Uruguay World Cup Tactical Analysis
After struggling throughout qualifying, Uruguay only scraped into the World Cup via a play-off against Jordan but on their day the 2010 semi-finalists will be a match for almost anyone. Retaining the core of players than impressed in South Africa and went on to win the 2011 Copa America, can Tabarez’s charges spoil the party in Brazil once again.
Uruguay tend to opt for a 4-4-2 with two central midfielders sitting deep to protect the back four and which can quickly morph into a 4-2-2-2 when springing forward on the counter attack. Nicknamed El Maestro, legendary coach Oscar Washington Tabarez has variations of personnel that can subtly alter the balance of his preferred set up. Depending on the opposition, he can either go with two destroyers in the centre or instead use Nicolas Lodeiro when looking for a more expansive game. Cristian Rodriguez and Christian Stuani often take on the role of the wide men to support Suarez and Cavani.
That is not to say that Tabarez rigidly sticks to this formation. In qualification he also deployed a diamond in midfield with either Lodeiro, Forlan or Ramirez in the hole behind the strikers and has experimented with a 4-3-3, again keeping the centre of the park solid and organised, handing the creative responsibility to the intelligent posse of forwards at his disposal.
A main strength which characterises Uruguay’s style is their resilience and fighting spirit. Midfield warriors Diego Perez, Egidio Arevalo Rios and Walter Gargano typify this garra charrúa and will fight tooth and nail to protect the defence and make Uruguay extremely difficult to break down. Indeed, all over the pitch the players will be expected to work hard and make life uncomfortable for the opposition. Although, they may not be as underestimated as they were in 2010, they will still relish being the underdogs.
This use of midfield enforcers to sit deep and break up play is, in part, also a reaction to one of Uruguay’s main weaknesses, that is to say their creaking, lumbering defence. Though Diego Godin has been in fine form helping Atletico Madrid to the La Liga title, centre back partner Diego Lugano is long past his prime and his lack of pace could be exploited by nippy opposition. This need to drop deep and not allow space in behind engenders a counter-attacking style, a style that is a direct product of both their greatest strength and their greatest deficiency.
What also allows this style to pay off is the world class strikers they possess. Suarez and Cavani are two of the most feared strikers around and are coming off the back of impressive seasons for their clubs. Furthermore, they have the experience of Forlan and the pace of Stuani and Hernandez to call upon. In their current form, Suarez and Cavani are capable of conjuring match-winning moments out of nothing and will always pose a massive threat.
Another factor to consider is how the group draw could work as an advantage for them. Uruguay will be favourites to win their opening game against Costa Rica and, with 3 points in the bag, this should therefore allow them in theory to sit back in their games against England and Italy (who may be under more pressure to look for the win depending on how their previous games have panned out) and play their favoured counter-attacking style.
While having a settled squad that knows each other inside out will certainly be a positive influence, their pre-tournament form in qualification has led to the belief that perhaps this could be the end of the cycle for an ageing group of players. It could be a sensational send off for a highly successful group or it could be one battle too many. Only time will tell which Uruguay we see.
Finally, despite having the likes of Suarez, Cavani and Godin in the form of their lives, there are a number of players in the squad struggling for playing time. Jorge Fucile has not featured for Porto at all this season, while Sebastian Coates has regressed since his move to Liverpool and has struggled with injury since his loan move back to Nacional. What’s more, Gaston Ramirez has also not been able to hold down a first team spot at Southampton and captain Lugano didn’t cover himself in glory in the 9 appearances he made for West Brom. Tabarez obviously knows his players well and will be expecting them to set up to recreate past international form.
As mentioned above, Uruguay’s key players will come in the guise of strike duo Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. PFA Player of the Year and Premier League top scorer Suarez has been in phenomenal form this season, almost single-handedly dragging Liverpool to the title, and will look to continue that in Brazil. His intelligence, technique and never-say-die attitude means he can operate anywhere across the front line, equally adept at dropping deep or playing off the last defender’s shoulder. In short, a defender’s nightmare. However, Suarez now faces a race against time to get fully fit following a knee operation on his meniscus and Uruguayan fans will be praying for a swift recovery for their star striker.
It could be an important tournament for Cavani too. Playing second fiddle to Ibrahimovic at PSG and often played out wide four years ago due to his incredible work rate and willingness to sacrifice himself for the team, it will be his time to spearhead the attack as a focal point alongside Suarez. It might be the perfect opportunity to showcase on the world stage what the man, described by Tabarez as the “perfect son-in-law”, can do, especially if Suarez struggles to fully shake off his injury.
At the other end of the pitch, Diego Godin and Fernando Muslera will be absolutely vital in holding together the defence and providing a solid platform for the more creative members of the squad.
Key Young Players
There a number of young but established squad players who may be called upon to make significant contributions. Sebastian Coates was excellent in the Copa America 2011 win but desperately needs to return to those heights. With doubts over Lugano, Coates could be handed an opportunity and use it as a springboard to kickstart a flagging career.
Ramirez too, despite being out of form, is one of the more creative midfielders in the squad and might be called upon for a moment of inspiration to unlock a stubborn defence. Abel Hernandez has enjoyed his best season to date – admittedly in Serie B – but his pace coming off the bench will be a potent weapon late in games against tiring opposition. This trio of 23-year-olds will need to prove their credentials.
The youngest member of the squad, centre back Jose Maria Gimenez, may not feature but could find himself thrust into the limelight. A rock in the heart of defence for the U20 side that reached the final of the U20 World Cup last summer and on the books of Atletico Madrid, he will most likely be in Brazil to gain experience (should he make the final cut) but nevertheless he is certainly one for the future.