Chile 1-1 Uruguay: in-game changes dictate the pattern of play

July 9, 2011

The starting line-ups

Goals from Alvaro Pereira and Alexis Sanchez meant another Copa draw.

Both managers made changes. Claudio Borghi dropped Mati Fernandez and brought in Luis Jiminez behind the front two, but kept the same shape as in the opening day win over Mexico.

Oscar Tabarez made two changes from the draw against Peru. Nicolas Loderio dropped out and was replaced by Alvaro Pereira, whilst at the back Sebastian Coates came in for Mauricio Victorino, as Uruguay switched to a three-man defence.

The game took a similar pattern to Chile’s game against Mexico – they were the stronger side in possession but couldn’t break down the opposition until late in the game.

Uruguay defence

Tabarez has switched to a three-man backline before – he did so against France in the opening game of the World Cup, when he was (perhaps too modestly, in hindsight) playing for a 0-0, having experimented with the shape in the pre-tournament friendlies. This three-man defence was more about creating a spare man at the back against the pace and power of Humberto Suazo and Alexis Sanchez, and the youngster Coates had a very good game as the sweeper, constantly covering for the other two centre-backs and getting in the way when Suazo thought he was clear.

The three-man defence was less successful as a whole, however. Sanchez is a very intelligent player and understands the tactical nuances of the game very quickly, and recognised that there was little point in him remaining high up against the centre-backs. Instead of moving to the right, as he did against Mexico,┬áhe dropped into the midfield more, as he did at Udinese throughout 2010/11 – see the game against Inter, for example. This meant Uruguay had a surplus of defenders, and Chile dominated the midfield ground.

The other interesting element of the midfield battle was that, with Lodeiro not in the side and an extra man at the back, the Perez-Arevalo duo had more freedom, with Arevalo venturing forward more.

Chile defence

The main battles were at either end, though, and Chile had to put up with a dangerous 3 v 3 situation at the back. Borghi’s predecessor Marcelo Bielsa always wanted a spare man, of course, and would have instantly changed to a back four – but Borghi stuck with his three, with the small caveat that Gary Medel dropped back and helped out.

The difference in the numbers in defence meant the two sides played with very different styles in their build-up play. Chile had midfield superiority and had to try and overload the Uruguayan defence, so played slowly and patiently in order to get midfield runners forward. On the other hand, Uruguay tried to play more direct to take advantage of the 3 v 3 situation. Their best two chances (a Luis Suarez shot and a Diego Forlan volley) came after long balls.

The 3 v 3 also meant they could press Chile at goal kicks easily, and Borghi’s side struggled to pass out from the back.

Uruguay three becomes a four

Tabarez and Uruguay realised that with Sanchez dropping into midfield, they didn’t really need three centre-backs, and so as the game progressed, they increasingly looked more like a four at the back. This was a simple switch – Maxi Pereira played deeper, Alvaro Pereira pushed on, and Martin Caceres moved back out to become more of a left-back. It was a 4-4-2ish system. The half-time change – forward Edinson Cavani off and midfielder Alvaro Gonzalez on down the right – was another sign that Tabarez had changed system.

A byproduct of this change was actually crucial in the goal, because Alvaro Pereira found himself in the box and swept home the opening goal – it’s difficult to imagine that he would have been in that position as a wing-back, rather than a winger.

Borghi makes attacking change

Typically, Chile became even more attacking after going behind. Unlike against Mexico, Borghi’s substitution didn’t change the shape of the side, but it was an even more offensive move – Arturo Vidal became the left-sided centre-back, Gonzalo Jara was taken off, and Jorge Valdivia, the number ten, came on to provide clever passes from the centre of midfield.

This had an immediate impact – four minutes later, Valdivia’s incisive pass to the left played in Jean Beausejour, who cut the ball back to Sanchez, who finished.

Chile then had the momentum, although bringing on Carlos Carmona for Beausejour seemed to kill this slightly.

Tabarez tried to go for the second goal with Lodeiro on for Arevalo, but it finished 1-1.


This was an interesting match, with Tabarez switching to three at the back to deal with Chile, and then reverting to a back four when he realised that Sanchez was increasingly dropping off the front. The change to a 4-4-2ish shape meant both sides ended up with a spare man at the back, rather than the situation at the start when Uruguay had two spare men, and Chile had none.

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