Universidad de Chile returned from their latest Copa Libertadores trip in much better fettle than they did from their last trip where they fell 4-1 to Deportivo Quito in Ecuador, before winning the second-leg 6-0.
However the opening period did not go to plan as Libertad, time and again, got in begin Los Azules’ defence; Osvaldo González in particular struggled to adapt to the pressure put on him and the space around him. The opening goal from Paraguayan international Victor Cáceres came from the space down La U’s right flank.
The home side’s pace and pressing led to a number of counter-attacks. But La U survived and gradually imposed themselves; Ángelo Henríquez coming closest to forcing an equaliser before half-time.
The Chileans influence grew in the second half and they equalised through Gustavo Lorenzetti’s deflected strike before the game slowed down and settled into a stop-start contest. Universidad de Chile’s substitute Emilio Hernández was sent off towards the end.
Here are some observations from the match:
As I have discussed before in my analysis of Universidad de Chile they do have their weaknesses. They are susceptible to quick breaks, especially when the ball is hit into the flanks, especially their right. Now I am not saying Jorge Burruchaga is a keen reader of The Red One but he had clearly done his homework and studied how they can take advantage of the way the Chileans play.
No doubt he poured over tapes, made scrolls of notes and it showed. It could be easy for any coach to watch La U, especially their dismantling of Deportivo Quito in the quarter-final second-leg, and feel daunted. But Burruchaga is clearly not one.
Despite Rodrigo Muñoz being on fine form in the Libertad goal there was only one team that looked like they could score with a semblance of ease and that was the Paraguayans. It is thought that against a front two a three man backline is most effective, allowing for a free man most of the time. However both José Ariel Núñez and Pablo Velázquez combined to prove a real handful, especially for Osvaldo González who has now been exposed on La U’s last two trips in the competition.
Both wing-backs are encouraged to push high up the pitch, joining in attacks while pressing the opposition into their half. However it does leave space in La U’s defensive half, especially in the wide positions. Out of the two wing-backs Eugenio Mena is more reserved and also quicker allowing him to recover from up the pitch quicker. Matías Rodríguez is a powerhouse. His importance to the team has increased and spends more time attacking than he does defending. While adding an extra dimension to the teams attacking moves he leaves González exposed when teams break quickly.
And that is exactly what Libertad done. Once La U entered the Paraguayans half the home side pressed, winning the ball back and moving it into the left channel in behind the defence. González’s lack of pace, unlike José Rojas, was always going to be a problem for La U, considering the pace that Libertad possessed. Ariel Núñez worked the flank brilliantly and was ably supported by ex-Ipswich Town winger Luciano Civelli.
Both Godoy Cruz and Peñarol as well as Deportivo Quito (second-leg) had similar ideas but lacked support from the midfield to overload and trouble the Chileans defence. Libertad, when they countered, done so in numbers. Both Victor Cáceres and Sergio Aquino motored forward. The goal saw Núñez pull onto González and open space down their left which Civelli powered into untracked to receive a cute back heel from the striker and centre for Cáceres to finish.
Be sure to read about the match from a Paraguayan bias.
The Triangle stifled
A good counter-attacking team are of course swift in transition when they win the ball. But they should also be adept at stifling the opposition, making the pitch small and staying compact. This is exactly what Libertad were like.
The tight pitch at the Estadio Dr. Nicolás Leoz, which only holds 10,000, suits a team of Libertad’s ilk especially when the opposition are like to play with a high line. And most importantly for the Paraguayans it aided in closing down and suffocating La U’s midfield triangle of Marcelo Díaz, Charles Aránguiz and Gustavo Lorenzetti.
In possession they were pressed and harried, a number of counter-attacks coming from when one of the three were dispossessed. The point was made in the Deportivo Quito analysis of the Ecuadorians giving those players too much time on the ball. Libertad did not and benefitted.
It should be noted that the one time they did let Gustavo Lorenzetti get goal side of the midfield in space La U scored.
An 18-year-old centre back given another start in the Copa Libertadores; this time away from home in a quarter-final? An experienced international playing in his umpteenth match for the club?
Which one struggled?
Igor Lichnovsky, linked to some of Europe’s biggest names including Internazionale, started on the left of the back three and gave an accomplished performance throughout. Strong, dependable, confident and quick.
He handled the occasion well and it tells you a lot about his quality that he was never ‘targeted’ by the Paraguayans as a weak link. Every time he was brought into action he was defensively sold. He combined it with the confidence to play from the back. Under pressure, instead of going long he remained calm, bringing the ball out from the back and starting attacks from deeper.
All the qualities that are seen in a modern day centre back. Keep an eye out . . .
In the second-half the football improved from La U’s point of view. Their passing was quicker, sharper and more refined. They began to initiate and air of authority and as the half progressed it descended into a stop start affair with neither team looking like adding to their single goal.
Referee Darío Ubríaco’s constant whistling played it’s on part in the second-half ‘event’.
Sampaoli also took the chance to solidify the team, especially in the defensive right-hand side area. Felipe Gallegos was brought of for Paulo Magalhaes who in turn was put into the right-wing back position and Rodríguez shifted higher up the pitch, giving the side a more compact look.
There was a moment of negativity at the end when the lively Emilio Hernández was harshly sent-off for an apparent stamp(???).
So on to Thursday . . .
We know what happened the previous Thursday in Santiago which adds even more intrigue to the second part of this contest in the only tie not involving a team from Brazil or neighbouring Argentina.
Libertad look more structured and organized in comparison to Deportivo Quito while having the necessary confidence in attacking. Can they be brave try to exploit Universidad de Chile in the wide open spaces of the Estadio Nacional where it is even harder to defend deep and hold firm against the Chileans who should have Junior Fernándes back?