An Uruguay team that seemed stagnant for so long, is now enjoying a new lease of life after an international week when the youth got a chance
In an international break that has decided the World Cup fate of so many countries, Uruguay faced no stress as they – uncharacteristically – had already secured their ticket to Russia 2018 via direct qualification. So, without pressure, the country started preparing for football’s biggest showpiece with friendlies against Poland and Austria on European soil.
Uruguay manager Óscar Tabárez came into this FIFA date, looking for “valuable conclusions”. Over the last few matches, the 70-year-old has been able to rejuvenate the squad and has made Uruguay a different side than before.
The usual highly-structured 4-4-2 formation, which focuses on giving up possession to punish opponents on the break was changed into a 4-3-1-2 for the final World Cup qualifier against Bolivia. A midfield three of Valverde, Bentancur, and the slightly more experienced Matías Vecino with De Arrascaeta just in front of them, functioning as the link between midfield and attack, was given a shot in that game and it looks like being the way going forward. The midfield provides tactical knowledge, work ethic, and ball retention and adds some extra quality in possession.
In the matches against Poland and Austria, even more, upcoming players were integrated into the Uruguay team as Gastón Pereiro, Mauricio Lemos, Maxi Gómez, and Guillermo Varela were all handed their senior Uruguay debuts.
The new-look La Celeste continued to handle the ball well, something the side lacked with the likes of Egidio Arévalo Rios and Álvaro González in the starting eleven.
Despite all of that, Uruguay’s results against European opposition in this international break were disappointing as they drew with Poland (0-0) and lost to Austria (2-1). However, not too much importance should be given to it.
Óscar Tabárez on the friendlies against Poland and Austria:
"These games are part of the preparation for the World Cup. What we expect from these encounters is information and to outline certain things." pic.twitter.com/0uhnRCQ2fQ
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) November 15, 2017
Tabárez is clearly looking for his best team and has had the chance to garner some useful information on his squad. Guillermo Varela, for example, did a decent job on his Uruguay debut and has clearly surpassed Maxi Pereira – his competitor for the right-back spot. Mauricio Lemos has also done a good job in convincing Tabárez that he deserves to be in the squad with a solid performance against Poland.
With Varela and Lemos emerging as good defensive options, Uruguay’s midfield is not doing too badly either as this Uruguay side is undergoing a clear transformation in the middle of the pitch. In defense with Godín, Giménez, Cáceres and Muslera and in attack with Suárez and Cavani, Uruguay always had that extra quality they could rely on but the midfield was non-existent.
Uruguay had no players that could hold onto the ball in midfield and it increased the tendency to pass long balls into Cavani and especially Suárez, looking for a piece of brilliance from the hitman from Salto. Now, Uruguay actually put together good fluid attacks. Uruguay’s current midfield options allow the side to play the right way when in possession without losing the Garra Charrúa-spirit.
Over these upcoming months, this Uruguay side will only grow as the younger individuals mature at their clubs. After some more friendlies in March and June, Uruguay will be shaping itself into a side that will be a threat to Russia. I have no doubts.