Argentina national team coach Jorge Sampaoli said Tuesday he expects captain, star striker and arguably best player in history Lionel Messi to arrive at the World Cup this summer in peak form after he battled fatigue at the tournament four years ago in Brazil.
"We've spoken with Leo about what's happening and that he doesn't find himself in the same situation as four years ago when he arrived exhausted at the World Cup [in Brazil],” Sampaoli said at a news conference.
The former Chile and Sevilla coach added the goal was to ensure that Messi "makes the most of his rest periods to arrive (in Russia) at the top of his physical and mental form."
Messi scored four goals as Argentina reached the final in Brazil, but cut a peripheral figure in the latter stages as his side finished runners-up to Germany following a 1-0 defeat after extra time.
In comparison with the last World Cup cycle ahead of the summer of 201, Messi said last week he had no problems being rotated by Barcelona in the spring.
“It’s no problem. It’s the boss who decides. If I have to rotate it’s no big deal, because my teammates will pick up the slack,” Messi said during a promotional ceremony in Barcelona last week.
Without Messi, Argentina is a much less potent force. It’s been decades since Argentina won the world’s most prestigious trophy, last hoisted by the Albiceleste in 1986 with Diego Maradona inspiring the country to a second title.
In Russia this summer Argentina will face Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria in Group D.
Argentina will play two friendly matches ahead of the tournament, the first against Italy in Manchester on March 23 and the second against Spain in Madrid on March 27.
One worrying position ahead of Russia 2018 is goalkeeper. Sergio Romero is the clear number one, but is getting little game time as the backup to Spain’s David De Gea at Manchester United.
“He’s a very important player for us that is unfortunately not playing very much,” Sampaoli said. “We spoke with [Manchester United head coach] José Mourinho to see if he could give Romero and [defender Marcos] Rojo more minutes ahead of the World Cup.”
Sampaoli also revealed a group of forwards he’s keeping tabs on as he decides his final 23-man squad: Mauro Icardi (Inter Milan), Sergio Agüero (Manchester City) and Lautaro Martínez (Racing) and Darío Benedetto (Boca Juniors).