Honduras 0-1 Chile: Bielsa’s men live up to the billing

June 16, 2010

The starting line-ups, with Honduras 4-5-1 and Chile 4-2-1-3

It’s been a World Cup dominated by defensive football so far, so Chile’s all-out attacking strategy was a welcome change. They deserved the win, but should have scored far more goals.

Chile started with a back four, a slight change from their usual system (more on that later). This meant that Rodrigo Millar came into the midfield, and played between the two permanent midfielders. Upfront, Humberto Suazo was unavailable, and therefore Jorge Valdivia, a much deeper player, started in the central forward role.

Honduras started with a shape that was broadly 4-5-1, arguably 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1 or 4-1-4-1 depending on how you want to view the roles of the central midfield players.

Chile respond to Honduras formation

With the greatest of respect to Honduras, they did absolutely nothing interesting tactically or technically throughout the game, and pretty much acted as a dummy 4-5-1 / 4-4-2 side for Chile to demonstrate their tactical versatility against.

Because Honduras started with the one up top, Bielsa did his usual in these circumstances – fielding a four-man defence, rather than a three-man defence. His logic was this is that he always wants one extra centre-back against the opposition forwards. If the opposition are playing with two strikers, he uses three centre-backs, if they are using one, he uses two, with the wing-backs dropping back slightly to become more conventional full-backs (although they still have a license to attack). This means that the shape changes from a 3-3-1-3 to a 4-2-1-3, with Millar playing as the second central midfielder.

Pressure high up the pitch

The first thing to note is that Chile’s defensive pressure started right from the front of the pitch. The two wingers stayed wide and put pressure on the full-backs, whilst Valdivia closed down the centre-backs, and Mati Fernandez occupied Wilson Palacios in the deepest midfield position. Further back, the two full-backs played extremely high up the pitch, forcing Honduras’ wide midfielders into their own half. Most teams in this tournament have been content to defend by sitting back on the edge of their own penalty area, but Chile try and play the entire game in their opponents’ half.

The main danger when playing like this is the threat of a counter-attack. Chile try to combat this in two ways. Firstly, the Chile full-backs/wing-backs get into extremely advanced and central positions, meaning the opposition wide midfielders had to track them into positions not suited to a quick Honduras counter-attack.

Secondly, they try and break up the play with tactical fouling in the final third when they lose the ball. Fernandez and Carlos Carmona both picked up cautions in the first twenty minutes because of this, but it had the desired effect of bringing the game to a halt and letting Chile get back into position – particularly the full-backs.

Chile often ended up with six players in the final third and this was causing Honduras all sorts of problems defensively. They looked particularly dangerous in wide areas, where the wingers and wing-backs have a great relationship – the wingers often stay wide and allow the full-backs through the middle, but sometimes the wingers come into the centre and allow the overlap.

Upfront, the front three sometimes interchanged and Valdivia sometimes dropped deep, making the Honduras centre-backs the only free players, and giving them no out-ball whatsoever, penning them into their own third of the pitch.

Alexis Sanchez was Chile’s brightest player and showed some great touches, but he often held onto the ball for too long and slowed the pace of attacks. Chile were at their most threatening when they played one-touch passes through the Hondurans, with the movement of five or six players simply overwhelming the defence.

The goal was slightly fortunate, but showed what Chile did well – working the ball into dangerous positions in wide areas. Sanchez got the ball, slipped it to Mauricio Isla, and he crossed for Jean Beausejour coming across from the opposite side. 1-0.

Second half switch in formations

After the break, Honduras went 4-4-2, and so Chile responded with 3-3-1-3

After the break, Honduras switched to a 4-4-2, with Edgard Alvarez moving forward into a striker role. Therefore, Chile no longer had their spare player at the back, and as soon as Bielsa realised the Honduras switch, he got a substitute warmed up and he switched to three centre-backs, with the introduction of Gonzalo Jara for Millar. The full-backs pushed even higher up to become wing-backs, and the shape became 3-3-1-3. Bielsa is essentially proactive in attacking – always keeping his ‘…1-3′ regardless of the opposition, but reactive in defence.

Because of the instant reaction, nothing really changed. Isla and Arturo Vidal were still pushing the Honduras wide players back into a position they didn’t want to be in, and the extra striker did no good because Chile still had a spare man – and Honduras were without a midfielder to actually get the ball forward into goalscoring positions.

Chile’s formation changed but their overall strategy did not – still getting six men forward, still pressing high up the pitch, and still holding a high defensive line. They had plenty of opportunities to increase their lead, but without Suazo look a less potent force – he’ll need to return for them to play to their full potential.

The final ten minutes saw yet another shift in the formations, as Honduras introduced a striker, Walter Martinez, for the central midfielder Ramon Nunez – meaning Honduras were now three upfront against three defenders. No spare man for Bielsa, so what did he do? He went back to four at the back again (this time, with the full-backs remaining defensive) by taking off Vidal and bringing on Pablo Contreras, a defender.

Chile saw the game out, but 1-0 doesn’t reflect their dominance.


Chile showed why so many people have been so excited about them, playing positive football and taking the game to the opposition both when they needed a goal, and when they needed to keep a clean sheet. Bielsa’s ability to shift between two systems makes for a great tactical duel, although it was a shame we didn’t see the favoured 3-3-1-3 from the start.

The lack of goals is a worry, for Chile regularly got inside the penalty area but failed to take chances. Nevertheless, in tactical terms, they’ve been the most interesting side in the competition so far.

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