Uruguay 2-0 Peru: Tabarez changes formation again to take Uruguay to the final

July 20, 2011

The starting line-ups

Luis Suarez scored two second half goals in a confident Uruguayan performance.

Oscar Tabarez was without Diego Perez, so Napoli’s Walter Gargano took his place. Sebastien Coates returned at centre-back.

Sergio Markarian brought in Giancarlo Carmona for Renzo Revorendo, and Yoshimar Yotun for William Chiroque.

With both sides contesting the quarter-finals as underdogs and both used to playing reactive football in this competition, much of the game was something of a stalemate, with neither side committing enough players into attack to overload the opposition.


There were a couple of surprises in the formations. Markarian decided to use Juan Vargas higher up in close support of Paolo Guerrero, in a formation that could vaguely be described as 4-1-3-1-1, with Adam Balbin sitting ahead of the back four and keeping an eye on Diego Forlan.

With the exception of the two changes, which were essentially like-for-like swaps due to suspension, Tabarez kept the same XI players that had played a 4-4-1-1 against Argentina. He shifted his side into a back three, however, taking advantage of Martin Caceres’ versatility, and the energy of his two wing-backs. Coates was a spare man at the back, and Egidio Arevalo played as a sole holding player, rather than in the double pivot he’s used to. Walter Gargano played as a left-sided carrilero, with he and Alvaro Gonzalez moving out to close down the opposition full-backs.

Spare man

As we’ve discussed countless times before, a back three is generally favoured against a two-man strikeforce, in order to retain a spare man at the back. Peru had played one upfront in their previous game, though, and a similar shape in the meeting between the two sides. Vargas was advanced, but not quite as advanced as he was in this game. Tabarez’s other reason for using a back three – as an all-out defensive system, as against France last year – was surely not the reason here.

As it happens, the more advanced positioning of Vargas meant that Uruguay’s system worked quite well. Diego Lugano stepped out of the back to mark Vargas – although Luagano probably had to come higher up the pitch than he would have liked – and Coates swept up behind. The only slight confusion was about whether Cacares or Alvaro Pereira picked up Luis Advincula – and a late run into the box from him in the first half was probably Peru’s best chance of a goal. Like in the win over Colombia, Guerrero played to the left of the pitch to try and link up with Vargas, which meant Caceres wasn’t picking him up, as you would expect against a traditional front two.

Areas of strength

The idea in a battle between two different formations is to maximise your advantage in one particular area of the pitch. Uruguay did so with their spare man at the back – Fernando Muslera had little to do – but Peru failed to make the most of their free players, the full-backs. They had no direct opponent, but their attacking contribution was very little. They should have either come forward, linked up with the wide midfielders and played 2 v 1s down the flanks, or focused on drawing Gonzalez and Arevalo out to the flanks, then exploiting the space in the middle of the pitch (or down the other flank, as either of those two players tucked in).

Another option would have been to drop Vargas a little deeper and then focus on possession, overpowering Uruguay in the middle of the pitch, giving them a surplus at the back. In the end, Peru basically played into the hands of Tabarez.


The Uruguay manager will have been content with how the game was developing – he had the safety-first approach of keeping things tight at the back, then wa confident Suarez could nick a goal – or two – upfront. Suarez replicated his role against Argentina – which was essentially to be an irritant, to run his legs off, to buy free-kicks and to work the channels. His movement to the flanks was possibly another reason why the Peruvian full-backs were so reserved, and he topped off this performance with two good finishes.

That, combined with Vargas’ red card, wrapped things up fairly early. On that note, by the second half Tabarez switched Lugano and Coates, which meant the former swept up, and the latter was the man coming up to meet Vargas – hence why he got the Fiorentina man’s elbow into his face.


Tabarez changes his shape frequently – this was an interesting game because Uruguay were the favourites, and therefore there was some speculation he might take the lead, forget about nullifying the opposition and focus upon his attacking strengths. No chance – it was another reactive (but excellent) display of tactics.

Markarian has done excellently to reach this stage, but Peru’s performance here was poor. The lack of any meaningful contribution from the full-backs was the main problem – those two were content to defend, when they should have been helping stretch Uruguay.

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