Just over 12 months ago La U travelled to Brazil to put in arguably their most devastating performance under Jorge Sampaoli as they obliterated a Flamengo team including Ronaldinho 4-0; prompting headlines in Brazil comparing Los Azules to Barcelona.
On Wednesday night La U were back in Brazil in the quarter-finals of the Copa Sudamericana and in act of symmetry, if that’s the correct word, La U were handed their worst night since Sampaoli took over – if not their worst then certainly their most embarrassing.
From start to finish São Paulo, ruthless and efficient, stormed through La U to devastating effect; Jadson opening and then closing the scoring (there’s that symmetry again) as the Brazilians stuck five past Jhonny Herrera.
La U knew they had to win and Sampaoli set out his team to do just that. And then apologised after for doing so, solely taking the blame.
São Paulo’s pace and precision on the counter-attack was out of this world. Lucas, who moves to France in the new year, scored and put on a show as if to say I’m worth (the reported) £35m, while Luis Fabiano netted the goal of the game, reminiscent to the one Hernan Crespo scored against Liverpool in that Champions League final. Even centre-back Rafael Toloi got in on the act, thundering in a free-kick from 30 yards.
Formation – The club’s official twitter page announced the line-up with Paulo Magalhaes in the team. However Sampaoli made a late change and included Francisco Castro at the expense of Magalhaes. As you can see from the picture it resulted in an unbalance in La U’s formation.
Enzo Gutiérrez a ‘No. 9’ striker was fielded in central midfield and Gustavo Lorenzetti in the centre of attack. Lorenzetti naturally drops deeper which resulted in a diamond midfield with Matías Rodríguez playing wide right and neither wide forward filling the space vacated by Lorenzetti’s movements.
The defensive three were stretched wide, leaving gaps for the explosive play of Luis Fabiano and Lucas to take advantage of.
Gustavo Lorenzetti – It is fair to say Wednesday was an off-night for Lorenzetti. He lost possession for the second goal and could have done better in closing down for the third goal. But this is not the blame game. The opposite in fact.
The little Argentine has been one of, if not, La U’s most influential players since July, especially in terms of attacking play. The vast majority of La U’s good play goes through him. Previously he, along with Marcelo Díaz, had been the architect behind the goals and forward play of Gustavo Canales, Junior Fernandez, Eduardo Vargas and Ángelo Henríquez. Now with the five players gone Lorenzetti is playing alongside lesser players and he now has more responsibility to the point where there is almost an over-alliance on his creative talents.
The way La U set up in midfield, they tried to outnumber São Paulo in central areas but with Lorenzetti dropping deeper and deeper the play was cramped. He had to do this because his midfielders were unable to pass the ball with the necessary pace and quality to find him in the space between defence and midfield.
Sebastián Martínez – These two games against the Brazilians have been a compelling and vital experience for the 19-year-old midfielder. When Marcelo Díaz left for Switzerland Sampaoli mentioned Martínez as the long-term replacement but insisted that he wasn’t quite ready, resulting in the purchase of Ezequiel Videla. Yet it is Martínez who has had more minutes – plus a call-up to the Chile squad.
However he is not a metronome like Díaz was. Players like Díaz are always commanding the ball, getting as many touches as possible, controlling the tempo of the game to suit their own needs as well as the teams. Martínez is nowhere near the required intelligence or technical quality needed just yet.
I mentioned above about the midfield battle. Martínez was lost among the bodies and the ferocity at which São Paulo moved the ball and shut down the passing options and angles available to La U. In Denilson, Wellington, Jadson plus the two full-backs who played as auxiliary wide midfielders São Paulo had a combination of energy, stamina, movement, intelligence and quality to over power, out fight and out play La U.
Martínez has the tendency to switch off and let the game pass him by. He is an imposing figure and is strong at protecting the defence – he’s played at the back himself – albeit often conceding fouls, but he needs to work harder to find possession. A lesson like the one served last night should be taken as a step in his development.
São Paulo – Simply put the Brazilians were infinitely better than La U over the two legs and have to be placed as favourites to lift the Copa Sudamericana. Sudamericana success brings qualification for the Copa Libertadores. However it will be a different team that takes part with the departure of Lucas and with Ganso in the squad.
So do yourself a favour, watch this São Paulo team while you have the chance. They have everything a football team should have: pace, power, relentless energy but more importantly the technical qualities in the centre of midfield that can dominate the best of sides and a wonderful array of attacking talents.