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Mauro Icardi’s omission from World Cup squad isn’t performance based

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29 goals were not enough

Spal v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

More than a week ago, Mauro Icardi was scoring the tying goal that helped Inter Milan defeat Lazio as their six-year Champions League drought came to an end. The next day, he would see his name left off the Argentinean 23-man squad for the World Cup in Russia next month.

Despite scoring 29 goals in Serie A for the Nerazzurri, Jorge Sampoli decided to take veteran strikers Gonzalo Higuaín and Sergio Agüero instead.

When it comes to a snubbing by their national team, it’s because the player is underperforming or are suffering a drop in their due to their age. None of these apply to Icardi who finished the season sharing the Capocannoniere with Ciro Immobile.

What Do the Numbers Say

In 34 Serie A appearances, Icardi averaged 3.1 shots per 90 minutes resulting in 0.9 goals per 90, that’s nearly a goal per game for the Argentine. The 25-year-old is the heart of Inter’s attack as he accounted for 44% of the squad’s goals this season.

SS Lazio v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Mauro Icardi with Tommaso Berni of FC Internazionale celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between SS Lazio and FC Internazionale at Stadio Olimpico on May 20, 2018 in Rome, Italy.
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Comparing Icardi’s numbers to his fellow Argentinian strikers, it causes even more confusing as to why he was left off the squad. Fellow Serie A striker, Gonzalo Higuaín the goal-scoring production take a dip as his goal total has gone down over the last two seasons in Serie A, going from 36 in 2015-16 to 24 to 16 goals. Overall, Higuaín had 21 goals in all competitions this season for Juventus.

Taking a more in-depth look, Higuaín’s shots per 90 have decreased which explains his goal totals. In his final year with Napoli, the 30-year-old averaged 5.2 shots per 90 resulting in 1.1 goals per 90 in Serie A. Last season, his shot attempts returned to earth, averaging 3.5 shots per 90 leading 0.7 goals. Then this year, it went down again to 2.9 shots as he averaged 0.5 goals for Juventus.

At his peak, Higuaín was one of the best strikers in Italy, but with the emergence of Paulo Dybala, his role and performance have taken a hit. Also, Icardi plays in the same league as Higuaín, so it’s not like Icardi is racking up goals against inferior competition.

Higuaín’s issues are on the pitch, as for Agüero, his health is the primary concern as he had arthroscopy on his knee. When healthy, the 29-year-old put together a solid season for Manchester City. In 25 Premier League appearances, he scored 21 goals on 4.3 shots per 90 while scoring nearly a goal per 90.

Even with the extra amount of shots Agüero takes, Icardi averages less off-target shots with 0.9 per 90 compared to Agüero’s 1.5 per 90. Thus, Inter’s striker makes the most of his opportunities when he fires the ball on goal. Furthermore, Agüero is a striker that can dribble the ball to create his shot which is why he averages 3.8 dribbles per 90, but there are consequences to this. As a result, his possession number is high with 2.7 dispossesses per 90.

Leaving Goals At Home

During the qualifying matches, Argentina struggled with putting the ball in the net. In fact, it took a Lionel Messi hat-trick that saved the country from missing the World Cup altogether. Messi led the squad with seven goals, the next person on that list is Ángel Di María with two goals, let me repeat that, two goals.

Icardi did appear in four matches for Argentina but didn’t impress in his time. Nonetheless, by the time Icardi made his appearances, the national team had dug themselves a hole as they also made a managerial change. The squad was able to scrap and claw their way into qualifying, but one of it’s biggest weakness remains in scoring goals.

The story for Argentina is simple, how far can Messi take them and if he cannot score then who else is there? Agüero is coming off an injury, and Higuaín only had one goal in the qualifying matches. If Argentina cannot supply Messi with additional goal support, the federation could face backlash as to why the left a 29-goal scorer of their squad.


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