In Europe’s Champions League overturning a three goal deficit in the knock-out stages is seen as unlikely. But in South America’s equivalent, the Copa Libertadores, things are little crazier, a little more hectic and a little more manic. Due to the vast distances teams have to travel and the differing altitudes games are played at the home teams are often handed an advantage. Overturning a three goal difference in South America is seen as entirely possible.
Universidad de Chile travelled to Ecuador two weeks ago this Thursday to play Deportivo Quito in a city – second to La Paz – infamous for its altitude; some 9,200ft above sea level.
La U had dealt with Quito’s altitude before. Only in December past did they win against LDU Quito. And then you factor in their young, fit, dynamic and talented squad as well as Chilean teams adaptability at playing at altitude.
However what transpired was surprising as Deportivo ran out convincing 4-1 winners, making La U look ordinary, even slapstick at times.
One week on and La U were faced with a defining moment in their season history. Speculation had been building as to what was next for Jorge Sampaoli and a horde of his players. Go out and it may signal a rapid end to an era.
La U had to become only the second Chilean team in nine attempts to come back from a three goal first-leg defeat and progress – the last team to do so was Cobreloa in the 1995 Copa Conembol, beating Ciclista Lima 7-2 in the second-leg (first-leg 4-1 Ciclista Lima) (via Jorge Gómez).
And what occurred was quite simply outstanding. Quite simply Universidad de Chile.
Six goals, no reply. A packed and vociferous Estadio Nacional. Yet another tactical masterclass from Jorge Sampaoli. Yet another masterclass in how to play with pace, precision and movement.
Junior Fernándes got the party started with a brace before Marcelo Díaz put La U three up with ten first half minutes to spare. Eugenio Mena added a fourth after half-time and Ángelo Henríquez completed the rout, and it was a rout, with a brace of his own to add to his burgeoning – not quite doing the talent justice – reputation.
Here are some observations from another marker in the fantastic rise of Universidad de Chile to becoming one of the finest footballing teams in the world:
Sampaoli: Adventurous, brave, courageous, daring
There was only one thing for it. Attack. There is no point sitting back when you need at least three goals, is there? However most managers would think that a conservative attacking game is the best way forward; get into half-time in front and then start taking more risks in the second half.
But that is not Jorge Sampaoli. He builds his teams to attack, to always be on the front foot. Except this time they were just that little bit more attacking. Taking more risks, playing wider and more open.
José Rojas, who had yet another stellar game at centre-half – Botagofo missed a trick there – held the back together almost single handily. La U weren’t playing with three centre backs. No, they played with one centre back, slightly deeper than two wing-backs. Matías Rodríguez was pushed higher on the right while Marcelo Díaz played deeper than Guillermo Marino and Charles Aránguiz who were all over the place. But in a good way. Up and down. Side to side. Constantly on the move, keeping the play flowing.
Gustavo Lorenzetti started in his ‘false-9’ role which he has perfected under Sampaoli, foraging in space ahead of the defence allowing Fernándes on the left and Henríquez to move inside and occupy Depor’s back three (well back five).
They had to be brave and they had to score the first goal. Rojas knew he was going to be on his lonesome but he pushed up the pitch. When he did the rest of the team followed pinning Quito back.
They knew La U had vacated acres of space for the likes of Fidel Martínez to run into and they looked to take advantage of that. In the 13th, 18th and 20th minute a long ball into La U’s right flank set allowed the Ecuadorians to threaten. But in the first two instances the pace and determination of Rojas saved the day while on the third occasion when there was space to run into Martínez opted to slow the game down allowing La U to recover before trying a difficult pass.
La U stood tall and went on to score 6 (SIX).
The Importance of Marcelo Díaz
A couple of days ago I read an excellent piece on Andrea Pirlo. The writer in question penned a beautiful summary of arguably Italy’s finest regista:
“(Pirlo) . . . made himself constantly available to his team-mates, always there to receive the ball and move it on in the most relevant direction. He was compass and metronome rolled into one.”
And of course there was mention of Milan’s – or Massimilliano Allegri’s – indifference in letting 32-year-old leave. The rest, well, is history.
