That’s right, Jonas Gutierrez .
A lot was made of Maradonna’s intention to play 4 center-backs but that is now clearly an alternative strategy, to be used against stronger teams.In today’s game against Nigeria, Gutierrez was used as an attacking right back and this will probably continue for the rest of the group games. I believe that Jonas Gutierrez will be a key defensive player for Argentina, regardless of the tactics used. Whether this is a positive or negative for Argentina, we shall see.
In the game against Nigeria, Gutierrez was tasked with patrolling the right flank on his own as there was no winger playing in front of him. The 3 Argentina forwards had free roles and often switched positions. This meant that there was no one tasked with the role of helping out Gutierrez in defense the way De Maria was working with Heinze on the opposite flank. When Gutierrez went forward, there was no one to cover for him as Veron was roaming all over the field and Demichelis is not comfortable shifting out wide to cover. Even though he was beaten by his man a few times in the first half, I think he did a good job in the role given the fact that he had no real help. If Nigeria had a better left winger they may have done a better job in exposing Gutierrez’s isolation.
The other thing that makes Gutierrez a key player is that he is the only Argentinian defender with decent pace and he will have to do a lot of covering when the 2 slow center backs get exposed by quick counter-attacking teams.Even in the first half there were a couple of times when Yakubu turned Demichilis way to easily and Gutierrez had to come across and help out. This often led to Gutierrez playing too centrally.
Late in the game, Gutierrez switched to left midfield as De Maria was taken off for Burdisso. Nigeria were building most of their attacks by running at Heinze and De Maria was not helping out (probably due to exhaustion). Mascherano was being forced to leave his central position and support Heinze and this left a huge hole in front of the Argentine defense. Better finishing from the Nigerian forwards would have seen this hole exploited. Maradonna recognized the problem and moved Gutierrez over to the left to give Heinze some cover and Nigeria didn’t have a meaningful attack after this. (That’s right- Maradonna made a sensible substitution and tactical switch).
Gutierrez’s versatility makes him a key player for Maradonna because he can perform defensive duties where they are most needed and his pace and energy allows him to cover for the weaknesses of other players. He was exposed a few times in the Nigeria game because he had no help. Look for him to play next to Veron in the tougher games,as a defensive right winger, doing the dirty work while Veron creates. His versatility and tirelessness may go someway in explaining the exclusion of Javier Zannetti, a versatile player who is capable of performing a similar role. Maradonna must have more faith in Gutierrez and this faith will determine how far Argentina go in the tournament.