Universidad de Chile v Godoy Cruz. Chile v Argentina. The match, in some quarters, was being billed as the first-leg of the ‘play-off’ for second place in Group 8 of the Copa Libertadores. With Atlético Nacional running riot in Uruguay against Peñarol the previous evening – taking their points tally to six out of six – the Colombian’s look certainties to qualify for the knock-out stages, especially with the telepathic understanding between Macnelly Torres and Dorlan Pabón.
In week one Nacional dispatched of Universidad de Chile who, missing Matías Rodríguez, fielded a lop-sided 3-4-1-2. Wednesday evening’s game saw the Argentine wing-back return to the side allowing Sampaoli to revert to a balanced 3-4-1-2 system which the squad are comfortable and accustomed to. Albert Acevedo has replaced Marcos González as the middle of the three centre-backs after the latter’s move to Flamengo. With Raúl Ruidíaz injured Junior Fernándes filled the role of Eduardo Vargas on the right of the attack but with freedom to migrate to other positions when necessary.
Other than the reinstatement of Rodríguez the most important decision was the positioning of Gustavo Lorenzetti. Similar to the role he played against Flamengo when La U won 4-0 in Brazil he started behind Castro and Fernándes. In essence Los Azules were playing without an out-and-out striker, and it suited them.
Nery Pumpido lined up Godoy Cruz Antonio Tomba – to give them their full name – in a 4-4-2. The Argentine Dirk Kuyt (more on that soon) Facundo Castillón and Rubén Ramírez led the line with Diego Villar stationed on the right.
Similar to the majority of Copa Libertadores results this week there were plenty of goals with one team, if you use the score line as a bearing, emphatically coming out on top. Although it did not look like going that way to begin with, La U found their ‘Copa Sudamericana rhythm and rhyme’, turned the screw and exploited the Argentine’s high-line and their almost non-existent pressure on the ball; a paradise for an enganche like Lorenzetti.
Godoy start well but frailties soon exposed
It was clear to see Pumpido’s plans for taking advantage of the weaknesses La U possess. When Los Azules lost the ball it was moved quickly and directly to the front two which if done correctly is arguably the best way to hurt Universidad de Chile. Firstly, by doing so the Chileans we unable to press and win the ball back quickly as it was already away. Secondly any balls into the flanks will drag the ‘wide’ centre backs onto the flanks negated by the wing-backs opening the space for runs into the gaps between centre-backs.
Even though Castillón went close when he pounced on a long ball after indecision at the back the tactic became redundant as the front two became isolated. And even when Godoy Cruz could fashion possession in the final third it looked as if it was a front ‘one’ with Ramírez anonymous as Castillón chased and harried but failing to couple his work rate with sufficient quality in possession. The Argentina Dirk Kuyt, as I alluded to. He proved a nuisance for the back three of La U but any gaps he created by pulling defenders wide were not exploited as the midfield were too slow to support.
It left set-pieces as the Argentines only real means of threatening the home side. Something they at least managed once or twice as Universidad de Chile showed they still aren’t as competent at defending corners as they are most others things.
Eugenio Mena and the left flank
La U slowly felt their way into the game. But once they did they looked unstoppable at times. For much of the Clausura and Copa Sudamericana the right flank proved most fruitful with Rodríguez enjoying good understandings with Osvaldo González defensively and Eduardo Vargas offensively.
However La U focused their efforts down the left; Eugenio Mena enjoying one of his best games of recent times, certainly when it came to the attacking phase of the game. He gave an early example of what was to come when he sent a volley over the bar from inside the box after good link-up play on the edge of the box.
Mena knew that if he made a run down the left Francisco Castro would move inside creating space (Vargas/Rodríguez last year). But almost as importantly he knew more often than not he would be found – and not have to worry about reacting quickly to the side losing possession. After all it was usually Lorenzetti sliding or Marcelo Díaz lofting passes out left.
And the left wing-back set up the opening goal. However it wasn’t through a progressive run in behind the opposition. Rodríguez came sweeping over to the left to break-up a Godoy Cruz attack deep in La U’s half before knocking a pass to Mena on the touchline. A cheeky nutmeg gave the number three ample time to stroke a through ball from the half-way with the outside of his foot to meet Fernándes’ perfectly timed run across the defence. The streaky forward looked to have missed his opportunity as the excellent Sebastián Torrico blocked at his feet and appeared to get both hands on the ball. Fernándes played on and after wriggling free of Torrico finished confidently.
