MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli hopes his team can emulate La Liga giants Barcelona’s “collective” approach in extracting the best out of Lionel Messi.
Messi finished top scorer in Europe’s top five leagues last season with 37 goals in the Spanish top flight and 54 across all competitions in a formidable attacking triumvirate with Luis Suarez and Neymar.
However, Messi’s form at international level has only sporadically reached such heights and a succession of coaches have wrestled with where to position the talismanic playmaker.
Sampaoli, announced as Argentina coach last week, is the latest tasked with finding the right niche for Messi, and in time to save the team’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
“I believe Messi has been playing collectively in Barcelona as part of a team,” Sampaoli told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday.
”That’s the type of synergy we want to create in the Argentina team.
”We don’t want him to be playing in an isolated manner, we want him to play collectively.
”That’s what we’re going to push, for the team to play collectively with Messi to get the best out of him.
“The comparison between Messi playing for Barcelona and Messi playing for Argentina is clear because of that.”
Sampaoli’s first matches in charge will be an all-South American heavyweight clash against Brazil in Melbourne on Friday followed by another friendly against Singapore in the Southeast Asian city-state next week.
Messi is confirmed to play in Melbourne after flying down from a promotional tour in China but may miss the Singapore game on Tuesday.
Argentina-born Sampaoli is tipped to overhaul his team’s attacking formation and said he was keen to see how Messi could work in tandem with Juventus striker Paulo Dybala.
“Messi and Dybala are very good players of their own accord and these type of games, these friendly games give us an opportunity to test that compatibility and know whether they can work together and how effective that synergy will be,” he said.
“I believe they will be able to give the team a higher ranking worldwide.”
Argentina are fifth in the 10-team South American group with four rounds of matches to play, and their hopes of qualifying for Russia on a knife edge.
The top four qualify directly and the fifth-placed side goes into a playoff against a team from Oceania.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly