Chile – Uruguay: Uruguay’s Second Half Reaction Defeats An Intense And Creative Chile (0-1)
With a 5-3-2 setup, Chile coach Reinaldo Rueda came up with an outstanding plan to nullify the Uruguayan attack and create spaces up front for Alexis Sánchez to lead the Chilean offense. However, Uruguay matched Chile’s intensity during the second half, nullifying the Chilean attack and forcing a close game with very few open play chances that was ultimately decided by a late Cavani header.
Tactical analysis and match report by José Perez.
After starting the first two group stage games with a 4-3-3 formation, coach Reinaldo Rueda surprised us with a 5-3-2 setup that was specially prepared to nullify their opponents. The goal of Gabriel Arias was defended by a back three of Gary Medel, Guillermo Maripán and Gonzalo Jara, with Paulo Díaz and Óscar Opazo as right and left wing-backs, respectively. Midfield featured a trio of Erick Pulgar in the holding role, with Charles Aránguiz and Pedro Hernández as interior midfielders. Up front featured a striker duo of Alexis Sánchez who would often act as Chile’s number ten- and Eduardo Vargas, who was in charge of running behind the Uruguayan defense and receiving long balls.
Manager Óscar Tabárez perhaps wanted to vary his lineup a bit after the defensive struggles experienced against Japan. The team started with the usual 4-4-2 with Jose María Giménez and Diego Godín at the back and Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez up front, but Tabárez made some chances in the fullback and midfield positions. Usual left back Diego Laxalt was replaced by the more defensive Martín Cáceres, while Peñarol’s Giovanni González – a relatively new face in the Uruguayan squad – started at right back. Meanwhile, the young Federico Valverde started alongside Rodrigo Bentancur in central midfield, with Giorgan de Arrascaeta as right midfielder and Nicolás Lodeiro on the left.
Chile’s 3-5-2 shape in possession against Uruguay’s 4-4-2 low-mid block. Notice the position of Alexis Sánchez in the left halfspace and in between the lines.
Chile stretches the Uruguayan defense and creates space for Sánchez
Alexis Sánchez is a rather misunderstood player these days. Fans still expect him to be the speed demon and goal scorer he was five years ago, yet Sánchez 2019 behaves more as a playmaker than striker. Instead of running behind defenses and dribbling past opponents, Sánchez now prefers to drop deep, help his team progress through midfield, and then create chances once he gets to the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. Against Uruguay, Sánchez once again showcased these playmaking qualities, thanks in no small part to the help of this teammates.
Chile forced the Uruguayan defensive block to constantly shift from one side of the pitch to the other, stretching their defense and creating spaces in the center for Sánchez. In the first phase of the Chilean buildup, Medel, Díaz and Pulgar would rack up passes on the right side and then send long diagonal passes towards left wing-back Opazo. Left midfielder Hernández would then drift wide to support Opazo, attracting both of Uruguay’s right-sided players – González and De Arrascaeta – out to the wing.
By forcing the Uruguayan defense to quickly move from the right to the left side of the pitch, Chile generated a gap in the left halfspace If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. where Sánchez operated throughout most of the game. Sánchez expertly moved right between Uruguay’s defense and midfield lines, too. He constantly slipped behind the back of Fede Valverde and took advantage of the conservative positioning of defender Giménez, who rarely pushed up to track and anticipate Sánchez’s movements.
Thanks to his teammates and his good movement in between the lines, Sánchez had more than enough space to disorder the Uruguayan defense and create chances. The stats reflect this, as Sánchez was the player with the most progressive passes, most key passes, and the highest xGchain value. In other words, he was the Chilean player most involved in possessions that lead to shots.
Despite Chile’s excellent passing circuit, they failed to create good shots in the first half. With Sánchez dropping so deep, striker Edu Vargas was often left alone against Godín and Giménez. With this numerical superiority, Godín and Giménez could clear most of the incoming danger out of their box and prevent Vargas from getting into good shooting positions.
Chile’s defensive triangles counter Uruguay’s offensive triangles
Apart from developing a great offensive circuit, Chile was also great at defending Uruguay’s wing play and counterattacks. As we described in the Uruguay-Ecuador match report, Uruguay often overloads When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. opponents on the wings by creating triangles, usually thanks to the wide movements of strikers Suárez and Cavani.
