Another 1-0, another host of unanswered questions for Uruguay.
Oscar Tabarez’s side have progressed to the next stage comfortably but unconvincingly, winning both fixtures despite the fact they appear to have the potential to produce something altogether more entertaining.
Of course, the group stages are about qualifying for the knockout rounds and nothing more. But if they’re to progress once the tournament reaches the business end, then Uruguay might need a little more guile, imagination, and creativity to go with their defensive grit.
James Nalton has a look at the tactical thinking behind Uruguay's approach and looks for areas in which they could improve.
Suarez the Poacher
So far in the World Cup, star forward Luis Suarez looks somewhat out of sorts. However, he still had the striker’s instinct to get on the end of a Carlos Sanchez corner to give his side the win against a disappointing Saudi Arabia.
The number nine’s link-up play has at times been wasteful but then he also made two key passes in the previous game.
Many of the flicks he does on the turn, looking to his strike partner with his first touch, have failed to come off; but his more considered passing has led to some good combinations, but they have been too rare.
Some sluggishness against Saudi Arabia in Rostov-on-Don was due to the searing heat but, despite appearances, Suarez can still produce bursts of hard work and skill and these can be the moments which win games
While Edinson Cavani toils around him, tasked with dropping back to defend as well as contributing in attack, Suarez lurks and no one lurks quite like Suarez.
Two banks of four
The Uruguay setup is built around two banks of four and then relies on the magic of Suarez and Cavani up front. But to what, or to whom, do they turn if that magic doesn’t arrive?
The current system uses full backs who exercise caution. This is in contrast with the other sides covered so far in this series who use them almost as extra attackers. It’s very much a back four for Uruguay.
There is some balance, however. Martin Caceres will naturally be more defensive than Guillermo Varela and this contrast is replicated in the wide midfield positions where a combination of central midfielders and industrious defensive wingers have been used on either side.
Photo credit: James Nalton
Tabarez rotates in this area of the pitch and has already changed the wide personnel from one game to the next.
The manager didn’t seem keen on using Giorgian De Arrascaeta, who is more of a playmaker, out wide. He replaced him with Cristian Rodriguez from the bench in the opening game against Egypt and then in the starting lineup for the second match.
Rather than introduce De Arrascaeta from the bench against Saudi Arabia, he instead looked to Diego Laxalt who plays as a left wing-back in a 3-5-2 for Genoa so fits the position well.
When watching this formation from the back of the Rostov Arena, it looked like it was crying out for a number ten — De Arrascaeta — to sit behind the strikers. However, this would involve a system change from Tabarez to something like a 4-4-2 diamond which he’s unlikely to do.
Cavani will continue to be relied upon to drop into the hole and the only chance of some help will be if De Arrascaeta plays wide in defence but drifts centrally in attack.
Vecino out — Torreira in
One change Tabarez could make which would add an extra dimension while not altering his system would be to replace Matias Vecino with Lucas Torreira.
Torreira complimented Rodrigo Bentancur when he arrived on the pitch in the previous game and is nippier than Vecino in defence while also being a good passer. These two traits would combine to allow for quicker service up to the strikers.
In just over half an hour on the pitch against Saudi Arabia, Torreira made three interceptions, played one key pass and even had a shot on goal. He also boasted a better pass success rate with 90% of his passes coming off. Vecino had managed none of these things
This would be an easy change for the manager to make. He could even rest Bentancur, who has been the standout player in Uruguay’s midfield so far, for the knockout stages.
The final group game against free-scoring Russia looks set to be Uruguay’s first real test and it could bring the best from them.
How do you think Uruguay will fare against Russia? Let us know by commenting below.