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article imageCopa America Final Tactical Preview: Chile - Argentina

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jul 3, 2015 in Sports
For the most part, cup finals tend to be dull, cautious battles between two physically, mentally, and emotionally drained sides fearing to make mistakes.
This is what makes Chile’s showdown with Argentina enticing — it’s set up to buck the trend. Neither side has met expectations throughout the tournament, but the final presents the ideal platform for a potential goal fest.
Quite simply, Jorge Sampaoli and Gerardo Tata Martino have been forced to make minor adjustments. Where Sampaoli has persisted with a 4-3-1-2 opposed to a three-man defence, Martino sacrificed additional creativity with Ever Banega for the functional Lucas Biglia.
Similarly, the main factor that makes this final alluring from a neutral perspective lies behind how open both sides play. The finalists have been forced to break down defences that operate in a low-block throughout the tournament, but here, it’s nearly certain that Chile will undergo periods of sustained pressure.
Sampaoli’s men have been unimpressive during the knockout round, relying on questionable officiating to change the overall outcome of matches. With that being said, the significance of scoring within the opening 20 minutes — a period where Chile’s pressing and direct running is at its best due to energy level — can’t be overlooked, as they have showcased their inability to break down organized outfits.
The final, however, presents plenty of space on the break, specifically in the channels, for Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sanchez to exploit on the counter, opposed to the duo being forced to operate in tight space surrounding the box. The key, here, though, is how, opposed to whether, Sampaoli utilizes the creative Jorge Valdivia.
Valdivia has arguably been Chile’s star performer throughout the tournament, dropping deep into midfield to receive the ball in pockets of space, before sliding intelligent passes behind the defence or wide areas. Although a back three would be logical, with Arturo Vidal serving as a combative no.10, Sampaoli is likely to reward his star performer an opt for creativity over grit. It is key to note that the last time Vidal met Lionel Messi in the Champions League final the Chilean lacked discipline in the opening half and was fortunate to remain on the field.
On the other hand, a 3-4-1-2 would likely be fitting for this match with Charles Aranguiz and Marcelo Diaz protecting the back four, whilst Vidal makes powerful runs into the box, forcing Javier Mascherano to operate as a third centre-back. Ultimately Sampaoli will be stuck in a bind between enthralling football and pragmatism. The wingbacks would peg Angel Di Maria back, while Jean Beausejour would enjoy the space Lionel Messi leaves vacant when he drifts infield from the right.
Nevertheless, Argentina remains favourites. This would serve as the ideal match up for Alejandro Sabella’s Argentina side: an organized defensive unit, which boasted an efficient counterattack led by Messi, and Di Maria in a shuttler role.
Martino possesses the best team on paper, yet apart from a convincing 6-1 thrashing of Paraguay, Argentina have yet to fit the bill as a perennial elite side. The key battle for the favourites rests on both ends of midfield. Javier Mascherano will be aided by the physical presence of Biglia to deal with Vidal and Valdivia. Alexis and Vargas’ movement will create space for Vidal to storm forward — basically operating as a third forward — which would create a feisty battle between two of the best tacklers in world football.
"We have been treated wonderfully here," Martino said. "But this is football. We have to play with the ball and try to win the game."
Likewise, Argentina could adopt Uruguay’s approach and stifle passing lanes into Valdivia. The Chilean would struggle to find space between the lines against Mascherano, and Martino would likely prefer if he received possession towards the half-line.
Meanwhile, Javier Pastore and Lionel Messi have offered Argentina the required creativity and penetration in central areas. The former, in particular, has been the most impressive performer in the tournament with his clever combination play, appreciation of space, and willingness to charge forward to pose a goal threat. Chile lacks a natural ball winner/tackler in midfield, and considering their indiscipline in previous tournaments — several bookings are expected — nullifying space in central areas will be an insurmountable goal, but the key to success.
This could also prove to be Sergio Aguero’s breakout game upfront. Although Aguero lacks the physical presence and strength to bully past the Chilean defence like Peru’s Paolo Guerrero, Chile’s expansive brand of football will leave gaps for Aguero to stretch.
The Argentine remains a limited striker, as his overall impact in open play is thwarted against sides that operate in a deep block. Aguero prefers to play off the shoulder of the last defender, as his pace and lethal finishing makes him one of the best strikers in the game — his goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season epitomizes his threat.
Nonetheless, despite Argentina returning to their second major final in two years, Martino’s side still appears to lack natural balance and cohesion. While they remain devastating in attack, they’re equally vulnerable when teams counter with speed.
But the decisive factor here involves Sampaoli’s approach in midfield. He can either attack Argentina and opt for creativity in Valdivia, or introduce an extra defender to ensure the midfield offers enough protection in central areas to cope with Pastore and Messi.
"Our preparations have been similar to previous matches," said Sampaoli. "Of course we are taking some things into consideration about our opponents, but our system will not change.
"We will try to dominate the game, and the game may depend on who dominates who. But the system we have used has given us the opportunity to be where we are now, in the final, and we intend to continue playing the same way."
Although Chile’s run to the finals has been a great fairytale story — excluding the controversial knockout round incidents — the projected open showdown could undoubtedly be Messi’s best opportunity to guide his country to international glory.
More about Lionel messi, Argentina, Alexis Sanchez, Copa America, Chile
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