Copa América 2019 Tactical Preview: Chile

Copa America 2019 Tactical Analysis: Chile
Artwork by @Chapluana

Until its 2015 version, Chile was one of the three South American countries that had never won the Copa América. Along with Venezuela and Ecuador, La Roja had some chances especially in the 1950s, where they were runners-up in two consecutive editions, but were not able to secure the trophy.

But that year changed the history forever, and under the Golden Generation, with Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sánchez, and Gary Medel, among others, the team was able to beat Argentina in the final game and repeat the story one year later in the Copa America Centenario against the same team in the final.

Aside from those tournaments, Chile also qualified for two consecutive FIFA World Cup editions, in 2010 played in South Africa, under the leadership of Marcelo Bielsa, and 2014 in Brasil eliminating current champions Spain in the group phase. Chile also played the Confederations Cup in 2017 in Russia, losing the final against Germany.

But after several years of success, the FIFA World Cup qualifiers for Russia 2018 was a big disappointment leaving the team without a historic third consecutive FIFA World Cup and with Juan Antonio Pizzi out of the coaching role.

Chile hired Reinaldo Rueda, a Colombian with vast experience in national teams, including Ecuador, Honduras, and Colombia. But so far, the Colombian has not been as successful as expected. After 13 games managing La Roja he was won five games, drawn four and lost also four.

In this tactical preview, we will use analysis to go over the squad Rueda is bringing to Brazil, and how the team is expected to play during the tournament, both in the attacking and defending phase. Chile was placed in group C and will be facing Japan, Ecuador, and Uruguay.

The squad

The list of names Rueda nominated for the Copa America is the following:

Goalkeepers: Gabriel Arias, Brayan Cortés and Yerko Urra.

Defenders: Jean Beausejour, Paulo Díaz, Mauricio Isla, Gonzalo Jara, Igor Lichnovsky, Guillermo Maripán, Gary Medel and Óscar Opazo.

Midfielders: Charles Áranguiz, José Pedro Fuenzalida, Pedro Pablo Hernández, Esteban Pavez, Erick Pulgar, Diego Valdés and Arturo Vidal.

Forwards: Nicolás Castillo, Junior Fernández, Ángelo Sagal, Alexis Sánchez and Eduardo Vargas.

How will Chile play?

Based on what Reinaldo Rueda has tried in friendly games, the most probably tactical formation to be used should be a 4-2-3-1 or a similar 4-3-3. Since Marcelo Bielsa, Chile has been a team that has played very wide when attacking, exploiting the wings with the wing-back usually in a very offensive positioning when attacking through their side. This means that when attacking, the team usually stands in a 2-4-1-3 setup, looking to have numerical superiority in the wings.

tactical preview chile analysis copa america

Although this has been the most used formation, Rueda has also been criticized by the lack of offensive effectiveness of the team, the biggest strength of the team under his predecessors. While he initially opted not to call some historical players as Eduardo Vargas and Gonzalo Jara, looking to find younger players that could bring new air to the squad, the results, and performance of the names he called forced him to call back some of the old players for Copa America.

Therefore, although he has not tried playing a 4-4-2 while leading Chile, it should not be an option to discard, given the latest nominations of Rueda, and due to the poor performance of some of the forwards that played most of the friendlies.

tactical preview chile analysis copa america

The most probable lineup should be with Arias goalkeeper; Beausejour, Maripán, Medel, Isla in the back four; Pulgar, Aránguiz, and Vidal in the middle of the pitch and Sánchez, Vargas and Fuenzalida as forwards. If any surprise, it could Jara coming in instead of Maripán.

Defending phase tactical considerations

Rueda plays with a line of four at the back. When starting as coach of Chile, he changed the defensive DNA of the team, by putting two very tall central defenders, Enzo Rocco and Guillermo Maripán, that had less technical abilities than the previous central defenders, Gary Medel, and Gonzalo Jara. Looking to increase the physical strength, the team looked more similar to European teams and Chile lost the clarity they had to build-up the game from the back relying more and more on long balls.

While the wing-back names repeated with Rueda, they had to cover longer distances running behind the ball, as the possession moved from the defenders to the forwards. For that reason, they lost connection with the offensive phase of the team and saw their offensive relevance diminished. The image below shows how the wing back was playing closer to the central defenders and was forced to execute a long pass.

tactical preview chile analysis copa america

After poor performances, Rueda moved back Medel to the defensive line and insisted with Alavés defender Maripán as his partner. While the performance improved, still Maripán had issues when building-up and passing the ball. Rueda called back Jara for the last couple of friendly games where he had a good performance becoming a valid alternative to Maripán.

