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Jun 06

Mexico 3-1 Uruguay: Osorio’s first half tactics enough to push Mexico through, despite Tabarez’s 2nd half changes


If the first few games of this 100th version of the Copa America was lacking some passion and bite, this encounter between Mexico and Uruguay provided all the endeavor and tactics we come to expect from international clashes between South American teams.

Mexico have been in eye-catching form coming into this tournament, and despite having sacked their manager Miguel Herrera, the new man Osorio has built up a new flexible system that suits these bunch of players well. On Sunday night, Osorio’s gameplan and tactics completely overwhelmed Uruguay for the first 45 minutes, after which despite a sending off for each side, Mexico were able to come up with the winner few minutes from time.

Osorio had experimented with a 3 man and 4 man defence in the buildup to the tourney. A system with 3 centre backs is not something new for the El-Tri, as Herrera used it throughout the tournament in Brazil in 2014. The shape that Mexico had gone for then was a 5-3-2 with 2 energetic fullbacks providing the width out wide.

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This is where Osorio’s system turned out to be a little different. The Columbian chose to play with 3 Centre Backs and the grand old man Rafa Marquez, but as expected the latter did not line up in his Holding midfield position. Instead it was Diego Reyes, a central defender from Sociedad who started in that role with Marquez, Hector Moreno and Araujo in the 3 man defence.

Layun, who operated as the Right wing back in Brazil, was now starting in central midfield, alongside Reyes, Hector Herrera and Guardado; with Herrera the furthest forward amongst them. The on-paper front 3 were Chicharito, Aquino and Corona; though Aquino and later Corona too spent most of their time wide on the flanks. So essentially from being a 3-3-1-3, Osorio’s formation looked more like a 3-5-1-1 by midway through the first half.

Starting XI

Starting XI

Uruguay on the other hand haven’t changed management, players or formations in the past year. Tabarez started the game in a 4-3-3 which had Cavani, Rolan and Carlos Sanchez in the front 3. Fiorentina’s Matias Vecino was partnered by Arevalo Rios and Lodeiro in the middle. Godin and Jimenez were the 2 standout players in the defence, with Alvaro and Maxi Pereira at fullback.

Mexican CBs dominate Uruguayan Forwards, and Osorio’s contrasting wide option work well

Right from the off, Mexico were the team pressing better and playing faster transitions on the ball. They had a numerical advantage in the middle of the park, as Guardado and co. created a 4v3 against the Uruguayan midfield. This resulted in Uruguayan sitting back for the first 20 minutes and their 4-3-3 essentially turned into a 4-5-1.

With only Cavani upfront, Osorio 3 man defence were easily able to play the ball out, and with Cavani pressing in the space between Marquez and Reyes at CDM, the El Tri essentially had a 4v1 here. Apart from Marquez, both Moreno and Araujo were comfortable at stepping out from the defence and playing the ball into the free midfielder for Mexico in the centre.

Mexico's back 3 and Reyes outnumber Cavani. This pushes Uruguay's 4-3-3 into a 4-5-1.

Mexico’s back 3 and Reyes outnumber Cavani. This pushes Uruguay’s 4-3-3 into a 4-5-1.

The Mexicans were winning the battle against the Uruguayan forwards, but the more important one was out wide. Since the only wing back in the Mexican starting XI, Layun, was playing in central midfield, Osorio had to ask his wide forwards to cover all the space on the flanks. Aquino on Mexico’s Right was taking up this role, and he played the entire first half higher up against Alvaro Pereira. Aquino’s trickery and Layun’s presence next to him in midfield, allowed the young Mexican to beat the Uruguayan Left Back on multiple occasions. The dangerous crosses put in from such situations were promptly cutoff by the Atleti Centre back duo for Uruguay.

Mexico dominating their own half allows Guardado and Aquino to dominate flanks

Mexico dominating their own half allows Guardado and Aquino to dominate flanks

The situation on Mexico’s Left hand flank wasn’t exactly the same as Osorio had 2 left footers: Moreno and Guardado who were both comfortable to step up and play the role of a Left wing back. Though Moreno did this only on a couple of occasions, Andres Guardado was seen drifting onto the Left wing right from the start. The presence of Jesus Corona at a narrow position on this flank, restricted Maxi Pereira’s movement, and Guardado was afforded all the space when he crossed in for Alvaro Pereira’s own goal in the first couple of minutes. Guardado’s drifting to the flank was also because of the manner in which Diego Reyes and Marquez were dominating the Uruguayan forwards. In the move that led to the goal, Guardado had taken a touch in central midfield and passed it onto Reyes without much pressure from Uruguay, and then he drifted onto the flank behind Carlos Sanchez who had stepped up to close down Moreno.


