Chile 2-1 Mexico: Borghi’s change in formation prompts Chile’s comeback

July 6, 2011

The starting line-ups

Chile recovered from 1-0 down to record a 2-1 victory in an excellent contest.

Claudio Borghi lined up with a 3-4-1-2 formation containing various players who are familiar from last year’s World Cup, and there were no major selection surprises.

Like Costa Rica, Mexico are competing with an Olympic squad in this tournament, and assistant manager Luis Fernando Tena is in charge. He played a 3-5-2, with Giovani dos Santos just behind Rafael Marquez Lugo, not to be confused with the more established Rafael Marquez.

This was the first game of the tournament that has provided real tactical interest. With both sides playing three at the back, it was an unusual and interesting match-up of formations.

Formation match-up

Tena instructed his midfield to play with one man deeper, Diego Reyes, who broadly tracked Mati Fernandez across the pitch. There were then two midfielders slightly further forward against two Chile holders, which meant that the battle in the central midfield saw each player occupied, 3 v 3. With the two sides both playing wing-backs, who competed against each other, plus 3 v 2 situations at either end, the game had an unusual but simple feel.

Chile were the more proactive side, retaining many of the pressing qualities that were a hallmark of Marcelo Bielsa’s reign. They conceded their first foul after just three seconds of the match because of some over-eager closing down, and Fernandez moved forward to join the two strikers and press 3 v 3 when Luis Michel had the ball.

Chile attacking intent

As we’ve become accustomed to, they also played an open, attacking game with the ball that saw plenty of forward runs, plus lateral movement from the two creative players, Fernandez and Alexis Sanchez. Their game was all about trying to create angles for clever neat passing between the lines, and a couple of fantastic moves produced good chances for Humberto Suazo, who moved from side to side and was always in a position to get on the end of moves.

Their football is less direct and more patient than under Bielsa, and there is much less natural width upfront – Sanchez now plays a support striker, like at Udinese, whilst Jean Beausejour is fielded deeper, as a wing-back rather than an outside-left. The combinations on the opposite side are generally more promising – Sanchez can move out to the right and combine with his Udinese teammate Marucio Isla, whilst Pablo Contreras plays an amazingly energetic role for a right-sided centre-back, often overlapping Isla to allow him inside.

Mexico were pressed into their own half of the pitch and rarely constructed good moves. With the three midfield players closed down quickly and the wing-backs a little slow to get forward, there was a huge gap between the midfield and the two forwards, who had to fend for themselves – their only promising moments in open play came when Giovani dos Santos got on the ball and ran with pace, as he did so brilliantly in the Gold Cup final. Still, their man chance of a goal was from a set-piece, and that’s where it came from, through Nestor Araujo.

Second half

On 60 minutes, Borghi changed shape

Like so many of the favourites in this competition, Chile were dominating possession but struggling for goals, and Borghi waited 15 minutes before making a substitution, bringing on Esteban Paredes for Beausejour. This meant a change of shape as Chile went make to an (even more) attacking version of the 3-3-1-3 that Bielsa loved – more like 3-1-3-3, in fact. Arturo Vidal, who didn’t have the influence on the game one might have expected in the centre of midfield, came to the left and cut inside to act as a third central midfielder, whilst Paredes played as a left-sided striker (rather than a winger) and Sanchez moved slightly to the right.

The impact of this shape was obvious – Mexico no longer had a spare man at the back, with Chile placing three forwards up against the Mexican back three. Because of that (or, to look at it another way, because Chile no longer had numerical superiority in midfield), Borghi’s side played much more direct with the ball, and the Mexican back three had immediate difficulties facing the longer passing. Paul Aguilar tried to play a little bit deeper, but this would have been a good time for Mexico to be able to shift between a back three and a back four, as their ’senior’ national side does so well.

Chile’s two goals came within 13 minutes of the change in shape. Granted, both came from corners (a notable feature of this tournament), and therefore it wasn’t the different combinations in open play that unlocked the Mexican defence. However, the increased pressure and more direct passing certainly had an impact, and the corners were both won by the restored Isla-Sanchez combination down the right, with the latter playing wider.


Chile were by far the most positive side we’ve seen in the competition so far, and it was amazing that they managed to find themselves a goal down at half time, because their proactive play without the ball had limited Mexico to very few chances.

The 3-4-1-2 actually suits Chile very well considering Sanchez’s move from being a winger to a second striker over the past twelve months, and will probably work better later in the competition. Here, however, they were up against a back three that was in a good position to nullify Chile, with a spare man at the back, and therefore it made sense to revert to a modified version of the old 3-3-1-3.

With such an unfamiliar squad, no-one was sure what shape Mexico would play, so Borghi can’t be blamed for not starting with that system, and should be praised for the attack-minded change – it is the best individual decision of the Copa America so far.

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