Even though there is still 8 games to play, last night’s 3-1 demolition – let’s be honest it was a demolition– handed out by Ecuador felt like seeing your prized Ferrari mis-handled in the garage by a mechanic before your own eyes, prompting the feeling that you may never see it in all its glory again, until a new mechanic is brought in to fix it.
There’s a popular feeling that Borghi, spanner in hand, is slowly dismantling a promising side before eventually replacing his spanner for a sledgehammer and obliterating Chile’s Ferrari.
The Chile that people fantasise and reminisce about were nowhere to be seen: the eclectic movements; defenders attacking; attacker defending; the frantic football that left your head in a spin, yet you wanted to see more and more. And more.
People have to remember it is no longer Marcelo Bielsa’s team. It’s Claudio ‘Bichi’ Borghi’s. But the marriage they didn’t want to end did. Reluctantly, they have had a new partner for a while now and they want it to end. Quick.
Despite taking the lead through a ridiculous own goal, Chile never looked comfortable and were soon pegged back through Felipe Caicedo. The same player made it 2-1 after Pablo Contreras was shown a second yellow for bringing down Ibarra in the box; the penalty was missed but Caicedo netted the rebound. Segundo Castillo completed a score line that could, and should, have been more convincing.
So what exactly happened:
Chile’s 3-4-2-1/3-3-3-1/3-6-1 experiment
The last time Borghi attempted an experiment in the qualifiers was against Argentina, just over a year ago. That time it blew up in his face as he tried to fit both Matías Fernández and Jorge Valdivia into the same line-up. And it was yet another case of the test tube exploding against Ecuador.
The problem is evident from the title; no one really knew what it was, including the players going by last night’s proceedings.
There was a back three as usual, but as you moved forward players were unaware of their individual and team roles. Arturo Vidal was caught between making it a three man centre midfield and supporting Fernández and Sánchez. Jean Beausejour looked lost – a point I shall expand on – while Fernández was starved of the ball.
Like La Paz, Quito is infamous for its altitude; you don’t want to spend the 90 minutes chasing the ball. However that’s what La Roja ended up doing, unable to keep up with the speed, energy and directness of Ecuador.
The ‘1’ in the experiment was of course Alexis Sánchez. At this moment in time you should be thinking: ‘Sánchez? Not exactly the ideal player to lead the line on his own’. And you would of course be right. He would be bullied by Ecaudor’s centre-back pairing of Gabriel Achiller and Fricson Erazo.
With a deeper midfield than normal you require someone adept at holding up the ball to allow the team to move forward as a unit, realising the side from defending relentless attacks.
Under Bielsa Chile were characterised by their movement with and without the ball; a stark contrast to last night where the static nature of the players was distinct. Restricted almost.
It was all too noticeable in the first half and Ecuador’s equaliser. Fernández, dropping into the Chile half to collect the ball, had very little on and with the pressure applied from Ecuador he was forced back to Pablo Contreras; only for the pass to be read by Felipe Caicedo who expertly rounded Miguel Pinto and scored.
Playing out from the back was troublesome for Chile. Chuncho Benitez was smart in dropping off Caicedo to block passes into Marcelo Díaz. But Gonzalo Jara (and others), when collecting the ball short from Pinto, still had limited options due to lack of movement and interchanging and in turn had to hit long, aimless balls to Sánchez.
It is harsh to just pick up two players on their lack of movement but Vidal and Beausejour very rarely varied their position when looking for the ball; rigid.
As ever the wing-backs or wide-midfielders, they had an extensive job on their hands, but only one pulled it off.
When defending, which was most of the game, Mauricio Isla slotted into a right-back position or a position slightly ahead of Osvaldo González. This negated the threat of Joao Rojas who looked to move inside on his right. Isla is well-known for his indefatigability, powering up and down the right wing. When he was afforded the chance he tried his damndest to get forward.
Chile’s only real period of sustained possession brought about the goal as they patiently knocked the ball about in triangles deep in Ecuador’s half until Isla made a run down the right; fed by Fernández he whipped in a low cross which no one attacked, but fortunately Juan Paredes, the Ecuadorian right-back, forgot how to play football and swung at the ball with his right foot, instead of his left, slicing the ball into the net.
On the left wing there was Jean Beausejour. Yet, there may as well have been no body; the Wigan player turning in a passive performance. As Isla supported his defence and offered an attacking outlet whenever he could, Beausejour stood on the left-hand touchline, half-way up the pitch offering nothing.
Renato Ibarra tormented Chile time and again, running at Jara at will; no one putting up any resistance. Jara was often dragged into a left-back position, bringing Contreras with him, leaving a gap in the middle which González failed to fill.
Ecuador’s second goal came about from an Ibarra run down the left, and perhaps there should have been more as Chile were subjected to a bombardment of crosses from the right.
Basic, simple, effective: Three words that symbolise Reinaldo Rueda formation and game plan. There were no complexities. It was 4-4-2 executed to perfection – well almost.
Four defenders supported by two holding midfielders, which gave the platform for both wingers to play high up the pitch in support of the two forwards. I may be doing the formation grave disservice for speaking about it in basic terms but there was fluidity and freedom for the front four. Chuncho was excellent in dropping off Caicedo, looking for space to pick up the ball to dribble or combine with Caicedo. Chuncho/Caicedo is a fine partnership; they play close together and have a good understanding epitomised with a movement at the start of the second half when Chuncho received the ball he instantly played it to Caicedo, knowing he’d be there, before taking the return and sending a shot narrowly past the post.
On the wings Ibarra is an out-and-out winger looking to take on his opponent and cross into the box. On the other side, Rojas is an inverted winger who had less success due to the defensive qualities of Isla.
It wasn’t long before the full-backs realised they had the freedom to support their wide players; left-back Walter Ayovi doing his best to overlap Rojas and help create space for the number 18. As the game progressed ex-Everton man Segundo Castillo offered further penetration by driving with the ball unchallenged from deep.
Ecuador could have easily scored four or five in the first half due to their wing-play and ability from corners. Miguel Pinto denied Chuncho as did Felipe Seymour with a clearing header off the line while the bar denied what looked like a certain goal. Chuncho is not the tallest but you don’t need to be when the opposition allow wide midfielders to deliver quality crosses.
Even though they defended in a 4-4-1-1 shape, Rojas failed to track the forward runs of Isla. It would have been interesting to see if Ibarra would have left Beausejour but the latter didn’t tend to move.
After the penalty, which saw Contreras sent-off, La Roja hung on until the last ten minutes, when they introduced Eduardo Vargas. By which time Junior Fernandes was already on the pitch. Jaime Vera, filling in for the suspended Claudio Borghi, went 4-2-1-2. And for a brief moment it looked like Chile could snatch the unlikeliest, and least deserved, of points. Space had opened up in front of Ecuador who seemed to have treated the game as if it was over. However two promising opportunities were wasted when the ball was worked to Fernandes on the right and the Bayer Leverkusen forward failed in providing good deliveries.
The evening was over when Arturo Vidal elbowed Luis Saritama has he attempted to wriggle free and drive the team forward. Another case of Chilean indiscipline. He will now miss the Argentina game along with Contreras and Osvaldo González who was yellow carded.
Playing against nine men Ecuador toyed with La Roja and added a deserved third.
Up next: Argentina and Lionel Messi. Better start praying now.