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Chile: For such a narrow country they do like to spread it wide

June 16, 2010

So on the last day of the opening round of World Cup fixtures a South American team finally lives up to the old stereotype. After watching Uruguay and Paraguay play a tactically rigid and tough tackling game in their first matches, Chile seem to buck this new trend in favour of the old school free flowing, high paced, technically oriented football. With Zonal Marking and Tim Vickery tipping them to be a force at this World Cup, at least in an attacking sense, perhaps it is time that people took notice of Chile.

Chile qualified for this World Cup second in the South American qualifying group racking up wins against Argentina in the process. So, theoretically the 2nd best South American team in the competition, they are without doubt the 6th youngest team at the World Cup. ). It can only benefit Chile that their key players are full of youthful exuberance, while at the same time being used to playing at a relatively high level. Mati Fernandez, who moved from Villarreal to Sporting last season is just 23; Mark Gonzalez, ex- Liverpool, now at CSKA Moscow is 25; Alexis Sanchez and Mauricio Isla, who both play for Udinese in Serie A are 21 and 22 respectively; Arturo Vidal, at Bayer Leverkusen, is also 23.

Chile went into this game with an injury their key striker Humberto Suazo. In response they started Jorge Valdivia and Mati Fernandez together. This resulted in them playing no recognised striker and the signs here were not good. When Fernandez and Valdivia had played together before, 5 times under Bielsa, they had lost all those games. However, Chile started the game with a formation different to the one that had been expected of them, a response to Honduras’ formation and the fact that the Hondurans were also missing their key striker.

Chile vs Honduras starting line up: Arrows indicating position when in possession.

Honduras were playing with only one striker which allowed Chile to sacrifice a defender for an extra midfielder, meaning that they lined up with a 2 – 2 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 1 formation, utilising the rare combination of two centre backs and wing backs. As a massive fan of wingbacks I was interested to see how much freedom Isla, on the right, and Vidal, on the left, were given. A look at their respective heat maps will show just how much licence they did have:

Vidal’s heat map showed how influential he was for Chile – not limited to his touchline he was a force coming inside and linking up with the attacking trio of Valdivia, Beausejour and Sanchez.

Isla’s heat map looks more like that of a winger than a full back which he nominally started as. His ability to link up with Sanchez allowed him to push forward and cut inside with frequency

Considering Isla and Vidal were lining up as part of a flat back 4, at least on paper, their freedom going forward was surprising, but integral to Chile’s attacking prowess in the first half. Vidal function more like a centre midfielder are certain points in the first half, allowing Carmona to stay deep and linking up with the influential Millar. Isla on the right flank played as a more conventional winger and his excellent interplay with Sanchez, his club teammate, brought plenty of opportunity. Indeed for the first goal it was Isla who got to the by-line to pull the ball back for Beausejour to get the final touch on.

Isla and Vidal push very far forward, Valdivia has dropped deep into his more natural playmaker role and Fernandez (underlined yellow) is rushing forward, Sanchez has come inside whilst Beasejour has stayed out on his touch line.

Chile, functioning without a main striker, placed Valdivia in the ‘false 9’ role and then relied on Sanchez and Beausejour to get inside when he dropped deep and for Fernandez to push forward to replace him. Valdivia did his job moderately well, though he was obviously more comfortable playing in the hole than he was leading the line. Chile were indebted to the marauding Isla and Vidal providing them width when Sanchez and Beausejour narrowed their position.

Yellow - Sanchez and Beausejour. Green - Fernandez and Valdivia. Blue - Vidal.

The attack illustrated above from the second half shows how Valdivia at the bottom of the screen has dropped deep in the process of the attack and the ‘wingers’ have come in narrow to put the Honduran back line under pressure, This shift has allowed Vidal to become the main attacking threat arriving late from the left hand side. The fluidity of this attack highlighted the ease at which Chile can unlock the Honduran defence at pace with incisive, short passing.

Red - Beausejour, Green - Fernandez, Yellow - Valdivia, Blue - Isla (on ball), Black - Sanchez

Within ten minutes of the second half starting, after Honduras had switched to a more conventional 2 up front, Chile showed a rare tactical flexibility to adapt to the new threat posed by the Hondurans. Replacing the booked Millar for a centre back in Jara, the Chileans changed their shape for the second half:

Chile formation in the second-half

This 3 – 3 – 1 – 3 shape was more standard for Chile and more closely resembles that which they played during their qualifying campaign. However, Chile looked less fluent during the second half, their need for a more traditional striker becoming apparent and they will benefit greatly from the return to fitness of Humberto Suazo. Valdivia had a functional game but did not stand out, while Fernandez played well in the playmaker role. With Suazo fit for the next match, it should be Valdivia who finds himself on the bench.

Chile again highlighted how effective a good wing back system can be. Isla and Vidal seem like excellent young talents, Vidal especially, due to his versatility, was more composed on the ball and was used to kickstart many attacks in the first half. Isla was a revelation on the right flank, showing a great engine and the ability to beat his man on the outside. The plaudits for the match will go to wunderkind Alexis Sanchez, someone whom many tip to secure himself a big move at the end of the World Cup). He demonstrated pace, poise and positional sense in his 90 minutes on the pitch against Honduras to be involved in many of the best moves that Chile strung together. Sanchez showed a willingness to run at defenders and also shoot from range. It is an easy position to catch the eye from playing on the wing of a front 3, but I think that Isla was the true starlet for Chile.

Chile should comfortably qualify from their group, and will even give Spain a good run for their money. They have a quick and pleasing style, using the wingbacks in a truly attackive sense, unlike New Zealand who aimed to use their full backs as providers, and the North Koreans who’s full backs simply tracked the oppositions’ wide men, Chile’s wing backs were as integral to the attack as any of the front 4. I genuinely want to see Chile do well, they play the sort of football that is so very easy to watch, moving the ball around quickly, rarely pumping it long, and allowing the majority of the team to contribute when going forward. With their youthful line up and the quality of players such as Fernandez, Sanchez and Gonzalez (who came off the bench against Honduras) they will only benefit from the return of their talismanic goal scorer Humbero Suazo. Chile were one of the few teams to live up to billing so far in this world cup, a South American team with South American flair.

A post from Nick Robbins

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