In last week’s Copa Libertadores last 16 second legs, we were treated to a veritable football feast. Each of the eight matches were filled with drama and laced with a dash of tension. We had Lanús and Vasco go all the way to a penalty shoot-out where the Brazilians came out on top, and Vélez versus Atlético Nacional and Fluminense versus Internacional were tight right up until the final whistle, both home sides ultimately being victorious.
In the Brazilian state of São Paulo, Santos grabbed the headlines with their indomitable 8×0 victory against shell-shocked Bolívar, but the prize for the week’s most impressive attacking display – even though they scored two less – certainly goes to Jorge Sampaoli’s Universidad de Chile side as they hit Deportivo Quito for six.
Deportivo Quito’s convincing 4×1 first leg victory against the ‘over-hyped’ Universidad de Chile was the stand-out story from the week before. Sampaoli’s side floundered in the Quito altitude and were repeatedly punished on the counter-attack, prompting various media outlets to proclaim that the dream was over, and that Deportivo Quito were dead certs for the quarter finals.
Before the match on Wednesday night, some bookmakers were offering odds as long as 18/1 on the home side qualifying, meaning that shrewd punters who put their faith in La U were very well rewarded.
Universidad de Chile did not just qualify, they ran riot. Faced with the task of scoring three times unanswered in order to get their noses back in front, La U came out of the blocks at an incredible pace and by half-time they had already put themselves ahead in the aggregate scores.
La U’s winning system
To put it simply, the match was Universidad de Chile’s 3-1-3-3 against Deportivo Quito’s 4-4-2, but both systems were made very unorthodox as a result of La U’s fluidity and constant movement. Firstly, despite starting the match as a left midfielder, Deportivo Quito’s Jorge Folleco was forced back into defence by the forward runs of Matías Rodríguez, moving the Ecuadorian side into more of a 5-3-2 and freeing up plenty of space in the midfield for the Chileans.
In the middle, La U opted to play with two in central midfield, Aránguiz and Marino, with Gustavo Lorenzetti as the ‘false nine’ in front of them. Lorenzetti’s function was simple, to drop back from the centre forward position, creating a pocket of space in front of him for Aránguiz and Marino to exploit.
The away side’s plan was simple, to defend deep and attack on the break, hoping to free Fidel Martínez or Alustiza one-on-one with the Chilean defenders. They were certainly threatening in attack, but Universidad de Chile’s back three defended well and their midfield’s complete dominance stopped Deportivo Quito from delivering many balls to their rapid forwards.
La U’s dominance was so apparent that they raced into a three-goal lead before half time, effectively erasing the horror-show first leg in Quito in less than forty-five minutes.
Majestic second goal
Even though it was perhaps lost in the flurry of goals and superb football from the home side, their second goal – a curled effort from Junior Fernandes after a wonderful passing exchange – was a thing of true beauty. It was a combination of their superb movement, interplay, fluidity, intelligence and ruthlessness, which I have attempted to illustrate in this animation below:
As is made clear from the graphic, the Deportivo Quito defence are all gathered around the edge of their own penalty area, while the Universidad de Chile players are spread across the midfield, invited to attack their opponents. The first thing to notice is Marino’s burst forward as Aránguiz takes possession, which catches the defence off-guard, and gives Aránguiz plenty of space to pick out his pass.
Without a clear through-ball, Aránguiz plays a quick wall-pass with Fernandes, in an attempt to open up a gap. As Fernandes starts to move forward, his marker is distracted by the forward run from the ‘left back’ (in fact it is centre back Eugénio Mena), which leaves Fernandes free.
Aránguiz, now with some options, plays a pass to Marino on the edge of the area and after some tight interplay with Gustavo Lorenzetti, the ball is played to the unmarked Junior Fernandes who, with tremendous technique, curls a lovely right-footed shot first-time into the far top corner. A wonderful goal that any side on the planet would have been delighted to have scored.
Another of the away side’s mistakes (and perhaps their gravest error of all) was leaving La U’s Marcelo Díaz free to operate in front of the defence. As he is usually positioned so far back, even slotting in as an extra centre-back at times, many teams that face Universidad de Chile fail to notice Marcelo Díaz’s extreme importance to virtually every La U attacking move.
His role in La U’s system is fairly similar to that of Sergio Busquets at Barcelona, sitting in front of the defence and constantly passing and receiving, passing and receiving. However, Díaz also takes on a more creative regista role, spreading the ball from deep to all corners of the field and initiating attacks.
When up against a side that plays a dedicated number ten, Díaz has to work a little harder for space, but while Deportivo Quito were camped back on their 18-yard line, he was free to work his magic, even grabbing La U’s third goal with a shot from long-range.
After their successful campaign in 2011, winning the league and Copa Sudamericana double, many mistook winger Eduardo Vargas to be Universidad de Chile’s key player, and predicted that without him in 2012 they would struggle. Even now, people are incorrectly identifying Lorenzetti, Aránguiz and Rodríguez as the keys to their success (not to undermine their superb contribution), while their truly indispensable player Marcelo Díaz goes largely unappreciated. The 25 year-old will be on the move to Europe very soon, with Swiss side FC Basel acquiring his services for a measly €2.5 million. An absolute steal.
Sampaoli’s men flex their muscles in stunning second half
Returning for the second half, Jorge Sampaoli decided to bring on centre back Sebastián Martínez in place of Guillermo Marino and moved La U to a back four in order to give them a little more protection against the counter attack. Deportivo Quito (having lost their healthy advantage from the first leg) tried to open up and grab a goal, but La U’s superb marking and pressing forced the away side into countless mistakes.
La U ran away with the match, toying with their Ecuadorian opponents in possession and scoring another three goals, one from Eugénio Mena after a superb counter-attack, and two from 17 year-old striker Ángelo Henríquez.
One of the revelations of South American football in 2012, Ángelo Henríquez has taken the Chilean league by storm and has provided the goal threat that Universidad de Chile so sorely needed after the departures of Vargas and Gustavo Canales.
What is so impressive about Henríquez is not his speed, intelligence or finishing, but his astonishing maturity. Technically, he does look very adept and he has a great eye for goal, but the fact that he is performing at the level he is (in such a high-pressure club) at the age of SEVENTEEN is truly mind-blowing.
Both of his goals in this match were impressive, especially his second where he showed great strength and persistence to force a mistake from the opposition goalkeeper.
He is certainly benefiting from being a part of such an excellent system under Jorge Sampaoli, and the experience he gains now at La U will be invaluable for his future in the game.
As is the relentless nature of the Copa Libertadores calendar, just one week after this last 16 victory, Universidad de Chile will be in action for the first leg of their quarter final tie against Paraguayan side Libertad. Once again, they will play the first leg away from home, and as long as they can avoid a large defeat on the road, they should progress to the semis.
Header image credit: La Tercera