Heading into the second round of matches in the Copa Libertadores, Chilean Primera leaders Universidad Católica and Colombia’s América de Cali were in need of a win. Both teams lost their opening fixtures to Brazilian powerhouses Internacional and Gremio, so this set the stage for an electric encounter in Chile.
This tactical analysis will show the tactics that America utilised to frustrate the Chilean giants, which resulted in a 2-1 victory and put the side from Cali one point behind the Brazilian teams.
Ariel Holan had La Católica lined up in a 4-1-4-1. Mati Dituro started in goal, with captain Benjamin Kuscevic and Tomas Astaburuaga in the centre of defence. Raimundo Rebolledo and Alfonso Parot were the outside backs to start the match. The former Racing Club midfielder Luciano Aued was the lone defensive midfielder, while Marcelino Nuñez and César Pinares played in front of him in the centre of the midfield. Cesar Munder and Chilean international Edson Puch were wingers, while Fernando Zampedri was the striker.
Los Diablos Rojos’ well-travelled Costa Rican manager Alexandre Guimarães sent his charges out in a 4-1-4-1 to start the match. Eder Chaux began in goal, the back four consisted of Edwin Velasco on the left, Juan Segovia and Marlon Torres in the centre of defence and Cristian Arrieta on the right. In the midfield Rodrigo Ureña was the single pivot, in front of him was Carlos Sierra and Yesus Cabrera. Michael Rangel operated as the lone striker. Duvan Vergara and Matías Pisano offered width as on the left and right side of the field.
A static Universidad Católica
Although the home side lined up in a 4-1-4-1, in possession they would routinely push the wingers high and wide and take the shape of a 4-3-3. The fullbacks Rebolledo and Parot would also go wide but not as high as Liverpool’s fullbacks would. The centre backs would split which allowed Aued to drift into the space available to form a back three, which is a tactic that is now more regularly seen.
They would look to utilize Puch’s pace to get behind the defenders on the counter, but for the most part, Los Cruzados looked to keep the ball. Due to América’s defensive organization, a problem began to surface. The players that had the most touches were the centre backs, Aued, and one other midfielder, Pinares.
As shown in the graph above, Aued, Astaburuaga, Kuscevic, and Pinares interchanged plenty of passes between them. Of the attackers, Puch and Munder had the most passes go their way, and Zampedri was isolated in the build-up.
In the following sequence, Los Cruzados are attempting to unlock América’s defence. Rebolledo drops the ball to Astaburuaga and moves forward with the intent of drawing the defender.
Above, we can see there are only three players that have moved to receive the ball. These players may have moved but only into a numerical disadvantage where the passing lane has been cut off. The only option the centre-back had was to play the ball down the right flank, where they eventually lost the ball. On the left Puch and the substitute, Cornejo have been isolated by their movement and the América striker discouraging the central pass. The following part of the analysis will focus on the Colombians defensive structure.
América de Cali’s defensive discipline
Defensively Los Diablos Rojos were content to give Aued and the centre-backs all the time in the world. Similar to Atletico Madrid, América looked to make it difficult to play through the middle and allow the ball to get wide. In the image below, Sierra pressures Aued and forces him to play a long ball to Puch as Pisano tracks back to mark him. Rangel is making the play even more predictable by cutting off the options behind him. The rest of the midfield and defenders form a compact block in the centre of the field, see below.
Using a compact 4-5-1 defensively, they made the home side’s play very predictable. In the image below, Pisano steps up to force the ball backwards. On the weak side, Vegara is even with the midfielders creating two compact lines of four. Rangel maintains his shape and discourages any pass through the middle.
This was made easier since the only midfielder looking to receive the ball away from goal was Aued. The second Puch or Munder received the ball, América’s wingers and full-backs would have 2v1 in their favour.
Los Cruzados inorganization in transition
Although Universidad Católica enjoyed 64% of the possession, there were times where they inevitably turned the ball over. Their wide approach to the game left them ill-prepared on many transitions and counter-attacks.
In the image above the Chileans have just begun to counter after a failed cross attempt. Puch has already committed to the counter, while Nuñez and Munder are beginning their runs assuming Pinares has the ball under control.
Ureña wins the ball back from the unsuspecting Chilean and the only player able to attempt a tackle is Nuñez. Ureña is then able to take a shot from distance without pressure from the five players left in a flat line. This action leads to América’s first goal.
In this moment of the match before América’s second goal, La Católica have just lost the ball on the sideline. Since the midfielders were not in position, there was acres of space for Vergara to attack. There is also a massive gap between Kuscevic and Astaburuaga, with two opponents in Kuscevic’s blind spot. This highlights not only the poor team shape in transition but also poor individual shape as well.
América’s ruthless efficiency
América were content with frustrating their opponents with a blue-collar defensive performance, they also were very efficient in their attacks. The two goals that they scored were both a result of a counterattack. The Colombians finished the game with the 4 shots on target, which was the same amount as La Católica.
The tactic that they utilized was to hit the Chileans in transition after a turnover. As referenced in the previous section, Vergara drives into space with speed once he dispossessed the defender. Upon receiving the ball from Vergara and attracting both centre backs, Rangel plays Pisano with his first touch.
If they were able to establish possession, then they would look to play quick passes to lure the press before playing into the space behind. In the example below, Velasco receives the ball, while Vergara checks to ask for the ball near the touchline. This action draws Rebolledo in, and Sierra makes the run into the space that has been vacated.
Playing in the Chilean champions back yard, América de Cali clearly showed that they had a game plan, and they executed it to perfection. Universidad Católica still has a lot of work to do with their remaining fixtures in the Copa Libertadores.