Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Artwork by @chapulana

The teams of Group A and B kicked-off the 2019 Copa America last weekend with contenders from Group C having the longest wait. It was Uruguay and Ecuador who began the Group C battles in Belo Horizonte. For Uruguay, this is their 46th appearance in the competition, whereas Ecuador have entered the Copa America tournament for the 27th time.

Uruguay commonly referred to as the Celeste, is the most crowned South American side with 15 titles under their belt. In contrast, La Tricolor have never won the biggest prize in South America. This was the 49th meeting between the two sides the last one being played in 2016 where the Sky Blues came out on top winning 2-1.

In this tactical analysis, we look at how both teams approached the game and what were the key moments that decided the match-up.

Line-ups

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Uruguay and Ecuador’s starting elevens [Wyscout.com]
On paper, Uruguay used a rigid 4-4-2 formation. Fernando Muslera started in goal and was protected by a solid centre-back pair consisting of Jose Gimenez and a legendary Diego Godin whom it was 128th game for the national team. Martin Caceres started at right back with Diego Laxalt occupying the opposite side. Oscar Tabarez decided to use a double pivot in Matias Vecino and Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur. Nicolas Lodeiro was moved to the left flank with Nahitan Nandez occupying the right wing. Barcelona’s Luis Suarez and Paris Saint Germain’s Edinson Cavani formed a famous partnership up top with a combined total of 219 caps for Uruguay.

Ecuador, at first sight, also went for a pragmatic 4-4-2/4-4-1-1. Alexander Dominguez started between the sticks with Arturo Mina and team captain Gabriel Achilier forming the centre-back partnership. Jose Quintero and Beder Caicedo were the two full-backs. In midfield, Hernan Gomez also opted for a double pivot in Jefferson Intriago and Jefferson Orejuela. Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia was moved further up the pitch and started as a right winger; Ayrton Preciado occupied the same spot on the left flank. Ecuador’s biggest attacking threat Angel Mena lined-up just behind a lone striker Enner Valencia.

Ecuador’s defensive shape

Looking at the dynamic structure on the pitch, out of possession Ecuador set up in a rigid 4-4-1-1 formation. The defensive and midfield units were quite close to each other with the former staying considerably high up the pitch. The intention could have been to prevent Uruguay’s attackers finding space in between the lines. Such a tactic forces an attacking team to play the ball out wide.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Ecuador’s 4-4-1-1 defensive shape

When the Tricolor decided to be more tenacious, they pressed higher up the pitch. However, it was more like imitation than the actual voracious press. Valencia occasionally pressurised Muslera by closing him down quickly; however, Ecuador did not press as a team.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador

From time to time, Ecuador tried to counter-press after losing the ball. However, on most occasions, it was ineffective due to the Ecuadorians’ lack of urgency and space awareness. It resulted in their inability to sustain the press for longer than a few seconds. This meant that Uruguay broke out of the press fairly easily.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
La Tricolor’s ineffective counter-press

Uruguay’s intricate and flexible attacking approach

On paper, the Celeste fielded a rigid 4-4-2 shape. Once on the ball, their attacking approach was a lot more intricate. Starting the game with a double pivot in Bentancur and Vecino proved to be a wise choice by Tabarez. As mentioned above, Ecuador’s defensive line stayed quite high up the pitch, thus, being potentially vulnerable for balls in behind. This meant that Uruguay used a 2-1-3-4 formation a lot when in possession.

