Uruguay 1-1 Paraguay: Tabarez ditches his double pivot, then makes more attacking moves

March 25, 2013

The starting line-ups

Reigning South American champions Uruguay recorded their third consecutive 1-1 home draw – their participation in Brazil remains in the balance.

Oscar Tabarez fielded a familiar core to this side – Edinson Cavani was only on the bench, with Diego Forlan behind Luis Suarez upfront, the combination that won Uruguay the Copa America final against Paraguay in 2011. The major news was in the centre of midfield, where Tabarez played Nicolas Lodeiro rather than a second defensive midfielder.

Uruguyan-born Gerard Pelusso selected a cautious 4-4-2 formation for bottom-placed Paraguay, having experimented with 4-3-3 earlier in the qualification process. Oscar Cardozo and Nelson Valdez were together upfront, while Ricard Ortiz pushed forward to the left of midfield.

This game started slowly before gradually developing into something quite interesting – mainly because of Tabarez’s constant chances.


The first half was terrible – stop-start, and based primarily around set-pieces. This suited Paraguay, the weaker of the two sides, and they had some good early pressure from corners and free-kicks.

But both sides appeared more adept at appealing for free-kicks than actually taking them, with many deliveries completely wasted. The more the game settled down, the more Uruguay’s technical quality in midfield became obvious, although they found it difficult to break down Paraguay’s stubborn two banks of four.

Paraguay revert to old shape

Pelusso clearly intended to sit deep early on, before opening out later in the game. His team selection was interesting, and had a hint of Gerard Martino’s obsession with a 4-4-2 / 4-3-3 hybrid – in particular, remember how Paraguay played against Spain at the World Cup and against Brazil in the Copa America, nullifying both opponents. Under Martino, Paraguay became adept at frustrating the opposition before creating chances in the second half.

The theme was familiar – a defensive-minded player on the right of midfield (Victor Ayala is a central midfielder by trade, and while he can play wide, he’s hardly a winger) combined with a natural wide man, but a defensive one (Ortiz, like Marcelo Estigarribia, is a left-wing-back rather than a left-winger). To compensate for that imbalance, Cardozo drifted towards the right of the pitch when out of possession, offering a different option from Valdez.

But Paraguay depended too much upon long balls in the first half, with Ortiz rarely providing forward running in possession. One promising flowing counter-attack was, somewhat inevitably, halted by a foul.

Tabarez ditches the double pivot

For the second half, Tabarez replaced Perez with Arevalo, while Cavani turned Uruguay into a 4-3-3

Tabarez’s selection was significant – this was the first competitive game for years where Uruguay played without a double pivot – it’s usually Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalo together, although sometimes Walter Gargano has come in.

Crucially, Tabarez has been a serial formation switcher – 3-5-2, 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3 – but the two holding midfielders have always remained. He experimented with only Perez (and Lodeiro coming into the side) in a recent friendly against Spain, and despite the 3-1 defeat, used that more proactive system here.


Maybe it didn’t completely work – Uruguay went in 0-0 at the break and Tabarez changed shape – but it’s important to stress that Lodeiro, the key man in the new system, was the brightest player in the first half. With Paraguay not pressing in midfield, he was given time and space to dribble forward with the ball, and attempted a few long-range shots.

The approach made sense – Perez was more than comfortable protecting the back four against a side featuring little midfield creativity – and despite not resulting in a goal, Lodeiro’s role worked nicely.

In fielding an attacking midfielder, Forlan was able to play as a second striker rather than a deeper number ten. The problem was on the flanks, where neither Alvaro Gonzalez nor Cristian Rodriguez showed enough quality on the ball to beat their full-back and get crosses into the box. Their movement inside was generally dealt with easily by Paraguay’s narrow midfield.

Tabarez changes

At half-time, Tabarez made two changes. Because Perez was on a booking and minding the defence solo, he was replaced with his usual partner Arevalo, who played an identical role. The introduction of Cavani was more tactically significant – it turned Uruguay into a 4-3-3, with Suarez going left, Cavani staying right, and Gonzalez moving into the middle to join Lodeiro in breaking forward.

Immediately, Uruguay looked much better. The presence of two wide forwards stretched Paraguay and put more pressure on their backline, with Suarez’s runs coming from less ‘obvious’ positions in behind the defence – which forced the Paraguayan centre-backs increasingly deep. There was also more energy from the full-backs, who had more space to break into, while Lodeiro and Gonzalez both broke forward well.

Cavani’s finishing was disappointing, but he formed a neat triangle with Gonzalez and Maxi Pereira down the right, outnumbering Ortiz and Miguel Samudio to work clever situations. Uruguay were getting in behind more frequently, and a goal seemed imminent.

More changes

As Benitez came on to offer a left-sided threat for Paraguay, Tabarez brought on Ramirez for Pereira, moving Gonzalez to right-back

Then came the ’second round’ of changes. Pelusso went first – removing Cardozo and bringing on Luis Caballero, which was fairly irrelevant. More crucially, he took off Ortiz and introduced Edgar Benitez – a proper outside-left who offered a significant attacking threat.

Tabarez responded three minutes later. His right-back, Maxi Pereira, had been booked minutes earlier – and Tabarez didn’t want to risk Benitez running at him.

Therefore, he made a brave call – taking off Pereira and bringing on Gaston Ramirez to play alongside Lodeiro – creating an even more attacking midfield trio – with Gonzalez going to an unfamiliar right-back role.

Uruguyan right-back zone

Immediately, this was a problem for Uruguay at the back – it was natural to get Pereira out of the firing line, but Gonzalez’s positioning was terrible. Within five minutes, he was dragged too narrow and Benitez was presented with Paraguay’s best chance of the game, which he squandered.

Just minutes later, Suarez opened the scoring with a fine volley at the far post – this owed more to continual Uruguayan pressure (partly because of their increased attacking numbers) than a particular change in a crucial zone of the pitch. Still, on the balance of play, the goal was deserved.

Yet Uruguay threw away two points – and it was Benitez who scored the equaliser. A simple long ball down the pitch saw both Diego Godin and Diego Lugano challenging for the same ball, neither winning it, and Benitez nipping in to score. Would a ‘proper’ right-back have got goalside and prevented the concession? It’s impossible to say, but changes in that part of the pitch was certainly the key zone in the second half.


Both managers can take some credit here. Lodeiro’s statting role justified Tabarez’s decision to re-format his midfield, and when he realised he wasn’t getting enough from his wide players, he switched to a 4-3-3 to incorporate Cavani – whose lack of a defined role for Uruguay remains Tabarez’s biggest problem.

The decision to replace Pereira was understandable (it’s worth remembering that Martin Caceres is unavailable following a recent car accident) but risky. It allowed Tabarez to introduce another attacking player, but left his side exposed in the zone Paraguay were now trying to attack – Uruguay made the breakthrough, then defended poorly.

For his part, Pelusso can probably be satisfied. Paraguay made the game scrappy, prevented Uruguay creating clear-cut chances, and then scored late on through Benitez – the supersub designed to provide an attacking spark down the left. This was Paraguay’s first away point of the qualification process, but they’re unlikely to make it to Brazil.

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