‘El Loco’ (The ‘mad-man’ when translated) may not be the sort of nickname you would associate with the men of International Management. One would certainly not associate such a name with the messiah’s known as Capello, Lippi, and Dunga.
For the supporters of the Chilean National team, that name means so much.
With a 3-3-1-3 formation on display you could be confused for thinking you are watching an English pub team with intent to score 7 but the possibility of conceding 6. You might even compare this approach to an almost successful former Newcastle United manager. The Keegan style ultimately did not work for Keegan, or Ossie Ardilles in his managerial days at Tottenham, but it is definitely working for the fanatical attack-minded Argentinean; Marcelo Bielsa.
By pressing high up the field and defending from the front the free-scoring Chilean’s take the game to their opponents in an unorthodox fashion. Such an approach can turn even the most experienced of defensive units inside out. When in possession, Bielsa looks to stretch the play as wide as possible and use his ‘un enganche y tres punta’ (one playmaker and three forwards) system to full effect.
Expect Chile to deploy former Liverpool starlet Mark ‘Speedy’ Gonzalez on the left; Alexis Sanchez of Udinese on the right and Humberto Suazo; the current ‘sick note’ of South America, through the middle. Suazo, whose 10 goals in qualification made him the leading scorer in the CONMEBOL region ahead of Brazil’s Luis Fabiano (9) and Uruguay’s Diego Forlan (7).
That leaves ‘un enganche’ to support. Cue Matias Fernandez currently plying his trade in Portugal with Sporting. ‘Matigol’ whilst not being the most well-known South American star across Europe, has frequently been compared to fellow Chilean, David Pizzaro.
With such quality at his disposal ‘El Loco’ is known for his consummate dedication to the training ground, his commitment to hard work and of course a desire to score more than the other team. For example, search for Mati Fernandez’ goal against Peru in qualification. Not only was it a superb individual finish from the playmaker, but it was preceded by an attack on the Peruvian back 4 that resembled a Kindergarten game of chain-tag. No less than 7 players were involved in the build-up, all within 20 yards of the goal. Frightening!
You need 4 out and out wide players with the pace and stamina to attack wave after wave but the problem comes when the discipline to defend and regain possession is needed. Where do you find such players? With that being said there are also serious flaws in this formation. Playing against an experienced and well-drilled 4-4-2 the back 3 could get exposed by creative midfielders and quality forwards on the counter-attack. Bielsa is known for his stubbornness towards tactical changes, and his persistence with this formation could be his downfall this summer.
The kamikaze 3-3-1-3 formation has been utilized previously with some success. Johan Cruyff and Barcelona dominated La Liga by winning 4 domestic titles and ultimately the European Cup at Wembley in 1992. Luis Felipe Scolari used the same formation in his time with Brazil through a successful qualifying campaign, which he then persisted with as the Samba Kings went onto claim a 5th World Cup in Japan and South Korea, 2002.
Will it work for Bielsa’s Chilean team of 2010? Only time will tell.
What we can draw from Chile’s qualification and their manager’s philosophy is that they are probably the most unpredictable team heading onto the field in South Africa.
Needless to say, I’ll have a go:
Expect a pretty comprehensive victory over the Hondurans in their first game. When I say comprehensive, I mean they will score more than the other team. That’s all that matters right?
Switzerland will be a different matter completely. Ottmar Hitzfeld will have his team extremely well-organized and disciplined as all German’s do. Defensively-minded Bayer Leverkusen star Tranquillo Barnetta will provide a strong screen for the Swiss back 4 in an attempt to combat the creativity of Matias Fernandez. Expect Chile to control possession and territory whilst failing to make many inroads over the course of the 90 minutes.
However, I predict another 3 points for La Roja.
Spain will be a different proposition altogether, but will it matter? I wouldn’t be surprised if Chile are top of Group H (on goal difference) come kick-off. I would stake a small fortune on a victory for the marauding Spaniards as I’m pretty sure Chile will rest their stars for a mouth-watering 2nd round clash with fellow South Americans; Brazil.
Whatever happens in the knock-out stages, one month from now the ‘Bielsa method’ will either be laughed at, or lauded. I genuinely hope it is the latter. International football is rarely played in such a way, so to see success come from this approach would be thrilling for the beautiful game.