Bentancur and Vecino would sit deeper in order to protect the centre-backs that allowed both external midfielders in Lodeiro and Nandez to position themselves next to Ecuadorian full-backs. This tactical twitch enabled the Sky Blues to form a front four including Cavani (off-screen), Suarez and Lodeiro with Nandez who acted as wide forwards. One of the full-backs would make overlapping runs as well that gave even more attacking threat.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Uruguay’s 2-1-3-4 when in possession

When one of the full-backs stayed back, Laxalt in this case, Lodeiro was positioned deeper as a left midfielder. Consequently, Cavani occupied left-flank as a left forward. When one of the full-backs stayed back another pushed forward. It meant that Nandez also pushed higher up the pitch to form a front three with Cavani (left) and Suarez (middle). It resulted in a 3-1-3-3 formation on the ball.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Uruguay switching to 3-1-3-3 when in possession

We can see below a four versus four situation in the attacking third.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Uruguay’s 2-1-3-4 offensive shape causing problems to Ecuador
Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
The Celeste’s front four with an overlapping right back creating a solid 5 v 6 situation in the final third

Uruguay’s tenacious and solid defensive structure

On rare occasions when Ecuador managed to keep hold of the ball for longer than six to seven seconds, Uruguay tended to shape up in a 5-3-2 without the ball. A right side midfielder Nandez would drop back and become a right back with Caceres moving to the right centre-back position.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Without the ball, Uruguay tended to keep a 5-3-2 formation

Nevertheless, 5-3-2 was easily transformed into 4-4-2 in certain moments with Nandez occupying the right wing and forming a box shape with the remaining midfielders to close down the Ecuadorian player in space.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Uruguay altering the defensive shape from 5-3-2 to 4-4-2

Uruguay were also very effective when pressing high up the pitch. They would react very quickly and shift across to the area where the ball is congesting that space with three or four players in order to win the ball back. Ecuador players do not possess high-level technical ability which made it for them practically impossible to play out from congested areas.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Uruguay’s effective pressing trap

Ecuador’s inflexible offensive shape

In possession, Ecuador did not try anything intricate. They lined up in a 4-4-1-1 on most occasions when they had the ball. For pretty much the whole game La Tricolor were hopeless in the build-up phase. As noted previously, Uruguay pressed effectively and Ecuador’s lack of technical ability on the ball meant that they had to go long pretty much every time because they were unable to break through Uruguay’s first line of press.

Mena, Ecuador’s number 10 and most creative player, did not drop deeper to collect the ball and start the build-up. He only had 22 touches and performed only six passes in his 29 minutes cameo. The lowest numbers out of all Ecuadorians in the first half an hour. Instead, Ecuador aimlessly lumped long balls forward to Enner Valencia who struggled to get anything out of it the whole game. Valencia only won 45% of his aerial duels compared to Godin who won 63% of aerial battles. There is not much surprise here since both Godin and Jimenez are 0.43 foot taller than Ecuador’s lone striker.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
On the ball, Ecuador tried to build-up in a 4-4-1-1 shape

Reactive Uruguay punish ponderous Ecuador

The first 10 minutes attacking wise were quite poor from both sides. A lot of tough battles with the ball spending almost more time in the air than on the ground. However, Uruguay struck first. The ball was lumped forward with no real intention, Suarez beat his direct opponent who claimed it was a foul. The key highlight is that Uruguay were very quick in transition. Conversely, the Ecuadorians were slow to react. Two of their players (highlighted in yellow) were both ahead of Lodeiro and Nandez when the ball was still in the air.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Ecuador players were caught sleeping

Both Lodeiro and Nandez reacted much faster to Suarez winning the ball and bombed forward leaving them behind that created a 4 v 3 numerical advantage. The break was finished off with a brilliant individual goal from Lodeiro who was arguably the best player on the pitch in the first half.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Uruguay were quick in transition creating 4 v 3 numerical superiority near the opposition’s box

Clever Uruguay outsmarting Ecuador

Quite a few times Uruguay got in behind Ecuador’s back line.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador

Antonio Valencia would step out to press Uruguay’s left back.

As a result, Lodeiro dropped deeper to make himself a passing option for Laxalt. It means that Quintero had to follow him, leaving a massive space behind where Cavani was present.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador

As a result, Lodeiro dropped deeper to make himself a passing option for Laxalt. It means that Quintero had to follow him, leaving a massive space behind where Cavani was present.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador

Red card but no changes

The left flank of Ecuador was exposed on numerous occasions throughout the first half. Finally, it paid dividends when Lodeiro was harshly fouled in the air by the Ecuadorian right-back Quintero.

