An old-fashioned 3-5-2 for Uruguay

May 27, 2010

The three-man defence may be fairly unpopular throughout Europe at the moment, but it is alive and well in Latin America. With Chile having used a 3-3-1-3 system throughout qualification and Mexico toying with a 3-4-3, Uruguay will join them, with a more traditional 3-5-2 formation.

Few other sides in this World Cup can boast two strikers as confident as Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez – the former having settled the Europa League final with two well-taken finishes, the latter having finished on a rather impressive record of 49 goals in 48 games for Ajax this season.

Forlan plays slightly deeper than you might expect, coming short to receive the ball to feet, leaving Suarez as the more orthodox central striker, playing between full-back and centre-back and looking for through balls.

With those two banging in the goals, it was always  going to be two upfront for Uruguay – the question was what happened behind them.

Although Oscar Tabarez only introduced the 3-5-2 system late on in qualification, it seems to have been installed as the clear first-choice  formation, and the players seemed to have been picked with this shape in mind, considering that Tabarez opted not to pick Porto’s exciting winger Cristian Rodriguez for the provisional squad – Rodriguez clearly has the talent, maybe he just doesn’t fit into the system (edit: his two-game suspension is also most likely a reason – thanks to Derek in the comments section for the correction).

Energetic wing-backs

As ever, the key players in a 3-5-2 are the wing-backs. Tabaraz picks the two (unrelated) Pereiras – Maxi of Benfica on the right, Alvaro of Porto on the left. They are perfect players for those positions – both comfortable at full-back or wide midfield, and their main attributes being (a) their pace and (b) their stamina.

Maxi is a fairly technically limited footballer but gets up and down the line well, whilst Alvaro is a more talented player on the ball, and seems to get forward slightly more than his namesake.

Solid defenders

The basic shape of the Uruguay side. The two forwards (in yellow) play close together. The wing-backs (in pink) take up very advanced positions. Perez and Gonzalez get themselves into advanced positions, whilst Gargano remains deep in midfield just in front of the defence (out of shot).

The two full-backs retreat to standard positions when not in possession, level with three centre-backs. Captain Diego Lugano plays as the spare man at the centre of the three, with veteran Andres Scotti to his right.

They are joined by the left-sided Diego Godin, by far the most comfortable on the ball, happy to bring it forward and distribute more expertly than his two fellow centre-backs. Their most well-known defender, Martin Cacares, on loan to Juventus from Barcelona, appears to be a back-up.

Functional midfield

The midfield enforcer is Napoli’s Walter Gargano, a stocky character who is essentially a classic defensive midfielder – fierce into the tackle and a reliable, passer who looks to keep things simple; he rarely gets forward and looks to cover for gaps left by the advance of the wing-backs.

Alongside him is Diego Perez, a fairly unspectacular all-round midfield player, and the flair is provided by Ignacio Gonzalez, who starts from a central midfield position but looks to move into more of a trequartista role behind Suarez and Forlan.

The midfield sits fairly deep when not in possession, there is little pressing high up the pitch (Forlan and Suarez don’t have particularly heavy defensive duties) and Uruguay seem content to defend with eight men in front of their penalty area.

Here, the left-sided centre-back Diego Godin steps forward into defence, joining the five-man midfield


On paper this looks a decent side – it has quality upfront, experience in defence and hard-working battlers in midfield. And the players fit into the system very nicely – each player knows his role and looks comfortable there – it’s hard to earmark a player being played out-of-position, or a distinct lack of quality in any area.

Uruguay’s problem might be the formation itself. 3-5-2 is very rarely seen this days, largely because it has trouble containing the opposition full-backs. Against a side playing 4-5-1 / 4-3-3, the 3-5-2’s wing-backs are forced to defend a wing against both full-back and winger. Support can come from the players in the centre of the pitch, of course, but you’re then dragging them out of position and possibly exposing yourself in the middle.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a genuinely successful team playing a 3-5-2, and there are probably good reasons for that – but a 3-5-2 will bring more tactical variety to the competition, and that can only be a good thing.

Tags: , , ,