Chile vs. Australia: Key Selection Decisions for Jorge Sampaoli
The fitness of Arturo Vidal is the biggest headache for Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli ahead of his side’s 2014 World Cup opener against Australia on Friday.
Sampaoli has no further injury concerns ahead of his side's first Group B fixture, but he does have some additional choices to make in terms of formation and personnel.
Here are his key selection decisions ahead of the match against Australia.
Whether to Risk Arturo Vidal
The fitness of Arturo Vidal has been a major talking point over the last week or so. He made an unexpected appearance in Chile’s farewell friendly against Northern Ireland last Wednesday, raising expectations that he would be ready to face Australia.
He has, however, only trained sporadically with his teammates since.
National team doctor Giovanni Carcuro provided an update at a press conference on Wednesday.
Per CDF (in Spanish), he confirmed Vidal’s recovery is going as planned and that they will continue to evaluate his progress ahead of Friday’s match. He said that ultimately the decision will be Sampaoli’s.
Vidal is undoubtedly a key player for Chile, but Sampaoli must carefully weigh up the pros and cons of fielding his star midfielder against Australia. He would arguably be better served saving Vidal for the matches against Spain and the Netherlands, when Chile will need to perform at their very best to pick up points.
If Vidal is rested, as per Prensa Futbol (in Spanish), Felipe Gutierrez or Jean Beausejour will enter the side in his place.
Gutierrez is the more talented player but perhaps lacks the forward drive of Beausejour. The Wigan man is also capable of fulfilling a number of different roles, which would allow Sampaoli to change formation during the match without the need for a substitution.
Three or Four-Man Defence
Chile used a three-man defence in both of their pre-World Cup friendlies. They were badly exposed in the opening exchanges of the first, conceding twice to Egypt before rallying to record a 3-2 victory, but were relatively untroubled in the second against Northern Ireland.
Sampaoli generally subscribes to Marcelo Bielsa’s theory that it is necessary to have one more defender than the total number of opposing forwards. If the opposition lines up with two strikers, you play a three-man defence. If they line up with three, you use a four-man defence.
Australia are expected to line up in a 4-3-3 formation. Sampaoli has sometimes veered away from Bielsa's teachings, utilising a three-man defence in friendlies against Spain and Germany, but reports coming out of the Chilean camp suggest he will use a back four on Friday.
La Tercera (in Spanish) report that Sampaoli is likely to field Mauricio Isla, Gary Medel, Gonzalo Jara and Eugenio Mena in defence. Francisco Silva, Jose Rojas and Miiko Albornoz, all of whom enjoyed minutes in the warm-up friendlies, will drop to the bench.
Jorge Valdivia as Attacking Midfielder or False Nine
Jorge Valdivia is expected to start against Australia, with most outlets reporting that he will be at the head of a midfield diamond in a 4-3-1-2 formation. That was the role he played in Chile’s friendly win over Northern Ireland and is how he is most likely to be fielded on Friday.
With that being said, Valdivia has been employed as a false nine at times during Sampaoli’s reign, most successfully in the 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela last September.
He was involved in the opening goal, scored by Eduardo Vargas, and linked superbly with his teammates throughout.
The emergence of Alexis Sanchez as a genuine creative force in Chile’s pre-World Cup friendlies means that Valdivia will most probably take up the slightly deeper starting position of an attacking midfielder. Do not, however, rule out the possibility of him being used as a false nine at some point during the tournament, particularly once Arturo Vidal is fully fit.