This increased the offensive productivity of both wing-backs given that the team has a clean line of passing between the defensive line and the middle of the field. Isla and Beausejour are able to position higher and almost play as wingers when attacking, as the image below shows.

tactical preview chile analysis copa america

Still, this offensive positioning means the team suffers especially when counter-attacked. With both wing-backs closer to the rival’s goal area, when the ball is lost and the opposition has fast offensive transitions, the two central defenders are several times caught in a 1v1 situation. Because the Chilean team is not especially fast, it is easy to pull the central defenders out to the wings and have players come through the middle with plenty of space. In the sequence below we can see the spaces left by the defenders and how they are pulled wide leaving spaces in the inside.

tactical preview chile analysis copa america

tactical preview chile analysis copa america

The second defensive weakness is the aerial game. If Medel and Jara play as central defenders, these are players that are 171 and 178 cm high, not much to surpass their rivals in that aspect. Although Medel is able to partially offset that with great positioning and excellent jumping strength, it will be a risk that Chile will have to bear. If, as expected, Maripán goes as central defender with Medel, the aerial game weakness would be partially reduced.

In their favour, the team should be able to have higher possession and be a team that when offensively synchronized, can be lethal against any defensive tactic because of the volume and speed of the attacks.

Analysis – offensive phase tactical considerations

The attacking shape is probably the biggest question mark about Chile. After the defensive line, Rueda has tried several tactical shapes and names, without having a clear strategy there. He has usually played with two wide wingers and a striker, Castillo being the most used as the latter. But Vargas appearance in the last friendly and his good performance at the national and club level could put him as a starter as he has historically performed well for the national team.

On the wings, initially under his command Sagal and Junior Fernández played the majority of the time, now with Manchester United’s Alexis Sánchez back he will probably be used as a winger. On the other side, Fuenzalida had a good performance against Haití in their last friendly and could be used in the starting 11, although it’s another name Rueda had not used much before.

Using analysis, a second alternative would be to have Sánchez and Vargas playing wide and Castillo as striker but is a position where Vargas is not exploited as much as when used as a striker because of his killer instinct close to the rival’s goal area. Behind the offensive line, there will be three players in the midfield, with Barcelona’s Arturo Vidal and Charles Aránguiz assured in the starting team. The former with a freer role, moving vertically along the pitch while Aránguiz with a more defensive role but also participating in the offensive build-up.

The image below shows how the three in the middle have Vidal in a more advanced position with Aránguiz coming from behind, with three players high up. The second image shows the volume of attack that Chile usually has, with six players arriving in the goal area when attacking.

tactical preview chile analysis copa america

tactical preview chile analysis copa america

The third name will probably come between Erick Pulgar, as he had a consolidating year at Bologna in the Italian Serie A, and Pedro Pablo Hernández, depending on what Rueda wants from the team. While Pulgar has a more defensive orientation, giving more freedom to Aránguiz, Hernández is a much more technical player that would force Aránguiz to stay closer to the defensive line. Esteban Pavez could another option, having more similarities to Pulgar than to Hernández.

If using a 4-4-2, using a diamond in the midfield, Chile could have Castillo and Vargas as strikers, with Alexis Sánchez coming from behind with Vidal and Aránguiz on the sides. Or Rueda could have Vargas and Sánchez as strikers, Vidal as offensive midfielder and Aránguiz and Fuenzalida or Hernández on the sides.

As seen, Chile has several offensive alternatives and given how Rueda changed the names he nominated for the last couple of friendlies, any of these could be an option, and therefore is the biggest source of uncertainty in terms of names and positioning.

In any case, Chile should base their attacks on the wings, having at least two players on each wing, plus the striker or strikers and two of the midfielders reaching the rival’s goal area. Vidal is known as a box-to-box midfielder and has scored a decent amount of goals for Chile. He is very dangerous as he usually comes from behind and has great heading abilities.

The image below shows how Chile uses both wings to attack, to open spaces through the middle for the strikers and midfielders coming from behind, like Vidal and Aránguiz.

tactical preview chile analysis copa america

Similarly, Aránguiz will be part of the attacking phase, although probably positioned behind Vidal. He is very versatile tactically and has excellent long-distance shooting, providing another offensive weapon for Chile.

Concluding the tactical preview, offensively Chile should be expected to be a very vertical team, with a high pace in the final third of the pitch, overloading the wings and with the midfielders as part of the supporting block close to the goal area. The team has not strong aerial capabilities, aside from Vidal, so goal chances should be generated based on fast passing and movements. Sánchez, if fit, should have an essential role here, as his ability and change of pace should mark the tempo of Chile’s attacks.

Chile did get to Copa America Centenario 2016 with unconvincing performances in the friendlies before, and they ended up winning the tournament. It is hard to see them as favourites in the current edition but is a team that shouldn’t be overseen because when they connect as a team, they are very dangerous and a tough rival for anyone.

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