With the 2022 World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion on the line, Uruguay decided to end Oscar Tabarez’s time leading Los Charruas’. As the most important matches of the year approach, let’s take a look at what we should expect from Uruguay under new manager Diego Alonso.

After 15 years in charge, Oscar Tabarez’s time leading the Uruguay national team came to an end in November. Heavy defeats to Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia had seen Los Charruas drop into 7th place and out of the World Cup Qualification slots with just four games remaining.

Tabarez, nicknamed "El Maestro", had overseen a period of great success and consistency, while crucially fostering a pathway from the youth teams to the senior setup. But vocal critics increasingly felt things had become stale and a change was long overdue.

Even though only 4 points separate fourth and ninth place, we can see that Uruguay are underperforming in every metric.

Fearing a place at Qatar 2022 slipping away from their grasp, the AUF reacted and brought in former Inter Miami boss Diego Alonso, hoping for a breath of fresh air to see them over the line for the all-important crunch qualifiers.

So what can we expect from Alonso and what are the pressing concerns that he needs to address?

Uruguay’s woes are encapsulated by this goal conceded against Brazil. The Brazilian winger beats his man with ease and has all the time in the world to pick out Neymar in acres of space on the edge of the area.
Even a poor touch from Neymar cannot be capitalized upon by the Uruguay defenders who are slow to react and Raphinha is completely free at the back post to put Brazil 2-0 up in under 20 minutes.

The biggest criticism of Uruguay in the final days under Tabarez was just how passive they had become.

Gone was the famed garra charrua and never-say-die attitude that were synonymous with Uruguay, replaced instead by a series of meek displays – notably in their 3-0 humbling to Argentina, where their lack of fighting spirit was epitomized by the fact they didn’t pick up a single booking.

Uruguay advance with the ball but the square pass is undercooked and the receiver is caught on his heels and in a poor body position, allowing the Argentina midfielder to snap and win possession cheaply.
Uruguay’s midfield are slow to react to the turnover in possession and the huge gap between the lines is only marshaled by one isolated Uruguayan against the onrushing six Argentinians.
Messi is allowed to wander towards the goal unchallenged as Uruguay slowly get into a defensive shape. Messi’s hopeful ball into the box takes out the entire defensive line and plays in Gonzalez, with the ball ending up bouncing into the net.

As well as their below-average recoveries and fouls, the stats below also show that in transition no side has lost possession more than Uruguay (95.84) and their PPDA of 10.1 demonstrates they are well off the pace too.

Structural questions over whether Tabarez’s preferred 4-4-2 was suitable for the midfielders at his disposal are certainly valid and perhaps Uruguay find themselves somewhat caught between two bus stops, still struggling to blend the technically gifted young midfielders coming through with the defensive mettle of the warriors and scrappers that used to define them.

This will be a key area for Alonso to address and, based on the sides he has previously coached, the hope and expectation will be that a more proactive style will be introduced.

Here we see an example of Alonso’s Monterrey side, who went on to win the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League, playing out from the back with quick, incisive forward passing.
Alonso’s side break with pace, directness and cut through the Santos Laguna side, playing with width and committing men forward in numbers.
In roughly 10 seconds they have progressed up the field with a flowing team move and put the ball in the back of the net. Uruguay will hope they can channel some of this into their play.

Whereas the process of rejuvenation in the midfield began in the last World Cup cycle, Alonso will also be tasked with ushering in new generations at either end of the pitch.

Despite their illustrious – if aging – center-forward options, goals have been hard to come by, with only Paraguay and Venezuela finding the back of the net less. While there is no pressing need to replace the iconic Salto duo of Suarez and Cavani, focussing on winning the ball higher up the pitch and creating more opportunities closer to goal will be a priority.

Here we see Cavani having dropped very deep as Uruguay look to construct an attack. The distance between the front men also leaves Suarez extremely isolated.
Uruguay work the ball forward slowly, allowing an admittedly very good and well-organised Brazilian side to get back into a solid defensive shape. Faced with two banks of four and a lack of midfield runners breaking the lines, the move loses momentum.
With few options in front of him, the best De La Cruz can muster is a hopeful shot from distance which fails to trouble the keeper.

Fortunately, there is strength in depth with Maxi Gomez and Darwin Nunez able understudies and the likes of Agustin Alvarez Martinez and Matias Arezo breaking through give real hope for the long-term future of the Uruguay attack.

Darwin Nunez, in good form at club level for Benfica, demonstrates his ability to come up with a moment of quality, driving forward and unleashing an excellent low drive that nestles in the back of the net.

In need of more urgent surgery, however, is the once rock-solid defense. Uruguay have conceded the third most goals (21) in qualifying and without Josema Gimenez their back line lacks pace. The emergence of Ronald Araujo is cause for optimism but replacing Diego Godin, whose best days are behind him, will be a hard act to follow.

Brazil’s midfield triangle passes through Uruguay’s midfield – all failing to get close or apply pressure – with ease and the defense seem oblivious to the run of the winger. To compound matter, Godin finds himself in no-man’s land.
In a couple of quick passes, Brazil have created a 2v2 situation and they struggle to deal with the pace of the Brazilian attackers, with Godin and Caceres completely taken out of the game, and Coates isolated against a quicker opponent.
In this example, a fairly simple run from Brereton Diaz pulls Godin out of position and creates a huge gap with his center-back partner, who fails to spot the danger. The midfielders also fail to track Vargas as he collects the return pass and makes his way into the box to score the opener of the game.

The injury to long-term number one Fernando Muslera will also give Alonso another selection headache to solve. Fortunately, there are a number of decent candidates waiting in the wings but perhaps not a standout option and, coming into such a pressurized situation, it is a decision with a small margin for error.

As demonstrated by Alonso’s provisional 50 man squad list for the upcoming qualifiers, it certainly seems as if the door will be open for new faces. Having said that the decision to recall the likes of Martin Caceres and Matias Vecino shows Alonso won’t be going for root and branch changes yet.

Whether Alonso’s changes to the tactics, formation and player selection will make the difference in the short term is hard to predict but arguably it may be the calendar that could be Uruguay’s saving grace.

Uruguay are unbeaten against Paraguay since 2007 and will be hoping for a repeat of their Copa America victory. Here we see the Celeste committing options forward, making runs between the lines and carving through the Paraguay defense, resulting in De Arrascaeta hitting the post.

A trip away to Paraguay, followed by home ties against Venezuela and Peru are great opportunities to pick up points and put themselves back in the driving seat before a potential final game showdown against Chile.

Given how tight the standings are, Uruguay are still right in the mix, and suggestions that their time punching above their weight could be over certainly seem premature.

Replacing icons such as Godin, Suarez and Cavani may be near impossible but there is still enough gas in the tank for the last hurrah, while the base of talent coming through should ensure continuity for the future. Even without Tabarez at the helm, his lasting legacy will still be felt in the Alonso era and beyond.

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