After the red card, the Tricolor did not change much regarding their game plan. A right-back Pedro Velasco was brought on the pitch in place of Mena and it remained a rigid 4-4-1 out of possession. They still tried to counter-press on occasions after losing the ball, but the press was notoriously ineffective. The Ecuadorians were slow to close down the ball carrier and congest the area. On the other hand, Uruguay players were well positioned on the pitch and the player on the ball was able to find his teammate in space easily.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Ecuador trying to counter-press after losing the ball; however, without any dividends

The flying Uruguayans

Uruguay were simply scintillating in transition in this game. Most of the time Ecuador had numerical superiority in the defensive half; however, Uruguay would swiftly adapt to the game dynamics and bomb forward to the opposition’s half in a dazzling fashion.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Three Uruguay players already on the move whilst Muslera still has the ball

Quick offensive transitions enabled Uruguay to match-up with Ecuador in terms of numbers in attacking third and pose a constant threat for Ecuador’s back line.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador

Once again, Ecuador failed to counter-press effectively that allowed Uruguay to move quickly in transition.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs EcuadorUnbelievably swift transitions from Uruguay creating 3 v 3 against Ecuador’s back line.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador

Ecuador’s set-piece nightmare

The second goal for Uruguay came from the corner. In this instance, Ecuador used a combination of zonal and man-marking. One of Ecuadorians stayed near the post which meant that Cavani remained onside because the rest of Ecuadorian defence stepped out and the Paris Saint Germain striker stayed where he was. Poor marking from the Ecuador team, failing to pick out one of the deadliest strikers in this year’s Copa America.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Cavani scored Uruguay’s second goal

The third goal also came from the corner, but this time from the opposite side. Caceres won the first header and found Suarez who was left completely free by his marker.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Ecuador failed to defend a set piece once again allowing Suarez to score Uruguay’s third

Second half, same problems

The game was done and dusted after the first 45 minutes and there were not many changes in the second half. Ecuador were unable to hold of the ball for longer periods of time due to lack of technical ability and Uruguay’s effective pressing trap.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs EcuadorCopa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs EcuadorOn rare occasions when Ecuador did manage to hold of the ball for longer, their build-up play was very static with no penetration. There was not a single player positioned in half spaces who could receive the ball and link-up. Likewise, there was nobody in between the lines with a lone Enner Valencia hopelessly waiting for the service from his teammates.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador

In general, Ecuador looked very ponderous and lacking urgency, especially in offensive transitions. Uruguay would get back in time to stop the counter-attack.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Left-winger Romario Ibarra looked disengaged and did not move into space to start the counter-attack
Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Uruguay were very quick in transitions throughout the whole match, whereas Ecuador were the opposite
Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Once again no support for a lone striker Enner Valencia

The last nail in Ecuador’s coffin was an own goal by Mina that wrapped up a disastrous night for the Tricolor.

Copa América 2019 Tactical Analysis: Uruguay vs Ecuador
Ecuador only had two attempts at goal in a whole match. Ecuador used a direct approach with 19% of their total passes being long balls

Conclusion

Ecuador were well and truly beaten by a much better side. A red card did have an impact on the game, however, even prior the red card Ecuador barely offered anything going forward. Hopeless long balls towards Enner Valencia were easily dealt by the Uruguayans centre-back pair with Ecuador unable to play out from the back due to their poor ability on the ball. On the other side, Uruguay were marvellous in both offensive and defensive transitions. Tactically flexible the Celeste made a big statement to be one of the favourites to win the 16th Copa America trophy in their history.


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Paulius Kundzelevicius

My name is Paulius and I'm a huge football fanatic from Lithuania. Currently pursuing a Master's degree in Performance Analysis of Sport.

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