Compact Defending and Quick Transitions: Uruguay 2018 World Cup Tactical Snapshot

Written for Pure Fitbaw by Laurie McGinley

The 2018 World Cup, in Russia, has been an excellent tournament full of late goals,  world class players showing their skills and attributes and dark horses coming to attention. One of those dark horses, albeit with real pedigree in the compeition, is Uruguay and I have been studying them throughout the group stages and have analysed how they defend as a team and how they transition from defence to attack.

Uruguay play with a 4-4-2 and try to keep the game as compact as possible in order to force their opponents to either go wide or, if they play in the middle, force a mistake which a Uruguayan defender or midfielder can anticipate.

Image One Laurie Uruguay

Uruguay defending compactly and ready to break against Egypt – World Cup 2018

In this scenario Uruguay, in white, need their left back to read the situation and for the left winger (circled) to offer support so that if the ball is won can they use him to get the ball up the field. A quick reaction from the left back can help transition from defence to attack by using the left winger and also the two strikers, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, up front.

Image Two Laurie Uruguay

Saudi Arabia (in white) threatening from a cross into Uruguay’s box – World Cup 2018

Set plays have been a big trend at the 2018 World Cup and Uruguay, despite having a much praised defence, have been caught out a few times from them and also by crosses from open play.  This picture shows that the Uruguay centre back (in light blue) has to be closer to the Saudi Arabian striker (jumping, in white) to win the ball as if he misjudges the height of the ball then he will get caught out. A big problem for full backs can be their body shape. Highlighted (yellow circle) is the Uruguayan left back with a closed body shape. It must be open in order to see the Saudi Arabaian player who has made a run onto his blind side. The Uruguayan goalkeeper has to communicate to the full back that he must make sure he can see both the ball and the opposition player so that this situation can be defended better.

Image Three Laurie Uruguay

Uruguay defend a long, high ball against Russia – World Cup 2018

Here is an example of the Uruguayan back four not being compact against Russia in their group stage clash. The right back and right sided centre back are compact together but the left sided centre back and left back are too far apart. In this situation, the right back needs to win the ball and take the pressure off his fellow defenders. The right sided centre back has to anticipate the knock down by deepening off slightly. In this way the back four become more compact with the left back also tucking in. In addition, the opposition have runners from midfield if their striker wins the ball in the air. Both Uruguayan central midfielders (yellow circles) need to match the Russian runners just incase the back four struggle to deal with the ball over the top.  If they do win the ball back then Uruguay try and make the game as big as possible with Suarez or Cavani running the channels.

Image Four Laurie Uruguay.png

Uruguay (in white) defending from the front against Egypt – World Cup 2018

That pair are arguably two of the best strikers in world football and they must be a nightmare for the defenders they are facing. Not only are they a goal threat but they defend from the front for Uruguay. In the image above Suarez’s (in white, most advanced Uruguayan player) pressing could lead to joy with a two on two situation or, if the Uruguayan right winger anticipates the ball going to the Egyptian full back, it could be a three on three with a quick transition from defence to attack. Due to Cavani’s class and Suarez’s determination they can make a defender’s game into a nightmare with intelligent play.

Image Five Laurie Uruguay.png

Uruguay (in light blue) breaking quickly against Saudi Arabia – World Cup 2018

Quick thinking while defending to transition to attack is vital when you have a top class striker. In the scenario above a quickly taken free kick in their own half leads to a chance that might not have occurred otherwise due to the intelligence of the Uruguay team. If Cavani takes a touch inside he can either draw the foul or, if he has the pace, go for goal.

Image Six Uruguay Laurie

Edinson Cavani shapes to cross against Saudi Arabia – World Cup 2018

Uruguayan defenders winning the ball high up the field and transitioning the ball to Cavani as quick as possible can lead to multiple attacking options.  In the image above we can see how Cavani (in light blue, at left corner of penalty area) could have created more out of this situation. The Uruguayan left back might overlap Cavani which will lead to a one v one  and if the ball is front of the left back then the cross would be unchallenged.  Another attacking option would be a reverse pass into the Uruguayan number 10 who has made a run between the Saudi Arabian central defenders.
A final option would be crossing the ball with the intention of the Uruguayan right winger then knocking the ball down for their number 10 in the box or even the right winger attacking the ball himself as the Saudi Arabian left back has a poor body position and therefore can be exploited on their blind side.

Watch out for the tactical snapshots outlined above in Uruguay’s World Cup Quarter Final clash this Friday, 6th July 2018 with France. Can Uruguay stay compact against the triple threat of Olivier Giroud in the air, Antoine Griezmann dropping deep and Kylian Mbappe’s pace? Will Uruguay still press aggressively from the front given Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane’s relative comfort on the ball and the danger posed in midfield by Paul Pogba if the first line of pressing is bypassed? Can the introduction of Lucas Torreira and a switch to a more narrow midfield 4-4-2 diamond hurt Uruguay against France given the form of Mbappe high on the wide right? With Cavani injured can his likely replacement, Christian Stuani, offer the same ability to run the channels and be an outlet for a quick transition to attack? Let us know your thoughts at Pure Fitbaw on twitter.


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