [against the United States]. Naturally, we will look for a good result. We know the strength of Argentina. If we represent ourselves and do well, then I think we should all leave satisfied."
It is a pragmatic approach that reflects the immediate task at hand and the state of a squad in flux. Ferretti played down the absences of Paul Aguilar, Jesús Corona and Maza Rodriguez for this game, but their exits -- plus the initial omissions of Giovani dos Santos, Jonathan dos Santos and Guillermo Ochoa -- reduce the options at his disposal and shunt the responsibilities elsewhere. The likely inclusion of Javier Hernández and Miguel Layún after their delayed arrivals into camp and the expected insertion of several regulars rested on Friday bodes well, though.
Good will is at a premium after Mexico needed a late screamer from Héctor Herrera to salvage a draw. Most of the scrutiny falls firmly in defense after T&T managed to score three times even with Kenwyne Jones located somewhere in south Wales. Mexico failed to translate possession into purpose for most of the evening and showed frailties on counterattacks and set pieces. The lack of familiarity within the ranks certainly played a part in those missteps, but the prospect of trying to keep out Messi, Sergio Agüero and Carlos Tevez after that pliable display raises some cause for concern.
In a bid to help the transition, Ferretti is expected to contemplate a return to the 5-3-2 formation regularly deployed by former coach Miguel Herrera. The addition of an extra center back allows Ferretti to field Rafa Márquez, Héctor Moreno and Diego Reyes at the same time and reinforce the rearguard accordingly. There are structural concerns about the absence of regular right wingback Aguilar in that shape (Tigres UANL stalwart Israel Jiménez is his likely replacement), but the prospect of injecting some familiar instructions amid all of the upheaval might aid El Tri on the night.
There is a rather thornier quandary to sort through up front with Hernández back in the fold and Raúl Jiménez back on the score sheet. Ferretti must pick two from Hernández, Jiménez and Carlos Vela to lead the line. His pointed reluctance to name Vela as the captain for this affair leaves the door open for a lineup without the Real Sociedad forward included.
Ferretti boasts plenty of room to chop and change given the availability issues within the camp and the rather different task ahead in October. The addition of an extra center back might make more sense with Messi and Argentina on the other side, while a four-man defense might prove more reasonable against the Americans.
Those considerations are likely to surface in earnest when this talented squad convenes ahead of that friendly. Ferretti might make changes here to assess the options at his disposal and sift through some ideas in his head, but El Tri's hopes for the playoff are essentially tied into the modest preparation period allotted before that decisive encounter at the Rose Bowl.
"We have to put aside the game against the United States because we will have at least four or five days to train before that game," Ferretti said. "We can see the approach, the strategy and the knowledge. We will have a foundation for analysis and decision making."
By that point, Ferretti will know the players at his disposal and their ability to carry out his instructions. For now, the focus is on building confidence, evaluating potential alternatives and running the rule over his squad. It is perhaps not the easy of tasks to carry out with Agüero and Messi scheming on the other side, but the quest place El Tri in good stead for that critical playoff continues nevertheless.