The Enganche Paradise
Moments later it could, and should, have been two as Castro was released by Lorenzetti but was foiled by Torrico who in the end kept the game in single figures.
Lorenzetti was proving instrumental and created wonderful combinations with Charles Aránguiz and Díaz; both in their passing and movement. Lorenzetti would drop deep from his number 10 role to the point where he appeared to be a third central midfielder while Aránguiz would often fill the space vacated by the diminutive Argentine. Díaz would play as the deepest midfielder taking the ball from defence and circulating it out wide and into Lorenzetti. The triumvirate contributed to a fantastic La U performance. Godoy could not handle the ferocity at which La U won the ball and moved it at pace in their transitional play.
Deservedly Lorenzetti scored his first of the season nipping in at the back post to convert a Fernándes flick from a corner. And he returned the favour on the stroke of half-time pulling left and clipping a delicious ball for La U number nine to power home a header.
The Argentines were caught between preventing further embarrassment and finding a way back into the game. Lucas Ceballos who had a torrid time at right-back was taken off with Uruguayan Jorge Curbelo on in his place. Diego Villar was pushed into an advanced central position giving the Argentines a 4-3-1-2 shape that at times morphed in a 3-4-1-2 when in possession, the full-backs pushing on and one of the central midfielders dropping deeper.
The change in formation did not bring about a substantial improvement but did give the strikers greater support with Villar more influential, while the full-backs attempted to challenge La U’s wing-backs further up the pitch. Despite getting it back to 3-1 through Leonardo Sigali’s close range finish they were still vulnerable from balls played through the middle, most notably when Lorenzetti picked up possession in space.
And this vulnerability was epitomised with the fourth goal. A long ball was dealt with by La U’s defence comfortably with Díaz and Aránguiz picking up possession and trading passes, easily taking Godoy’s midfield out of play before finding Lorenzetti who had dropped from a central forward position into a deeper position, dragging out Nicolás Sánchez who was caught in no man’s land as he failed to press the Argentine who slipped a lovely weighted pass into the gap for Fernándes to chase and score having come in off the right flank.
Godoy Cruz were content with pushing their defence high, although not the extent that La U do, but failed to press the ball effectively; a fundamental error which prevented them from having any chance against this La U side.
If your defence pushes up the pitch it is imperative that your midfield and forwards press the ball so not allowing for passes in behind or over the top. Unfortunately for the Argentines they failed to do this and worse of all failed to put any pressure on Lorenzetti throughout the game, always static when he received the ball; both in closing him down and dealing with runners from the flanks and midfield. A stark warning to any team facing the little Argentine and La U.
4-1 down and all hope loss Godoy became unorganised and La U had one more punishment in store as Eugenio Mena won possession outside the ball and launched a ball over the defence holding an ultra-high line. Substitute Ángelo Henríquez, on his bike, was not being caught and he rifled his shot into the top corner for his first ever goal for the first team. Doing my best Clive Tyldesley impression (with a Latin flavouring) ‘Remember the name, Ángelo Henríquez.’
The striker is an immensely gifted 17-year-old who, after impressing greatly in the South American Under-17 Championship in Ecuador, forced Manchester United to agree a first option on his signature.
Universidad de Chile thoroughly deserved their assertive and dominant win. Pumpido was correct in trying to attack Universidad de Chile as quickly as possible forcing the play onto their back three before they received the necessary protection from the midfield and forwards closing down. But his team were unable to implement the strategy, the midfield too slow and too reluctant to venture forward past the midfield of La U and support the forwards.
Defensively they could not handle the pace at which La U distributed the ball and interchanged positions. With Lorenzetti dropping deep it was 5v4 in Los Azules favour in the midfield. And if their support of the forwards was poor their closing down and putting pressure on the ball was woeful. Giving players of the calibre of Gustavo Lorenzetti and Marcelo Díaz time on the ball and space in which to pass into is suicidal. A fact compounded by a high and open defensive line.
If anything, an advert on how NOT to set up defensively against Universidad de Chile.