Tactical Analysis: Argentina 1-0 Uruguay | Argentina exploit width to win a tight game

The classic clash of South America, had the favorites (Argentina) as the winners of the match. With Messi in charge, Argentina are the favorites to win it all. A very clear game, with one team playing attack minded football and the other team focusing on blocking the spaces. Uruguay were focusing on the counter-attacks and did create some chances and were really close to scoring a late equalizer. Argentina were the better side this evening, even if they were struggling to play through this low positioned Uruguay team, and they did find the goal with a cross from Zabaleta to Aguero, scoring the only goal of the game.

Argentina 1-0 Uruguay


Argentina: 1 Romero, 4 Zabaleta, 2 Garay, 17 Otamendi, 16 Rojo, 14 Mascherano, 6 Biglia, 7 Di Maria,

 21 Pastore, 10 Messi, 11 Agüero

1 Muslera, 16 Pereira, 3 Godin, 6 Pereira, 2 Gimenez, 7 Rodriguez, 20 Gonzalez, 17 Arevalo,
14 Lodeiro, 21 Cavani, 9 Rolan

Goals: Agüero 56’

Uruguay defending


Uruguay were not interested in putting pressure on Argentina, and were, for most parts of the game seen with a low, compact line up to exploit the system of play that Argentina actually plays with, i.e. all parts of the team operating in attacking areas of the pitch. The formation that they used v Argentina was the 4-2-3-1 with Cavani upfront. The only time Uruguay pressed higher up the pitch was if Romero (GK) played it short.

Uruguay did though shift their formation throughout the game depending on the situation.

Cavani did at times almost join the 5-man midfield to create what looked as a 4-6-0-ish formation, where he was focused on closing down Mascherano (man-marking). This happened while Argentina was building up play (Notice how Cavani has followed Mascherano on this situation). Cavani was also used to be the one to invite the Argentina team to one side and cut a passing lane and prevent the switching of play.

Lodeiro from the 5-man midfield of Uruguay was seen pressing the player in possession of the ball, depending on the situation as it could be a centre-back for-ex: Otamendi or a central-mdifielder with Biglia dropping deep, his focus was to cut out the other link-player of Argentina as Cavani was more focused on Mascherano, creating a 4-4-2 formation. The man-marking of Mascherano, led to the centre-backs of Argentina having more freedom and space to threaten and penetrate towards the Uruguay midfield-line, as seen here.

Here is a situation where Lodeiro first starts with staying close to Biglia (Notice how Mascherano has dropped between the two CB’s of Argentina) and Cavani close to Lodeiro/Biglia.

Now Lodeiro leaves his position/Biglia to put pressure on Mascherano. Cavani follows and reads Lodeiro’s movement and starts to position himself closer to Biglia, this means that Lodeiro and Cavani were able to switch markers depending on the situation. This was done to try and force Argentina to play for the long ball or to play it wide.

If Argentina did successfully play through/out of the 1st  press from Uruguay, then Lodeiro was seen dropping deep again to form a 2-3 midfield in line with the other midfielders as seen here, to start over again (notice how Cavani has followed Biglia).
Uruguay were, through the entire game, focused on closing down the spaces for Argentina as much as possible, with Rodriguez and Rolan trying to block the channels, and Lodeiro pressing a bit higher up in line with Cavani to almost form a 4-4-2 at times. The central-midfielders: Gonzalez and Arevalo, were defending the half-spaces. Whenever Lodeiro joined Cavani in a 4-4-2-ish formation, the 4 remaining midfielders formed a 4-midfield line or a 1-3, or when Lodeiro dropped deep to form a 1-4 midfield, with Arevalo or Gonzalez as the one to block/recover the ball in the half-space (If an opposition player was penetrating in that zone/space)

Here we see a very compact Uruguay closing down a flank, by outnumbering Argentina/creating an overload, which forces Argentina to play it back and start over again (Notice the 3 steps in the picture above, as you see how Uruguay has created a 1-4 midfield).
What Uruguay were focusing on, was to block the centre and force Argentina to play wide, where Uruguay were trying to be efficient as they could easily create and overload by outnumbering the wide penetrating full-backs of Argentina, to then try and counter-attack Argentina from there.
If the recovery of the ball did occur on the left-flank then they had the left-fullback Pereira joining with the left-midfielder Rodriguez on the flanks, with Cavani making deep-lateral runs towards the centre-backs, Lodeiro with a more central-role behind Cavani as the #10 of the team, and also Rolan joining the counter on the other flank, trying to exploit the Argentina defence. Uruguay did try to create some potential danger from very direct balls, but were unable to affect Argentina with too many players focusing on the defending.
Many balls were seen played directly to Cavani to expose the high-defensive line of Argentina, as many balls were played behind the defenders, but mostly with unsuccessful passes.
Cavani, at times, made lateral runs to drag the defense away from the centre, but also diagonal runs behind the fullbacks who were pressing; for-example the right-midfield of Uruguay.
Due to the fast switches of play, the great ways of penetrating the spaces between the lines of Uruguay, were Di Maria, Pastore & Messi. Uruguay had many problems with closing down these attractive/threatening spaces, especially with the 3 man central midfield often being outplayed, which made Uruguay look vulnerable and very unorganized at times.

