While the Copa Sudamericana began back in late August Universidad de Chile had to wait until Tuesday evening (CLST) before they could begin the defence of the title they won in thrilling fashion last year. In that time three Chilean sides – Cobreloa, Deportes Iquique and O’Higgins – fell by the way side which left Universidad Católica as the sole Chilean survivor of the first two rounds (La U entering at the last-16 stage as holders).
Universidad de Chile had not won on the continental or international stage since their obliteration of Deportivo Quito at the quarter-final stage of the Copa Libertadores in May. Since that 6-0 thrashing of the Ecuadorians La U have played 7 games, drawn 4 and lost 3 – one of which was on penalties.
And it was Ecuadorian opposition again for Los Azules in the shape of Emelec from the city of Guayaquil. But if you were looking for symmetry as La U ended their winless run then you will be disappointed.
La U lacked the fluidity, tempo and aggression that brought them success in last year’s edition of the Copa Sudamericana, falling behind to a fine Luciano Figueroa finish before Enzo Gutiérrez equalised. Marlon de Jesús put Emelec back in front as the game headed for the recess but Sebastián Ubilla restored parity moments after the break. La U could not kick on and find the winner which would have given them a slender advantage going into the return leg.
Here are some observations:
The Importance of Díaz
Forget about Eduardo Vargas or Junior Fernandes or Ángelo Henríquez or even Osvaldo González, as Universidad de Chile reached the zenith of the club’s history Marcelo Díaz was the key player. Now at Swiss club Basel, Díaz is a long way from Santiago. And La U is a long way away from the heights of the previous year.
The fall in standard could be an article in itself and there is a variety of reasons behind the regression, including player turnover and adaptation to the system, tiredness due to the number of games, opposition working out how best to negate their threats, but a significant drop could be attained to the transfer of Díaz.
La U used to be structured but chaotic. Aggressive but calm. Quick but measured. And at the heart of all things good was the stocky number 21 – a number he still wears at new club Basel.
He was the heartbeat that pumped passes around pitch like blood around the body. He was the glue that joined defence and attack. Simply put he was the metronome, always in the right position to receive or play a pass. La U was a single entity with him in the line-up. Now they look broken.
The tempo is not the same. On Wednesday Charles Aránguiz was partnered by 19-year-old Sebastián Martínez. They didn’t play in tandem as Aránguiz had with Díaz. He pushed further forward becoming an auxiliary forward at times, leaving the inexperienced Martínez exposed in the middle of the park. Martínez was therefore stuck with a conundrum, push higher up the pitch to get closer to his partner and leave a massive gap or more sensibly sit deeper ready to recycle possession while protecting the back three. In the end he did neither.
Both Emelec goals came from poor play from the back, into midfield. While undoubtedly a very promising talent, Martínez is still in the midst of developing as a player. Mentioned previously by Sampaoli as the long-term heir to Díaz he has shown that he doesn’t have the game intelligence and perhaps the awareness when passing to be left alone in that position like Prince Charles had done with Díaz.
With Aránguiz now out for 10 days it may give Martínez a chance to play alongside an experienced and worthy talent like Guillermo Marino.
La U’s left-hand side lifeline
As was mentioned in the Santos report La U’s attacking threat throughout the game through the triangle of Gustavo Lorenzetti, Eugenio Mena and Sebastián Ubilla. However this time it was only the former two involved and once again they were the players that looked most likely in splitting open the opposition defence.
It shows that the duo have been playing together for the last 18 months or so, developing a partnership that is increasing in importance. Lorenzetti was play to the left of a front three but naturally he likes to drop deeper and in to central areas, thus opening space for Mena to either run into to receive passes or to dribble into; he is more than adept at both. And again it was this movement that created the opening goal; Lorenzetti moving inside linking with Mena before Mena drove towards the by-line to lift a cross in for Enzo Gutiérrez to head in off the bar after the goalkeeper parried at the cross.
In a recent interview with the press Marcelo Díaz mentioned that it takes new players time to adapt to Sampaoli’s demanding style of play and build on-field relationships. You only have to look at the last two points to back-up Díaz’s comments.
I will be writing about Eugenio Mena soon so won’t go into any detail but if your team is searching for a left-back or left-wing back then they should look no further than Mena. You could describe him as Mr Consistent but that should be left for players that deliver six or seven out of ten performances. Mena constantly looks like an eight out of ten player. Take note.
In the aftermath of the draw with Emelec Matías Rodríguez took to Twitter to admit that he is playing at a ‘low level’ and that he can’t understand why that is.
It is a problem which was noticed early in the year by Rupert Fryer. Despite the drop in his overall performance he was given a call-up to the Argentina squad. However I feel it is pertinent to state that during the early part of the year he was scoring regularly, and these goals were masking the deficiencies in his all-round game.
As the goals dried up it became evident that he was not the Matías Rodríguez who owned the right-flank on La U’s way to Copa Sudamericana and Clausura success. Defensively he was not giving enough protection to Osvaldo González who was being forced wide into uncomfortable territory and it showed as he put in a number of inadequate performances.
I mentioned it at the time but it seemed as if Mati had believed his own hype and concentrated more on attacking rather than giving a balanced performance.
On Wednesday night in the first half he sat deeper; he wasn’t prevalent but the right-flank was solid. In search of goals in the second half he, naturally, pushed on. Yet there was little of the attacking verve we have become accustomed to with Mati.
He has assured La U fans that he’ll fight to get back to his best.
In terms of the new recruits La U have brought to the club in the last two transfer windows Sebastián Ubilla has shown most potential. A lively figure, he looks comfortable playing anywhere across a front three or as part of a front two. However on Wednesday he showed that he is perhaps best playing as a right-forward or a strike that drifts to the right-flank where he can pick up the ball in space and run at defenders.
He is still a raw talent but the sort of runs Ángelo Henríquez made are beginning to show in Ubilla. For the goal he pulled off his marker to the right and finished with a superbly-executed and emphatic volley.
And finally . . . Luciano Figueroa
I made the mistake in taking a dig or three at the former Birmingham, Villarreal and Genoa striker. Seventeen minutes it took for him to ram my words back down my throat with what was an excellent finish past Jhonny Herrera; the ball behind him he arrowed a shot into the bottom corner. Unstoppable.
With Marlon de Jesús he formed a quality strike partnership; Figueroa the aerial threat and de Jesús the pace and power in behind. José Rojas, an exceptional sweeper, had his hands full with the pair and Sebastián Martínez, who moved to centre back at half-time, was lucky not to have conceded a penalty when he brought de Jesús down in the area after the Ecuadorian internationalist had out paced him.
The second-leg is a must-watch!
Universidad Católica 2-0 Atlético Goianiense
Los Cruzados put the nightmare of the weekend’s el clásico defeat behind them to record a significant victory over Brazilian’s Atl-GO – in what was their first competitive game outside of Brazil.
The first half was 45 minutes of football that should be erased from the memory of every poor soul who had the misfortune of witnessing it. Neither team seemed to posses the quality of player to affect the score line. The one player who you would think of as the type who would add glitter to a mundane half would be Cato’s Nicolas Trecco but he blazed a glorious chance high over the bar.
The second half was better for Católica as they took the game to the team who prop up the Brazilian Serie A, and they were rewarded with goals from Francisco Silva and Alvaro Ramos.