full of confidence, in slow motion, struggling… Where are the World Champions?


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For a majority of footballers, a coronation at a World Cup remains the absolute Holy Grail. A supreme reward which, on December 18, filled 26 Argentinians with happiness at the expense of the Blues of Didier Deschamps (3-3, tab. 4-2). And as tradition dictates, the festivities in Argentina matched the prowess of Messi andamp; Co’s partners in the days leading up to the triumph in Qatar. Parade in the streets of Buenos Aires, popular jubilation, evenings in their glory, etc. The heroes of Albiceleste were able to take full advantage of this prophet status to prolong the waking dream. Difficult then to come down from your cloud when you taste the immortal waters of the fountain of youth which assure you a place for eternity in the great history of football. Especially when you have to put your crampons back on on December 31 in the freezing cold of Manchester (cf. Julian Alvarez).

Because unlike all the other world champions, the Argentinians had very few days off before resuming competition with their respective club. Like Nicolás Otamendi, holder in the final against France and back with Benfica on December 30, just 12 days after the consecration. And while most of his teammates resumed training around New Year’s Day, some allowed themselves a few extra days off. Top of the list: Lionel Messi and Rodrigo De Paul, returning on January 11 and 18 respectively. An immediate or late restart, therefore, depending on the profiles. It remains to judge the performance of each in recent weeks.

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Lionel Scaloni will renew with Argentina

They still walk on water

And the one who finally digested this title the best is certainly the one who received the most wrath from the Argentine press during the World Cup: Lautaro Martinez. Incredibly clumsy on Qatari lawns where he did not score a single goal, El Toro completely revived with Inter Milan. Since his return on January 4, the Nerazzurri striker has scored eight times in 12 games in all competitions. An avalanche of goals that allows him to position himself second among the top scorers in Serie A.

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Lautaro Martinez is not the only Argentine to perform in the Italian league. Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala also got off to a good start. Phenomenal in the final against the French team (a penalty kick and a goal), El Fideo continued their good momentum after a first part of the season marred by injuries with Juventus. The former PSG winger has taken part in almost all of Juve’s meetings since the start of the year and has already shaken the net six times (including a sumptuous hat-trick against Nantes), but also delivered two assists. This bodes well for the Old Lady who will need a great Di Maria to catch up. Dybala also restarted in a very good way with AS Roma. While La Joya had a minimal role in Lionel Scaloni’s plans for the World Cup (aside from his decisive shot on goal against Lloris), that hasn’t stopped him from riding the confidence he’s got. acquired with his selection. In 10 games played, he scored 4 goals and distributed 4 assists. Only downside, he was injured again last Thursday against Salzburg.

Another positive element of the Argentine post-World Cup side: the regularity of the central defenders. Whether it’s Cristian Romero (Tottenham), Nicolás Otamendi (Benfica) or Lisandro Martínez (Manchester United), they all have an indisputable starting place within their clubs. The former central of Ajax is perhaps even the one who has progressed the most since the third star won. Like the Red Devils after the break, he is flawless in each of his outings. Finally, on the La Liga side, the Argentine world champions show a big smile. A real central element of Diego Simeone’s plans at Atlético de Madrid, Nahuel Molina played all the confrontations with the Colchoneros in 2023. As a bonus, the 24-year-old right-back awarded three assists. Same observation for Marcos Acuña. Very little used by Jorge Sampaoli before the World Cup due to injuries, the 31-year-old left-back has found his colors just like his team at the start of the year (two goals and two assists). His triumph with his selection is certainly no stranger to it.

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A more difficult start

If some have therefore extended their life in pink, others are a little grayer. The perfect illustration obviously remains Leo Messi. Transcended with his national team, author of an exceptional career logically delivering him the title of best player, the Argentine genius is unrecognizable with PSG. At least in terms of behavior. Since from a statistical point of view, the Pulga always responds with five goals in nine games. But it is the attitude of the captain of the Albiceleste which disturbs the side of the Camp des Loges. Much less involved than with his selection, he suffered many criticisms from observers. Especially since the defeat against Bayern Munich (0-1). But as he proved against Lille (4-3), the seven-time Ballon d’Or can change the course of a match with a swipe.

Messi’s bodyguard during the World Cup, Rodrigo De Paul also saw a paradoxical return to Atletico Madrid. Returning only to competition on January 18, the handyman from Argentina was initially booed by supporters of the Wanda Metropolitano because of his attitude on and off the pitch which is not unanimous. But as the days went by, the former Udinese player was able to turn the tide by accumulating minutes of play. He is now a new starter and his influence is becoming major in El Cholo’s eleven.

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His excellent friend in the midfield during the World Cup, Enzo Fernandez, is not at the level he was two months ago either. But not for the same reasons. At the center of negotiations during the winter transfer window, the best youngster of the last World Cup was more talked about off the field than on the meadow. In question, the amount of his transfer (120 million euros) to Chelsea. A record. With the Blues, the 22-year-old midfielder had a mixed start. If his scores are not to be thrown in the trash, far from it, they do not yet allow Londoners to cross a course. There remain two essential elements of Scaloni’s workforce, Alexis Mac Allister and Nicolás Tagliafico, who continue their journey with their respective clubs (Brighton and Lyon). Regular holders, they have not weighed heavily on the results of their teams in recent weeks, even if the volume of play of the playmaker of the Seagulls remains as impressive as ever.

The shadow of themselves

They have suffered much more from this world exposure and have had much more difficulty in coming down from their pedestal. Starting with the sulfurous Emiliano Martínez. Revelation of this month of competition in Qatar, where he chained the ultra-decisive parades, “Dibu” did not confirm the expectations placed in him on the side of Aston Villa. The 30-year-old goalkeeper suffered three heavy setbacks against Leicester, Manchester City and Arsenal. His unfortunate csc against the Gunners perfectly sums up the disappearance of the lucky star who watched over him.

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He too had a leading role in the offensive sector of Argentina, but is struggling at the start of the year: Julián Álvarez. Scorer four times at the World Cup where he took the starting place from Lautaro Martinez, the Manchester City striker does not have the same playing time with the Citizens (only four times started since the resumption). Although he has scored twice, the player trained at River Plate has mainly started the last three Premier League games on the bench. The fault certainly with the Erling Haaland machine which leaves very little room on the front of the attack of the Skyblues. The next few weeks will be decisive for the native of Calchín, whose talent is beyond doubt.

Already in balance in Jorge Sampaoli’s squad at Sevilla FC during the first part of the season, Gonzalo Montiel did not take advantage of the World Cup to get back on the right track with his club. The last shooter of the penalty shootout against France does not show a satisfactory level and does not claim an indisputable starting place with the Andalusian club. The 26-year-old right-back notably experienced an ordeal at the beginning of February against FC Barcelona (3-0), where he was at fault on all three goals. Finally, the Argentinian mad dog, Leandro Paredes, has not barked too much in recent weeks with Juventus. Very regularly on the bench, or even not used by Massimiliano Allegri, the midfielder on loan from PSG has few opportunities to express himself. A worrying state of form which pushes the Old Lady not to exercise the option to buy the Argentinian midfielder (22 million euros). Still, PSG does not want to keep the 28-year-old either. The World Cup effect will not have been beneficial for everyone…

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full of confidence, in slow motion, struggling… Where are the World Champions? 24hfootnews.

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