I was going to write an article about Chile’s intense pressing game but Zonal Marking has beaten me to it. I feel like this performance was under-appreciated by the world at large so I still want to do my part to highlight just how amazing it was. If you want more details on Bielsa’s system, read Zonal Marking’s article.
Chile defend from the front, constantly harrying defenders and deep lying midfielders. The front four foul constantly and don’t let the defenders pass the ball around, forcing them into long balls. Their fullbacks press very high up the pitch and work very well with their wingers to prevent counter-attacks. The fullbacks get through an amazing amount of work running up and down the pitch. They don’t just defend the flanks but move inside to help Carmona when the counter-attack is through the center. Isla impressed me the most with his energy, never seeming to be out of position even though he spent a lot of time in the opposition’s penalty box.Vidal on the opposite flank was slightly less attacking than Isla and the two fullbacks rarely attacked at the same time, again showing defensive discipline in a very attacking formation. The centerbacks are good in the air and did a good job of not allowing Pavon to win flick ons and knock downs.
Carmona’s role is critical in this formation as he is able to cover for all the runners in the team and the fullbacks are confident of pushing forward because they know he is back there covering. Carmona never got sucked into midfield, always shielding the centerbacks and sweeping up any loose balls, indicating that he understands the holding role perfectly.
The thing that impressed me the most about this performance was that I expected this team to be exhausted by the 70th minute but they just kept going. They actually looked more dangerous in the latter stages when Honduras abandoned their defensive shape and the game became more open. Chile had shifted to a 3 man defense by then so the wingbacks were playing even higher up the pitch, still putting pressure on the opposition.
If the referee had been less lenient then one of Sanchez or Fernandez would have been sent off for their persistent fouling. Bielsa must be very confident in his bench to employ this strategy because this constant fouling will lead to an accumulation of yellow cards at the very least which will lead to a suspension.
I want to see this strategy in action against a better team. Spain are very good at keeping the ball so I doubt that an intense pressing strategy would work against them. When Chile switch to 3-3-1-3 they leave a lot of space in the center, where Spain love to attack from. Honduras had no pace to their attack so I am curious to see how Bielsa adapts to a pacy forward line.
I also find it hard to believe that the players can maintain their energy levels for the whole tournament. Bielsa knows his players very well and he seems to believe that they can manage. We shall see.
Either way, Chile are the only team at the World Cup to play such an intense pressing stratgey succesfully. They attack in numbers at pace but don’t lose their defensive discipline. For that I salute them.