Two matches and two wins sees Uruguay edging closer to having the ideal eleven for Russia 2018 where hopes are high of going far
Clarity. It’s what every national team manager going to the World Cup this summer are seeking and the international window provided a major chance to try out some players and systems.
For Uruguay boss Óscar Tabárez some matters were still unclear ahead of clashes with the Czech Republic (semi-final) and Wales (final) in the China Cup. Tabárez didn’t have to worry about his strike partnership, centreback pairing and choice of goalkeeper, but doubts had emerged in other positions.
One of the weak points for Uruguay has been at full-back as the once impressive duo of Pereira’s – Maxi and Álvaro – has aged. On top of that, Martín Cáceres has had his injury struggles and they just don’t seem to ever stop.
That opened the door for two 25-year-old’s – Guillermo Varela and Diego Laxalt – and they made the most of their opportunity. Both started for Uruguay in the two games – Varela at right-back, which was expected. However, Laxalt being lined up at left-back was a bit of a shock as it is not completely his natural position.
Guillermo Varela (25), who impressed vs. Czech Republic on Friday, is a great example of what Óscar Tabárez wants to achieve with the youth set up.
Varela went to the World Cup with the U17 & U20 team and is now set to play his first World Cup with the senior squad.
El Proceso. pic.twitter.com/POWU2NRAN2
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) March 24, 2018
Nonetheless, the Genoa player performed at a high level, showcasing tactical discipline, the ability to overlap with his frightening pace and some nice touches. Laxalt formed a good partnership with his former Defensor Sporting teammate Giorgian De Arrascaeta in the game against the Czech Republic. On the other side, Varela was equally, if not even more impressive than Laxalt.
The Peñarol right-back has a direct, fearless style of defending which makes him a tough opponent. Going forward, Varela is a real menace, combining speed with quality in possession. Both could provide Tabárez with a solution for the full-back positions if they can replicate this form in Russia.
Moving on to midfield, Uruguay were a lot more comfortable but some decisions still had to be made. Tabárez recalled Gastón Ramírez after a lengthy absence and gave a debut to the Sampdoria revelation Lucas Torreira. Federico Valverde, on the other hand, didn’t make the cut due to an injury.
For both the games, Tabárez went for a four-man midfield with a double pivot and two wide midfielders. Rodrigo Bentancur and Matías Vecino were the men in the middle and while the latter was as good as we always expect him to be, the former really caught the eye.
The 20-year-old hasn’t had a lot of playing time at Juventus but didn’t lack any sharpness – always calm on the ball and in control of the situation, able to pick out the important pass and control the tempo. But it’s not just in possession when Bentancur excels because over the two games the youngster constantly came up with well-timed interceptions.
On the wings, functioning as a passing option for Bentancur, were Nahitan Nández and Giorgian De Arrascaeta. Nández, who started both games, offered defensive contribution, a lot of energy and initiative in attack. De Arrascaeta offered creativity to supply Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez, although he didn’t hit his full potential.
It was maybe for that reason that Cristian Rodríguez replaced him in the starting lineup for the game against China. Rodríguez was important in terms of his defensive work rate and contributed with an assist but still shouldn’t be starting ahead of De Arrascaeta at the World Cup.
Finally, making his debut, Lucas Torreira made a good impression in his two substitute appearances and will surely be of huge importance in the years to come.
The tournament was eventually won comfortably with two victories – 2-0 vs. Czech Republic and 1-0 vs. Wales. Cavani (2x) and Suárez (1x) scored the goals, the defensive triangle of Muslera, Giménez and Godín were solid as expected.
Uruguay are continuing to play the uncharacteristically possession-based game as the new midfield generation allows it. And for the first time in a while, La Celeste actually has luxury problems in the middle of the park when everyone is fit.
Tabárez has found what he was looking for before this FIFA date; more clarity. Not absolutely everything might be clear yet but the main questions seem to be answered. At this rate, Uruguay are shaping up to be one of the dark horses for the upcoming World Cup.