Copa Sudamericana Catch-up – La U and UC find themselves in very different situations

La U and UC look to set up a Clasico Universitario semi-final

The Copa Sudamericana quarter-final second-leg’s kick-off tonight as Universidad de Chile travel to Brazil in an attempt to overturn a 2-0 first-leg loss to Sao Paulo. So what exactly happened in the first-leg’s? Better late than never, I will quickly run through some of the taking points with the addition of highlights of each match and a brief preview on this week’s games.

Universidad de Chile 0-2 Sao Paulo

After the game Universidad de Chile captain José Rojas told the media that “for this group nothing is impossible”. However after a torrid first 45 minutes where Sao Paulo battered La U with controlled passing, relentless attacking and solid defending, overturning the two goal deficit looks improbable as La U slumped to their first home defeat in Continental competition since August 2010.

The same failings – La U struggle to defend counter-attacks. At the height of their game under Sampaoli i.e. the Copa Sudamericana win opposition teams were scared to attack La U due the arsenal of attacking talents Los Azules possessed. Now they do not have the same force in attack and teams can take risks by committing more players forward in the transition between defence and attack. If the ball is moved quickly to the space in behind and to the side of La U’s back three chances will be created.

It was the second goal that exemplified this counter-attacking problem. Eugenio Mena, as he always does and usually to great effect, strode forward and sent in a cross. The cross was cleared to Wellington who seeing the gap in front of him carried the ball in La U’s half before laying it off to his right for Lucas to speed away unchallenged down the flank and eventually cut-back for Willian to net his second.

The third incident of the first half all but finished the game as a contest as La U were once again caught high up the pitch with little coverage in defensive areas, resulting in Eugenio Mena tangling and bringing down Willian as he ran through on goal.

The midfield – La U were dominated in the midfield area, especially in the first 20 minutes where the Brazilians squeezed the three La U central midfielders tight, allowing them no options sideways or forwards. The trio of Denilson, Jadson and Wellington were supported by full-backs Cortez and Douglas while Lucas often drifted in from the right. There was no room for La U as São Paulo often had seven or eight players in the Chilean’s half.

Coupled with the fact Gustavo Lorenzetti is better further forward in central areas La U were heavily outgunned.

Can Mati be left out? – Defensive solidity was clearly in Sampaoli’s thoughts when leaving Matías Rodríguez on the bench. It’s often been mused that Rodríguez has given the right-side centre back less and less protection in the last 12 months or so. Despite receiving call-ups to Argentina squads he has even admitted himself that he has had a dip in form. But in the last few weeks he has looked like getting back to his old self.

At right-back in a back four Albert Acevedo is a safer and more conservative option. However in possession he is poor as can be seen with a number of attempted and failed long passes.

Rodríguez arose from the bench at half-time and was a crucial part of the second half as La U gained a foothold in the game and looked the more likely team to score, especially through Mati with his height for set-pieces and directness open play.

Rodríguez is not only a physically imposing player but a very good footballer to boot. It is essential that players of his quality play in games of this magnitude. He is bound to be back in the starting eleven for the return-leg and the ‘Clásico Universitario’.

Indepndiente 2-2 Universidad Católica

With the Argentines struggling in the Primera Divisón they sent out a weakened side to play inconsistent Católica. UC did not slip into complacency, taking the lead early on in the match and playing arguably their best football since Martín Lasarte took over. It was a surprise to all those watching that they went into the break on level terms; UC could easily have been three or four goals to the good. A final score line of 2-2 was, in the end, a positive result and one they expect to build on in San Carlos.

Organisation – Under Lasarte UC play a pretty basic 4-4-2. Full-backs are encouraged to support attack, the central midfield duo provide a solid base which allows the two wide men to play high up the park when in possession. The strike partnership always consists of one player stretching the game and the other dropping off.

The game plan was carried out exceptionally by the players, especially in the first half. Out of possession the midfield four worked as a unit, cutting off the space between defence and midfield. The wide men protected their full-back if play was on their side of the play while they would tuck in if it was over the other side of the pitch. Francisco Silva and Tomas Costa screened and patrolled the middle of misfield to great affect.

An incident in the 41st minute highlighted their defensive discipline. On noticing Michael Rios was too far forward and out of position, Nicolas Castillo dropped into Rios’ wide-right position to keep UC’s shape.

Attacks – It may sound like this was a defensive performance by Los Cruzados however it was anything but. Catolica were superb in the transition between defence and attack. The ball would be moved at lighting pace. In the first half an hour Francisco Pizarro, Fernando Cordero and Castillo all had chances with the latter passing up two presentable chances.

UC were direct and quick, whether it was a passing move or an individual dribbling with the ball. Similar to La U Independiente left space in behind their back four, and they did not have any pace to recover. If UC were more clinical, not only the game but the tie would be over.

Nicolas Castillo – I have likened the player to former Manchester City player Ishmael Miller in the past. He is a similar build to Miller with a lovely looking left foot and plenty of power. However, after a run of successive games the comparison seems very unjust.

The 19-year-old has increased his consistently immeasurably. He has been superb at running in behind defences while he has improved his link-up play and you only have to look further up this page to see his intelligence in recognising situations that evolve during the game. If there can be one complaint of him is that he is not a natural finisher, despite his regular goals for the Chilean youth teams. He did get on the score sheet to earn UC a significant draw.

In Angelo Henriquez and Castillo there is a promising strike partnership blossoming for Chile. Catolica however would like to hold onto the striker for longer than La U held onto their heralded young striker.

Preview

La U miss Eugenio Mena for the game in Sao Paulo but otherwise will be full-strength and back to their 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 formation that served them so well in the past. They will now have to summon a performance similar to the one against Flamengo that brought about the comparisons to Barcelona on their way to picking up the 2011 edition of the Copa Sudamericana.

There has been talk about Sampaoli’s future at the club but if he can turn around the two goal deficit it will surely go down as one of the club’s greatest results under the Argentine and strengthen the coach’s position at the club.

They will have to beat a Brazilian side who  have lost only one of their last 13 and who welcome back Luis Fabiano.

Independiente’s coach, Americo Gallego, has announced he’ll be setting his team out to snatch a 1-0 win that would take them into the semi-final of the competition. But Catolica come into the game on the back of another positive result in the ‘Clasico Universitario’ and are gaining in confidence.

If they can begin to convert the chances they are creating they will have few problems in reaching the last-four in the competition and the last-eight in the Clausura.

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