Chile create space in the middle in late victory against Sweden

Chile create space in the middle in late victory against Sweden
Photo Credit To @English_AS

Despite not making the World Cup, La Roja played intense and passionate football that served as a stern warning for Russia-bound Blagult who never settled into a rhythm.

When it comes to attractive international friendlies, few would mention the match between Sweden and Chile as one. But looking at it more closely, this friendly should arouse everyone’s interest. Sweden barely made the finals in Russia after beating Italy in a two-legged play-off. And with Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently declaring his availability for selection once again, it would be interesting to see how Blagult manager Janne Andersson fashions his side’s preparations for this summer’s tournament.

On the other hand, Chile hold the distinction of being the highest ranked nation by FIFA to miss out on World Cup qualification. Not making the trip to Russia is a big blow to La Roja, the back-to-back Copa America champions, but it would be fascinating to see how their new manager Reinaldo Ruera can further improve an already solid South American squad.

Chile feature excellent midfield trio dynamic

La Roja lined up in their usual 4-3-3 formation that has proved successful over the years. An outstanding feature of this formation is the three-man midfield. The trio frequently interchanged positions in order to create a free-flowing dynamic. Especially in this generation, Chile tend to develop complete midfield players, possessing both offensive and defensive qualities.

During their initial build-up phase, one of the three midfielders – Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz and Pablo Hernandez – occupy narrow fullback positions to receive the ball. Despite dropping deep, the three regularly did so as it freed them of markers, allowing them to turn with the ball and orchestrate from a safe distance.

In the middle block, Chile transitioned their build-up into manipulating the opponent’s midfield and defensive lines. When any of the three made forward runs, the outside forwards (Alexis Sanchez and Anyelo Sagal) dropped back to create situational dilemmas for their respective markers.

La Roja free central areas through fullback positioning

What also increased the effectiveness of Chile’s mid block phase involved the positioning of their fullbacks. Jean Beausejour and Mauricio Isla both pushed forward but not to regularly pump balls into the box. They did this more so to maintain width to stretch Sweden’s backline horizontally. All these movements then tend to free up space in the centre, particularly the halfspaces, for Chile’s central players to exploit.

Sanchez capitalised on this situation frequently. The Manchester United forward started in the left of a front three, his favoured position, but regularly drifted inward with the ball to furnish dangerous passes across the final third. One type of pass that Sanchez executed frequently in the match was the diagonal – which has become an increasingly prominent part of Sanchez’ playing style.

Back in the midfield, Vidal occupied the most advanced position of the three. The Bayern Munich midfielder linked up play centrally while also attacking the box during crossing situations – one of his best qualities. It is in the centre where Vidal unleashed a magnificent strike to give Chile the lead.

Sweden forced into long balls

Up until Chile’s opening goal, Sweden produced little of note on the offensive end. This stemmed from a bit of Sweden lacking structure in the build-up but more so from Chile’s defensive industry. Despite the match being a friendly, the Chileans maintained a relatively high-intensity press upfront, forcing the Swedes into long balls.

Sweden boss Andersson may have anticipated this pre-match. Thus, he featured the 1.91m Ola Toivonen in a target man role for Blagult. In the rare times that Sweden transitioned into the final third, Emil Forsberg demanded the ball in order to orchestrate.

Forsberg tucks in to orchestrate for Blagult

The RB Leipzig attacker started wide left but always tucked inside to play teammates on or fashion chances himself. The celebration of the large Chilean support following Vidal’s stunner had hardly toned down when Sweden drew level following an impressive team goal. It was Forsberg, of course, that initiated the splendid attacking move.

After the restart, the match took on a more end-to-end feel. Sweden improved particularly through going more direct. They picked out Toivonen with long balls to circumvent the Chilean press and move straight into the final third. Gradually, Chile stamped their authority on both ends of the pitch.

First, they executed a zone press with the pass back to Sweden goalkeeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt the trigger. But the most excellent attribute of this Chilean side is their excellent counterpressing. As soon as a Chilean player loses the ball, everyone scrambles quickly in the opponent half to recover it.

Bolados late strike saves patchy second half

Due to this, Chile settled into a particular rhythm. They proceeded to probe in the final third against Sweden’s organised blocks of four. After an hour, though, the match suffered from a lack of quality despite it not losing tempo and intensity. The substitutions soon turned it into a patchy affair, but Chile boss Ruera made the right call. The Colombian manager introduced Nicolas Castillo as a more direct option for his side and the UNAM striker made an instant impact, when he forced a save from Nordfeldt after sidefooting a Marcos Bolados cutback.

Castillo again stung Nordfeldt’s gloves when Sanchez floated the ball to him. And just like that, Chile had swung the momentum back into their favour. They strung short passes together to get their rhythm back, which proved crucial in the home stretch.

While Ruera brought him on as a target man, Castillo turned creator in the last minute of regulation time when his chipped ball sent Sanchez one on one against Nordfeldt. But while the keeper denied the Chile superstar, Nordfeldt could only parry the ball into the path of Bolados who thumped home and allowed Chile to leave the Friends Arena with the victory.

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