Loss, win, draw. Not the start to the Copa Libertadores campaign Universidad de Chile expected but in a tough group and with two away games out of the way after yesterday evening’s 1-1 draw in Uruguay with Peñarol La U are in a position of strength to reach the knock-out stages.
However Jorge Sampaoli felt that their position could have been even stronger if they made the most of their pressure in the second half. The home side may have felt slightly aggrieved at going into the break level as Junior Fernándes cancelled out Nicolás Freitas’ opener. Peñarol had visibly upset El Chuncho’s rhythm in the first half, penning the Chileans midfield in their own half and causing the backline an abundance of problems with their direct play in to ex-Juventus striker Marcelo Zalayeta. Sampaoli changed the flow of the game with the introduction of Gustavo Lorenzetti at half-time and Universidad de Chile looked the more likely team to collect all three points.
In preparation for the game against the 2011 Copa Libertadores runners-up Sampaoli announced La U would play their normal pressing game against Los Carboneros, opting for the gifted 17-year-old Ángelo Henríquez instead of the experienced guile and creativity of ‘enganche’ Gustavo Lorenzetti. La U; the only change from the 5-1 victory over Godoy Cruz.
Peñarol remained in their 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders and full-backs reluctant to bomb forward. This gave the front four players a base to interchange with Zalayeta as the focal point and Rodrgio Mora drifting to the left.
The game was only moments old when out of nothing Fabiá Estoyanoff pulled off Jorge Rojas to collect a pass from deep and thunder a shot off the bar with a swiftly taken shot which had Jhonny Herrera diving in vain.
It was an early pointer as to what Los Azules back three could expect. In the analysis of La U’s game against Godoy Cruz the point was made that the team are vulnerable to long balls and direct, quick play aiming to exploit potential gaps behind and to the side of the defence. The Argentines were hesitant in supporting their front two. This was not the case for Peñarol.
Freitas sent a warning to La U, getting on the end of a Zalayeta knock down but hooked his shot into the ground and wide. Zalayeta enjoyed a significant height advantage over the three centre backs; three inches taller than Osvaldo González and almost a full six inches taller than Jose Rojas.
The opening goal came about simply because of his presence in the away side’s box. A long-throw from the left was missed was by Zalayeta but also the defenders around him, the ball bouncing off Albert Acevedo and falling to Freitas on the edge of the box who curled a volley away from Herrera and into the corner.
It should have been two seconds later as another long, straight ball was flicked on by Zalayeta causing panic and indecision between Acevedo and González allowing Mora to nip in but his shot was straight at Herrera.
La U were a broken team. Not in the way they ‘broke’ teams in the Copa Sudamericana but their system. Peñarol’s defence were playing deep but their midfield and attack were penning La U’s midfield and defence in their own half meaning the front three had to forage on scraps with no link between the midfield and attack. A consequence of removing Lorenzetti from the team with none of the front free – Henríquez, Francisco Castro or Fernándes – as adept at taking advantage of space between the lines.
They only started to enjoy a period of dominance when Charles Aránguiz was braver and broke Peñarol’s press to link with the forwards allowing a quicker and more fluid transition of the ball from back to front. In one particular move he found Fernándes out wide and the rangy striker’s cross was flicked on by Henríquez to the unmarked Castro but his weak header was easily saved by Fabián Carini, even if he did make it more extravagant than it had to be.
In this period of pressure Los Azules grabbed what proved to be a vital goal. Again the ball was worked into the box, only this time it fortuitously fell to Fernándes as Eugenio Mena’s shot spun into the air and the number 9 thrashed a volley under Carini before the goalkeeper had time to react.
The start of the second half brought about an appearance from Lorenzetti, Sampaoli recognising that it may have been a mistake to leave him out in the first place. With the Peñarol defence wary of the pace in the La U attack while their midfield attempted to shut down La U high up the pitch there was an abundance of space between Los Aurinegros back four and midfield holders for Lorenzetti to play in.
The change brought about an even and cagey second half. Universidad de Chile saw more possession in more dangerous areas thanks to Lorenzetti’s movement and intelligence at picking up positions where he would have time to assess his options. Despite not having the same effect on the score-line as he did against Godoy Cruz his mere presence on the pitch and in certain positions forced Peñarol to play more cautiously.
They did however maintain a threat through the direct ball. Rather than use the wings to cross into Zalayeta they play a number of long straight balls into the target man. Strangely he was taking off as the game entered its finale (as was Emiliano Albín whose influence waned). As the game enters its final stages you would expect that there would be an increase in the number of balls played into the box for Zalayeta. The changes played into Universidad de Chile’s hand.
Not before a scare however. Estoyanoff was released for the second time in the match but was thwarted by Herrera who was quick off his line. From the resultant corner Herrera denied Freitas a second goal with a wonderful save from point blank range, pushing away his header and from the rebound Zalayeta blazed over.
Despite seeing a greater percentage of the ball in the attacking third La U were uncharacteristically wasteful in creating chances from dangerous positions; Fernándes the culprit on more than one occasion of choosing the wrong option. Yet they could have snatched the win in stoppage time when a move was put together to release the indefatigable Matías Rodríguez but his deflected effort spun agonizingly the wrong side of the post.
Even with an improved second half performance, and despite Sampaoli’s claims, Universidad de Chile did not do enough to merit the three points, a draw a fair result in a good contest. La U were once again shown to be susceptible to long, direct balls played to a target man. They do however, when not playing at their maximum capacity, possess a resilience which will prove essential if they are to go far in the knock-out stages providing they make it.
It also helps when you have the quality of Gustavo Lorenzetti rising from the bench when you are in trouble.
Unión Española 1-1 Universidad Católica
In the evenings other match involving Chilean sides Unión Española and Universidad Católica shared two goals . . . and some controversy.
Enzo Andía guided in a whipped free-kick from Michael Ríos seven minutes before the break to put Cató into the lead. But they could not hold on until half-time as Española equalised six minutes later. UC goalkeeper Cristopher Toselli was beaten to a bouncing ball by Jorge Ampuero and clattered into the back of him. Emmanuel Herrera stepped up to face Toselli and was denied as the ‘keeper fell to his right to punch the ball away. Only for referee Claudio Puga to order a re-take due to perceived encroachment. Herrera stepped up again. And missed again. But this time the referee did not order a re-take and Herrera was the quickest to reach the rebound to level the scores.
The night did not end well for Católica as Francisco Silva was given an early bath after picking up two yellow cards and Rodrigo Valenzuela received a red card in the post-game arguments with the referee.
With Bolívar and Junior playing in the early hours of Friday morning Española and Católica still occupy positions one and two in the group. La Furia Roja are on seven points while Los Cruzados are on three points after three games.