In Argentina’s most famous football stadium, in front of 50,000 frenzied Argentines, an Argentine man organized a historic night. For Uruguay.
The second smallest country in South America is sandwiched between the two largest nations, but in two straight matches, it has managed to beat both.
The 2-0 win at La Bombonera was Uruguay’s first over Argentina in 10 years, and their first ever. in Argentina since 1937 – while last month’s victory over Brazil inflicted its first qualifying defeat since 2015. Last night’s victory reduced the gap with Argentina at the top of the World Cup qualifying standings to two points.
Even in just their fifth match, Uruguay were undoubtedly Marcelo Bielsa’s team.
Throughout his eclectic coaching career, relentless running and an aggressive style off the ball have been the bedrock of Bielsa’s success. His players must adopt an underdog mentality, relish the battle of attrition, while relishing the opportunity to play exciting football at half-time.
Last night, Bielsa’s intentions to trouble and irritate Argentina on the field became clear early on, as Uruguay’s back four of Ronald Araujo, Sebastian Cáceres, Matías Oliveira and Matías Vina showed their willingness to come out and hound Argentina’s technical players in midfield. .
Below, for example, Oliveira emerges from defense as he sees Cristian Romero play a pass to Lionel Messi. He then follows up with the pass to Alexis Mac Allister, forcing him to take a powerful touch before losing the ball to a huge challenge.
Note also the chaotic structure of Uruguay’s defence; Winger Maximilian Araujo guards the left-back area, while the actual full-back Fina is on the field and is the player who makes the last tackle.
Midfield duo Fede Valverde and Manuel Ugarte also dropped to the defensive line – the former alongside the two centre-backs to cover Enzo Fernandes’ run, the latter out wide to mark Julian Alvarez, who dropped into his own half.
They are a team of strong racers who support each other.
The fluid system is not without drawbacks, and can be dismantled by patient buildup and clever movement. See below, for example, as Vina now runs deep into the opposition half to follow Rodrigo De Paul.
This time, Romero musters the courage under pressure from Darwin Nunez to wait for McAllister’s forward attack. The pass was well executed and Argentina escaped with the Uruguay centre-back high up the pitch.
However, once again, midfielder Ugarte dropped back to cover his offside defender, and the team quickly recovered to force the attack off the pitch.
It’s a bold style that puts the onus on the opposition to play quickly and decisively if they don’t want to lose the ball.
“We never felt comfortable,” Messi said after the match. “We couldn’t hold the ball for a long time, we didn’t create chances and we played the game they wanted, with their rhythm.”
Words that represent a resounding success for Bielsa. The disruptors have done their job.
Looking forward, Uruguay’s attacking methods were as worrying as their stout defence. Direct and uncompromising, Argentina were unable to cope with the verticality of their opponents’ attacking attack.
Their first chance of the match saw the ball travel the length of the pitch in six seconds, with Araujo stepping up to intercept a wayward pass and playing a hopeful ball in behind.
Notice again, Ugarte is between the two centre-backs to form a back six. Argentina’s forward passes had to be precise, otherwise they would be overrun.
“What seemed like a meaningless ball suddenly made all the sense in the world,” the Argentine commentator said as the attacking game plan dawned. Nunez’s quick pace on the counter-attack was a thorn in Argentina’s defence, and no one could catch the Liverpool striker as he drove forward and curled a low shot wide of the goal.
Also on the left side, Uruguay took advantage of Nahuel Molina’s adventurous play in the full-back position and targeted his area to rush in behind wherever it could.
Maximilian Araujo presented the ball abundantly, and it was his speed that created a clear chance for Nicolas de la Cruz, after another crucial interception by Ugarte.
Of the seven shots taken by Uruguay, two came within ten seconds of a long, direct pass from their own half, while the other five were within ten seconds of a defensive action.
Both goals came from tremendous defensive efforts, with Vina initially chasing Molina to the corner flag, before grabbing the pocket and passing the ball for Araujo to score.
The game ended after 86 minutes, after Rodrigo Bentancur stepped up to dispose of Messi, unleashing a powerful punch on the counter-attack – the ball hitting the back of the net just nine seconds after the Spurs midfielder made the challenge.
It was a match in which the team won through defensive spirit and strong offensive starts.
Bielsa’s winding career has taken him to seven countries and 13 different teams, but he rarely had to change much to put his ideas into practice.
From Valverde to Viña, from Ugarte to Núñez, this nation was truly filled with relentless footballers – players with an appetite for every aspect of the game.
High volume, high energy football; This is what Bielsa does. And thanks to the verticality and defensive tenacity of his new team, they couldn’t have been in a much better place.
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