Uruguay start pressing high, restrict Mexico’s wing battle to 1v1

Uruguay took about 20 minutes to get used to Mexico press and movements, but soon Tabarez’s side realized the space Mexico were leaving in the channels next to the 3 centre backs, due to the absence of wingbacks. Uruguay now deployed 3 men to press upfront, as Cavani, Rolan and Lodeiro stepped up to close down Mexico’s back 3 plus Reyes. This resulted in the likes of Guardado and Layun coming back deep into midfield to relieve the pressure on the Centre backs. This was quickly followed by their Uruguayan counterparts Vecino and Rios stepping to close them down.

Mexico vs Uruguay highlights 3

This tactic by Uruguayan reduced the adventure Guardado and Layun were showing in midfield. So Osorio now had to only his wide forwards Corona and Aquino against Uruguay’s fullbacks, and the duo tried playing short passes into Chicharito and Herrera rather than cutting past the fullbacks.

Uruguay start pressing higher up the pitch. This reduces the wing battle to a 1v1

Uruguay start pressing higher up the pitch. This reduces the wing battle to a 1v1

With Uruguay pressing higher up in this manner, Mexico mainly lost the ball when the trio of Centre backs couldn’t find a midfielder and hoisted it to Hernandez upfront. Uruguay’s Centre Backs won the ball on most of these occasions, and they were quick to start the counter right away since their teammates were in a higher up position while pressing off the ball. The space that Tabarez’s side looked to exploit was the one behind Moreno at the Left Half position, and the likes of Rolan and Cavani made multiple runs into this channel. With Cavani missing a simple chance and Rolan not picking the right cross, Uruguay were quite close to the equalizer before the break. But Matias Vecino’s 2nd yellow right before the break was a huge blow for Tabarez

Second half changes make Uruguay attack narrow and direct

Uruguay brought on Alvaro Gonzalez for Ledeiro in the 2nd half, and this pushed Rolan into a support striker role behind Cavani, and Carlos Sanchez into midfield. So Tabarez was now playing a narrow 4-3-1-1, which on paper played right into Mexico’s tactic of a narrow 3 man defence.

Tabarez changes to a 4-3-1-1 at the start of the 2nd hafl

Tabarez changes to a 4-3-1-1 at the start of the 2nd hafl

Tabarez also shifted to a 3 man defence around the 60th minute, as Maxi Pereira pushed up as a Right wing back. This resulted in him and Carlos Sanchez overloading the Mexican left flank. Tabárez then brought on Abel Hernandez for Rolan, and Uruguay were essentially playing only longballs and crosses in their 3-4-2.

A controversial 2nd yellow for Guardado and a subsequent thumping header from Godin levelled thing up, but the El Tri were able to bag 2 late goals via Marquez and Herrera.


Though Mexico dominated the 1st half of the game, and we were able to see the flexibility in the shape of the squad as Guardado and Layun especially gelled well; but Uruguayan narrow and direct attacking style in the 2nd half left the Mexican central midfielders with very less composure while tackling. Almost every Uruguayan chance was from a set-piece after a foul committed in Mexico’s own half. Guardado’s red means that Mexico will miss their driving force in midfield, and Osorio might need to shift to a 4 man defence due to a lack of crossing options from the Left.

Tabarez would have expected his side to hold on for a draw once they scored late in the 2nd half. But on the whole the Uruguayan team were outwitted by Osorio’s first half tactics. Though the likes of Rolan had a few simple chances in the 2nd half, these were down to naive mistakes by Mexican midfielders while under pressure.

About the author

Abhay Raj

Abhay is one of the editors of this website. He prefers to write only tactical analytical pieces on matches, players and coaches.
Abhay is a huge Arsenal fan, but Mourinho and AVB are his 2 preferred managers. He hates beautiful football and ultra-attacking football( arsenal-esq with both fullbacks attacking simultaneously), and is a huge fan of the defensive/reactive football that mourinho and simeone play

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