Argentina flexibility in the attacks

Argentina had a very common and modern approach during the build-up which can be seen at teams like Barcelona, as they both have 1 thing in common, and that is having Messi in your team. Now Argentina plays a very high line of defense with 2 centre-backs positioning wide, to give Mascherano space in-between, as the link up player (In Barca for-ex: Busquets is the ‘’link-player’’). While Agüero positioned as the #9 and Rojo and Zabaleta are full-backs, the other players were positioning themselves more freely, trying to exploit the Uruguay defense (Biglia a bit more centrally focused staying close to Mascherano, to help with the build-up of the attack). As Rojo and Zabaleta kept the width of the pitch/team, Messi and Di Maria became more of an inverted-winger, trying to penetrate between the lines of Uruguay, in the half-spaces, creating at times a very attacking 2-1-4-2-1-ish formation.

By having the full-backs penetrating higher-up the opposition half-pitch, you are basically keeping the width of the team/pitch, which means that you are able to drag the opposition out of positions and find eventual gaps, but also to push the defending-blocks further down so that you can create more space, as you can see the amount of space Otamendi has here. This was a very common sight during the game as Otamendi and Garay had much time on the ball, since Uruguay were focusing on closing down the 2 centre-midfielders of Argentina during the build-ups.

Here is an example of how Otamendi was able to find a pass through the midfield-line of Uruguay. Meaning that Argentina had no problem with having the 2 centre-backs playing the through-balls, to advance further up the pitch, as seen here. This made it hard for Uruguay of course, as they were already trying to block Argentina’s strength in the build-up process (by blocking Mascherano and Biglia as much as possible), but neither Garay nor Otamendi had problems with these kind of passes, which gives the team more flexibility and opportunities during the build-up.

Here is an almost same situation as above, but now with Biglia playing the through-pass to Di Maria.
Do also notice how deep Biglia has dropped, the position of Rojo, keeping the width and how Di Maria has left his wingers-position penetrating now between the lines of Uruguay.
Think of it like this, Di Maria leaves his position close to the full-back of Uruguay, and starts penetrating behind the central-midfielder instead, as this position makes it hard for the full-back to either follow Di Maria and leave a gap or leave Di Maria to penetrate behind the central-midfielder. This is also hard for the central-midfielder to keep track of as Di Maria is positioned on his blind side. A very smart way of penetrating spaces.

Another situation where Mascherano plays a through ball to Pastore, an efficient pass that he has played through 4 players of Uruguay. Pastore comes from behind to penetrate the space in front, with no pressure on him.
Now remember how Uruguay tried to force Argentina wide, by blocking the central areas of the pitch?
Well, Argentina tried to use it to their advantage, as they were not interested in playing the opposition on the flanks (during the 1st phase of build-up) but  only used them to force Uruguay to switch sides and to eventually find a gap in the centre as seen in the picture above. This worked well and was very efficient as Argentina were easily finding lateral-passes through the lines of Uruguay.
Instead the full-backs were much more of use, whenever Argentina were attacking in the final 3rd of the pitch, where the full-backs joined the attack to provide a passing opportunity in the wide areas, this also to give Messi, Pastore & Di Maria more freedom in central-areas (half-spaces).

Notice the 2-3 formation of Argentina were Rojo + Zabaleta (not seen in the picture) was positioned as wingers during the attacking phase while in the attacking 3rd and also Agüero as the striker.
Notice the position of Di Maria who is once again more centrally positioned as he has the ball, with Messi and Pastore all penetrating in the half-spaces.

Here is a situation where you have: Mascherano as the link player, Di Maria and Messi have dropped deeper. Notice  Agüero as the #9. What is interesting is the yellow-marked player, which actually is Biglia, whom has left his central-midfield position as he notices that Di Maria and Messi have dropped deeper. Biglia starts then instead to position himself higher and so does Pastore. This only reason this is done is to not lose the balance and passing-lanes within the attack, as they now have width and opportunities to play later-passes, meaning that it makes it all harder for Uruguay to defend and keep track of the players

Now the run of Biglia is a very smart one, as he noticed how Messi and Di Maria dropped deep, he started to occupy players, to create space for his team-mates. Here you see how he has left Gonzalez, to penetrate the half-space, which forces Godin to follow Biglias movement, and leave his central-defending position. Pastore positions himself a little diagonally in relation to Messi to occupy the left-back of Uruguay (Pereira), who as you can see is also forced to leave his position to put pressure on Pastore  (Rodriguez focusing on the eventual movements of Zabaleta, as you can also see how deep and compact Uruguay really were trying to defend).

Now Pastore tricks Pereira, which forces Rodriguez to put pressure on Pastore, which eventually leaves Zabaleta free on the flanktso get the pass from Pastore. Notice how the movement of Biglia and the positioning of Pastore has caused Uruguay to be unorganized in the defence as 3 players are basically out of position, with a massive space between Gimenez and Godin (who is now trying to prevent the crossing pass of Zabaleta) for Agüero to exploit. Zabaleta crosses a perfect banana cross and Aguero scores the only goal of the game.


This is just an example of how flexible Argentina really are in the attacking phases, with some similarities to FC Barcelona in the rotation of positions such as in the goal of the game, were Biglia has the freedom as Rakitic has, to penetrate a zone where we almost never have seen Biglia before, this to just open up spaces for Messi & Co.

For more reading on the Copa America, head this way.

Written by Albin Sheqiri

Albin Sheqiri

Albin Sheqiri

Albin is a UEFA B licensed coach with great passion for football and a big curiosity about the tactics. Plays football for a team in the 4th tier of Sweden.
Albin Sheqiri