Copa America 2015: Chile 2 -0 Ecuador – Tactical analysis

A nervy beginning for the hosts ended with a win over Ecuador but exposed limitations in the Chilean side. Here’s a tactical analysis of the Copa America 2015 opener.

Tactical set-ups
Chile vs Away team - Football tactics and formations

Chile – Jorge Sampaoli set up Chile in a flexible 3-4-2-1, with wing-backs and Diaz protecting the back-three. Vidal and Valdivia were the attacking presence behind Sanchez, the former to make runs while the latter would look to use the space for his passing game.

Ecuador – Gustavo Quinteros’ Ecuador were in a straightforward 4-4-2 though Bolaños was asked to drop back and press the Chilean midfield. Montero, by far the most dangerous threat in the side, used that space to make runs at the Chilean defence.

First half – Chile lack cutting edge on the right, utterly abandon the left

In the opening 5 minutes Chile looked exceptionally bright, especially the connection between Jorge Valdivia and Alexis Sanchez. It almost paid off twice as Valdivia steered balls in behind the Ecuadorean defence, but the Arsenal man couldn’t finish, steering wide for the first chance under pressure. and failing to chip the keeper for the second.

Ecuador quickly took the warning and dropped deep to cut off the space behind the defence and Chile began to struggle. Valdivia soon found himself without the space he needed, receiving the ball on the edge of the box and turning into trouble and faded as a threat.

Faltering in the centre, Chile’s attack naturally moved to the wings, or more precisely to only one wing, the right. Mauricio Isla began to overlap and combine well with Sanchez and Vidal – QPR fans must have been rubbing their eyes to see their right-back making such lively runs. However that emphasis down the right meant that Jean Beausejour was utterly stranded on the left, with no supporting runners and seemingly confused as to where he was meant to be picking up the ball. A couple of half-chances were created on the right flank but Ecuador snuffed them out by weight of numbers, happy to concentrate on only one side of the pitch.

Meanwhile Ecuador’s attacking plan gradually became clear – get it to Jefferson Montero down the left in the space vacated by Isla, or hope for a set-piece and that Enner Valencia could utilise his height advantage. There were glimpses of danger as Montero kept getting balls across the box but Ecuador never worked out the positioning of their forwards or support from the midfielders to make it count and half-time came with both sides looking a little toothless.

Second half – Sanchez and Vidal save the day after a change of formation 

Sampaoli changed it up in the second-half. Eduardo Vargas came on for Beausejour to partner Sanchez up front and there seemed to be a shift to four at the back when Ecuador had the ball, with Isla dropping to cover the dangerous Montero. In possession it was a 3-5-2, with Diaz dropping very deep.

The game began to stretch but not really to Chile’s benefit. Moving Isla to right-back hardly made it a defensive strongpoint and he was less dangerous on the attack than before. Valdivia and Vidal both looked slow in the centre of the pitch and failed to launch transitions into attack. Ecuador were playing a very physical game and Chile were finding it hard to match, frequently finding themselves on the floor, pleading with the unmoved referee.

Ecuador (Montero) were making a couple of half-chances and the atmosphere was noticeably subdued in the Estadio Naciónal when they got a stroke of luck in the 67th minute. Vidal was pulled back, making a not particularly dangerous run across the box, and the contact was enough for a penalty. If the penalty was soft, Vidal’s conversion was a rocket, giving the keeper no chance.

With the lead, Sampaoli immediately pulled off Valdivia for Matias Fernandez and Chile began to gain control of the midfield over a dispirited Ecuador. However they still lacked a cutting edge and were very nearly punished in the 82nd minute when the ball was chipped in to the box from a deflected free-kick. Enner Valencia slipped his marker and outjumped Gary Medel but his header came off the crossbar. No formation change can protect Chile’s aerial weakness and they will need to be supremely careful about conceding set-pieces in the tournament.

Chile made use of their reprieve instantly. A clumsy backpass from Ibarra, who had replaced Martinez, was pounced on by Sanchez who remains energetic even when running into blind alleys. Vargas showed how his striker instincts differ from those of Vidal and Valdivia by instantly overlapping and Sanchez played a lovely reverse pass into his path, which he side-footed neatly into the far corner to secure the win.

Chile saw out the game, with David Pizarro introduced to help keep a hold of possession. Fernandez highlighted why his skill hasn’t resulted in many appearances in the national team with a stupid undisciplined foul, picking up a second yellow after an early one for diving.

Thoughts for the future

This was a vital win and with games against an understrength Mexico and Bolivia coming up, it should all but secure passage to the next round, but Sampaoli will want to see his side reach a much higher gear before the knock-out rounds. Chile’s limitations in attack, their dependence on Sanchez and Vidal, were exposed and also their lack of height in defence which will always be a problem.

In attack, Eduardo Vargas will surely now keep his place and that should help to balance the side. More troubling was the failure of Valdivia and Vidal to shine through the middle. As I mentioned in my preview, Valdivia has been sidelined from the national team before for his inability to have an impact over 90 minutes and this match did nothing to dispel those doubts.

If he’s replaced,Fernandez won’t be available after his red card but if Sampaoli wants to persist with the same shape, David Pizarro showed off his own passing skills from the base of midfield in his cameo at the end. Many Chileans would welcome his return to the side, which would push Diaz, Aranguiz and Vidal forward.

A more likely option might be a return to the 3-5-2, with Beausejour likely to do more as left wing-back with two strikers to support.