I generally grimace at media pre-game sound bites that try to sum up what has to happen for a team to win. The format forces an over-simplification.
Results in games are about being relatively better than your opponent. Hegemony rather than empirical measurements are what are relevant.
So, since the Germans are favourites, here’s what I think Argentina must do to win.
First, here’s the lineups:
Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world. Arguments to the contrary are simply the result of a lack of objectivity. Courtois may become the best keeper at some point. Ochoa and Navas had great World Cups but Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world right now.
Romero has to be at least his equal when called upon today and Argentina have to ensure the game does not become a battle between the goalkeepers. Germany are aware though that Romero saved two penalties against Holland and won’t want the game ending with spot kicks.
For the game to not fall on Romero’s shoulders it has to fall on Mascherano’s. His performance against Holland was truly one of the best by a defender in a World Cup that I can remember. He looks like he is absolutely possessed and playing holding mid is a more natural fit for him than centre back where Barcelona play him for the most part. For Argentina to win, it’s important that Messi and Higuain are on their best form but it is absolutely crucial that Mascherano plays just as well against Germany as he did against Holland.
Demichelis is a liability. His impression of a turnstile versus Holland was spot on. Mascherano bailed him out with Superman-like saves at least twice. He must be able to deal with German strikers (Muller and Klose) without needing an abundance of assistance as Mascherano will have his hands full with German midfielders.
Lavezzi, for me, has been really disappointing. He has to provide penetration and service from wide positions. Ozil has had a similar role for Germany and while he maybe hasn’t been the fulcrum of the German attack that most thought he would be he has still been effective and contributed regularly, primarily as a provider of defence splitting passes. Lazezzi has to be more influential than Ozil for Argentina to win.
Messi is the best player in the world and your best players have to be your best players in games like this. He has scored and he has provided. He sometimes though gets pushed further back into midfield for a starting attacking position than is optimal. The key for me is Zabalata bombing up from right back to pull markers back and away from Messi to give him the space to receive balls and start attacks a bit higher up the field.
Messi will get a chance or two and will provide Higuain (and others) with chances. The German’s conversation rate in their 7-1 win over Brazil was off the charts. Argentina will not match that but they have to convert goals from chances at a very high rate because the Germans will control possession and tempo for large parts of this game. Getting Germany off the scoreboard seems unlikely so Messi will likely have to mastermind more than one goal today.
Despite being the best player in the world and having a tremendous supporting cast in Higuain, Lavezzi and hopefully Aguerro (and maybe even DiMaria) it may be too big an ask when you consider they are up against Neuer, Hummels and Lahm in the back four. Each of them should easily make the FIFA XI at the end of the tournament. If Luiz is worth 50 000 000 euros then Hummels is worth the entire budget of this World Cup. Howedes and Boateng (as a centreback) are clearly the players that Argentina must look to focus on when they attack.
I think all these areas that Argentina need to eclipse the Germans in will prove too much. I’ve enjoyed watching the Germans play (live against Portugal and Ghana and on TV for the rest) and I think they will prove be deserving champions. That said, Messi is the best player of this generation with a solid claim to being the best ever. That claim is made legitimate if he plays out of his skull today and engineers a victory against the odds so that Argentina win their third World Cup in a game played in the heart of their most bitter rivals.