Chile’s 5-3-2 shape countered this movement with their own defensive triangles: Medel-Díaz-Hernández on the right and Maripán-Opazo-Aránguiz on the left, with holding midfielder Pulgar moving from side to side to support either triangle when they needed it.
Central defenders Medel and Maripán were very aggressive, with Medel in particular pushing all the way to midfield to anticipate Uruguayan attackers and prevent counterattacks. With three at the back, Chile often had numerical superiority against Suárez and Cavani, so both strikers struggled more than in previous games at winning duels and getting into scoring positions.
Midfielders Aránguiz and Hernández showed outstanding workrate and intensity, constantly moving from end to end of the pitch. They supported Chile’s passing circuit in offense, and when the team lost the ball, they quickly tracked back to follow Uruguay’s fullbacks and wide midfielders and prevent overloads on the wings.
Uruguay’s 4-4-2 shape in possession against Chile’s 5-3-2 defensive block. Notice how many players Chile accumulates on the wings to prevent Uruguay from progressing.
Uruguay’s initially conservative defense did not help either. They did not press Chile’s buildup, with defenders and midfielders remaining in their own half of the pitch. This allowed Chile to progress deep into Uruguayan territory, and by the time Uruguay recovered the ball, they were seventy to eighty meters away from the Chilean goal. Uruguay could never land a successful counterattack during the first half because they had to cover too much ground against the intense Chilean defense.
Due to Chile’s defensive intensity and solidarity, Uruguay generated zero shots from open play during the first half. Their only three shots in the first half came from set pieces.
Uruguay matches Chile’s intensity and nullifies their attack
Manager Tabárez understood that defeating Chile required matching or surpassing their physical intensity. Therefore, after half time he substituted left midfielder Lodeiro for the more physical Nahitán Nández. De Arrascaeta was moved to left midfield instead while Nández played on the right. Collectively, Uruguay’s defensive behavior was more aggressive and intense. The team pressed Chile’s buildup more often, the defensive block moved more quickly from side.
Thanks to Uruguay’s improved intensity and Nandez defending the left side of the Chilean attack, Chile lost the tactical advantage they had generated during the first half. Sánchez had less time and space to disorder the Uruguayan defense and create chances. Meanwhile, Medel had to be substituted in the 55th minute due to a knock on his calf muscle. His absence made the Chilean defense less aggressive and assertive. Chile struggled to generate chances from open play throughout the second half, with their best chances coming from corners.
Uruguay was taking over the game, pushing Chile back and stringing faster passing sequences that allowed them to progress through midfield more easily and create some chances. However, Chile’s 5-3-2 structure still stood strong and conceded no numerical superiorities to Uruguay, with central defenders clearing most of the incoming crosses.
Both teams were evenly matched now, and the result would be decided by small details. At the 82nd minute, Uruguay completed one of their longer possession sequences, moving the ball from side to side in front of Chile’s box. This possession disoriented the Chilean defense and ended with a good cross from substitute Jonathan Rodríguez to Cavani, who took advantage of some surprisingly lax Chilean defending in the box to precisely head the ball into the net.
Knowing that this defeat would force them to face a tougher rival in the knockout stages, Chile tried to react, but at this point, it was too late. Uruguay continued nullifying Chile’s attack and coach Rueda reacted too slowly, only replacing defender Gonzalo Jara for striker Nicolás Castillo until the 90th minute.
Perhaps Chile’s golden age has already passed, but thanks to their experience, talent and Rueda’s tactics board they can still pose a threat to any rival in South America. When they are at the top of their game, Chile might be the best team in South America at disordering opponents through passing sequences, thanks to the creativity of Sánchez and the mobility of midfielders Aránguiz, Hernández and Vidal. However, because Chile’s squad is weaker than in their golden years, Rueda and his men are still struggling to come up with substitutions and tactical tweaks that can have a significant impact on games during second halves.
On the other hand, Uruguay also showed their pros and cons. On the ball they can be somewhat predictable, and a good opponent like Chile can come up with good countermeasures to nullify their attack. However, Tabárez and his men reacted well to the tactical issues of the first half and made the right substitutions and tactical changes to match Chile’s intensity and turn around the game. This was not only a result of good coaching, but also of Uruguay having a deeper squad than their opponents. This should come in handy during the knockout stages.
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