Studying Football Tactics at The Universidad de Chile

Since Barcelona’s rise to power as the dominant force in world football, tacticians have been exhaustively analysing their methods and style to the nth degree.  Barcelona are the successful, world renowned embodiment of certain tactical systems, which make their style of play the subject of many a debate, and numerous analyses.  Once the obvious exhibit has been dissected thoroughly, the studious football writer needs to look elsewhere to fulfil their desire to explain tactics to people and draw crap diagrams which don’t really mean much.  This is what they found in their search for an alternative.

Make sure you include or at least reference the following:

  • Marcelo Bielsa.
  • Cruyff, Michels and Total Football – this might seem trite initially, but don’t be scared.
  • Jorge Sampaoli and Universidad de Chile – essential.
  • Sergio Markarian – gloss over this if you want.

Starting with the essential.  Universidad de Chile have attracted attention this year, initially due to their success in the Chilean Primera Division’s Apertura stage where they fought for a play-off win against fellow Santiago based team, Universidad Catolica.  They followed this up with a Copa Sudamerica title earlier this month, and continued their good form from the Apertura into the Clausura stage as they went on an impressive 36 match unbeaten run.  The run was recently ended by Catolica in the second leg of the Clausura semi-final play-off, but ‘La U’ (their cool nickname) still went through after the tie was a dead level on aggregate, as they finished ahead of Catolica in the league classification phase.  Yes, Chilean football is a bit confusing.  Boxing Day will see the first leg of their final against Cobreloa.

People started to take note of these impressive performances, and then they started noticing similarities between the style of play of La U and Barcelona.  So much so that some have even called them the Barcelona of South America (in Portuguese).  Put simply, they press opponents high up the pitch, pass the ball dynamically and make runs into space which means interchanging of positions isn’t uncommon.  Total Football? Tick.

Their manager Jorge Sampaoli uses a system loosely based on a 3-3-1-3 inherited from Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile, who in the build up to, and qualification for the 2010 World Cup, drew comparisons with Spain – just as Sampaoli’s team are now drawing comparisons with Barcelona.  The systems Sampaoli uses can be set out in a nice tactical diagram or a simple numbered formation such as 3-3-1-3 or 3-4-3, but the manager and team are so flexible when it comes to formation and system, and the movement on the field of play so dynamic, that it is difficult to nail down in simple terms.  However, we came across this excellent site on Chilean football which does a great job of explaining his various systems.

The philosophy remains the same, but the formations change, and this flexibility has contributed greatly to the success of La U in multiple competitions this season.  This is epitomised by their 4-0 thrashing of Flamengo in the first leg of their Copa Sudamerica last 16 tie, on the Brazilian club’s home soil in Rio no less.  They set up the midfield to resemble a diamond formation, with Gustavo Lorenzetti playing the role of Trequartista, and their star man Eduardo Vargas playing up front on the right given license to wander and play as a centre forward (sound familliar?).  But the most significant tactical decision in this match was to only play 2 central defenders, rather than the usual 3.  This meant their pressing was even more frantic than usual, and Flamengo’s more established stars such as Ronaldinho had little time to influence the game.

Vargas grabbed himself two goals in a 4-0 win.   They then went on to beat another Rio team, Vasco de Gama, in the semi-finals, and Brazil, South America, and the footballing world began to take a bit more notice of the side from Santiago, who eventually went on to win the competition and take their first continental cup win.