For Marcelo Díaz his remaining days in Santiago are numbered having agreed a move to Swiss champions Basel. Yet – remember this is speculation – there is talk that Jorge Sampaoli was more concerned about the futures of Osvaldo “Rocky” González and Matías Rodríguez.
Ninety minutes later and Sampaoli may be slightly more aware of the quality that is leaving his side. Replace Pirlo with Díaz and that quote would still stand.
Okay, so he was very rarely pressed when in possession but with the possession he orchestrated La U’s comeback. Pass, pass, pass. Move, move, move. Always aware and never passing for the sake of it. If there was a pass into a dangerous area available he would take the responsibility in delivering it from deep.
Then there was the defensive side. His reading of the game is, at times, immaculate. Again his awareness plays a crucial part in breaking up the play without having to thunder into challenges.
He also dropped in to make it a back four at times when Deportivo did have the ball for longer than ten seconds, adding solidity to the backline.
Europe has swallowed up another fine South American talent. And while Sebastián Martínez is mooted as his long-term successor a move for David Pizarro may be crucial in bridging the gap in the short-term.
Against Chelsea Barcelona had a problem. With the Londoners packed behind the ball the movement of Pep Guardiola’s players was vital to pull defenders out of position opening up space to exploit. But in the second-leg these movements were altogether predictable while any width proved redundant as Barca had little to aim for in the box.
There were no such problems for Los Azules. The obvious should be stated; Deportivo Quito are not Chelsea.
The forward movement of Aránguiz and Marino, the dropping deep of Lorenzetti, the lateral and vertical movement of the wide forwards; everywhere Quito looked there was a blue figure moving. One moment the defence would have been thinking to themselves ‘everything is calm then . . . anarchy’.
It can be compared to scene from a comic book hero movie. The hero is surrounded by the bad guys in a dark alley. No lights, no one can see what’s happening and seconds later there are bad guys lying, having been floored, everywhere.
The Second goal epitomises the movement. Rodríguez narrows before offloading a pass to a ‘deeper’ Aránguiz while Lorenzetti drops of and Marino takes his place to become the highest La U player. Deportivo begin following the ball and Fernándes is able to get space in the box to shoot and score.
As talked about in the first observation Quito looked to take advantage of the space left in behind the defence and on the flanks. A canny move.
BUT. Defensively it was nothing short of abysmal from the away side’s point of view. Out of possession they would sink into a 5-4-1. The ‘5’ and ‘4’ almost on top of each other barely 35 yards from their own goalkeeper. Therefore there was no pressure on Díaz. A creative player from deep can control games in these situations and this is exactly what he done. Not only did he control but La U penetrated because of their movement.
With little options ahead of them when they received the ball they were forced long. A reasonable strategy against La U, but not so reasonable when there is only one target to aim for, and the midfield too far way to offer quick, adequate support.
It would not be wrong to label Quiot ‘lost’. After all they spent three percent of the game in El Chunco’s half failing to register a shot on or off target.
And even when it was too late Carlos Ischia could not change it. Even with the introduction of another, more imposing, striker in Julio Bevacqua.
Second Half/La U’s variety
Three goals to the good and heading through to the quarter-finals Sampaoli added steel to his defence while continuing with an attacking strategy of course.
Guillermo Marino made way for Sebastián Martínez who dropped into the centre of defence as La U took up a shape that alternated between 4-2-1-3 and a 4-4-2 diamond as seen by the diagram to the left.
If anything it highlighted the variety in La U’s play, seamlessly changing between shape and how they attacked.
The 4th goal came from a Quito corner. A clearance fell to Lorenzetti, yards from his own touchline, and 20 seconds and four passes later it was in the Ecuadorian’s net through left-(wing)back Mena.
Then for the 5th goal, when La U were sitting by the camp fire, marshmallows in hand, having set up camp long ago, there was 14 passes in confined area of the pitch out to the left. They were toying with the away side. Just when it looked like they could be doing it for the rest of the night Henríquez sprung away from the defence and Fernándes found him with a lovely flicked ball.
Goal number six came from a long ball over the Quito defence for Henríquez to chase and finish after a brave challenge with Deportivo goalkeeper Marcelo Elizaga.