SCOUTING REPORT: How Uruguay can prepare CanMNT for World Cup tests
It’s the game that most have been patiently waiting for in the pre-World Cup window.
After having soundly beat Qatar 2-0 in a friendly on Friday, the CanMNT are getting set for the "big" game of this month's World Cup preparation camp – a clash with Uruguay on Tuesday in Austria.
Uruguay represents an opponent like no other this Canada team will have faced in recent memory, as the third-ranked world outfit from South America is considered one of the stronger nations participating at the World Cup this November.
With a roster headlined by tier-one players playing at some top clubs in the world – including from the likes of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Liverpool – Uruguay is both a talented and well-organized team, one that often relies on hard work and the collective over the individual.
For Canada, this test is crucial on many fronts. Not only is it a chance to play some top-level opposition and give this young team a taste of what the World Cup might be like, but Canada will also be playing against a team that employs a specific style, too.
Considering that one of their World Cup opponents plays a similarly-unique style as Uruguay's (we'll get to that later) this match could be crucial for John Herdman's planning process. It explains why Canadians are excited about this game, one that could be beneficial on many fronts for the team as they get set for their journey to Qatar later this year.
What to watch for in Uruguay squad
When looking at Uruguay’s roster, there’s no doubt that there’s talent.
Headlined by midfielder Federico Valverde, who at 24 is already a UEFA Champions League winner for Real Madrid (putting up the game-winning assist in last year’s final), and supported by the likes of Liverpool’s Darwin Núñez, Tottenham’s Rodrigo Bentancur, Barcelona’s Ronald Araújo and Atlético Madrid’s José María Giménez, Uruguay boast an excellent young nucleus of high-quality footballers.
Along with some well-seasoned veterans such as iconic striker Luis Suárez, as well as Edinson Cavani, Fernando Muslera and Diego Godín – all of whom have hundreds of caps and a plethora of experience in the Champions League and at the World Cup between them – it's no understatement to say that Canada faces a stiff test on Tuesday in Slovakia.
Plus, Uruguay is a team with a very-defined style, one that has stayed rather constant over the last decade and one that they’ve used to great success at the past three FIFA World Cup finals.
They're comfortable at defending in a mid-block, using their strong centre backs to set a foundation defensively. Then, they look to play directly to their forwards and work together as a team that thrives in their off-the-ball movement and strategy.
Typically, this philosophy has shapen up in a 4-4-2, with great emphasis on staying compact and then getting the ball forward in transition; that, in turn, allowed them to wreak havoc on teams like Portugal at the 2018 World Cup, for example.
These days, Uruguay’s style has evolved, and they’ve gained a new type of profile in their team, especially in midfield.
Headlined by Valverde and complemented by Bentancur, Lucas Torreira and the veteran Matías Vecino, Uruguay has now become a team that is placing more emphasis on strong midfield play in possession.
As a result, Alonso has shifted them from that 4-4-2 to more of a 4-3-3, giving Uruguay more of a triangular midfield shape while strengthening them considerably on either wing.
Through that, Uruguay now also typically holds onto the ball more than they used to, instead of trying to funnel everything forward as quickly as possible, giving them a different look in possession.
However, that doesn’t mean that they have strayed from their typical principles; they also still place a lot of emphasis on defending (they’ve allowed just two goals in their last eight games), and they do like to get runners wide in transition.
But, they’re certainly more patient on the ball when those transition moments aren’t there.
So although they’re still not a team that will try to batter you down on the ball, they are a team that is comfortable with playing some different styles, while using their usual style as a reference point for that.
What kind of World Cup prep does Uruguay offer?
Looking at all of those tactical factors, one question looms - what can Canada take from that as they get set for their World Cup group of Belgium, Croatia and Morocco?
The answer is quite promising - a fair bit, actually.
To begin, there’s the talent level of Uruguay, which, as a top fifteen team, is littered with players with experience at the highest level. That, in turn, will give Canada an idea of what level of talent they’ll need to expect when playing at the World Cup in a tough Group F.
That’s not to say that Canada hasn’t seen talent like this before, as CONCACAF does have its fair share of top-level attacking players ... but a team like Uruguay will offer a look at profiles that Canada has never seen before, especially in the midfield and in defence.
Therefore, while they can say that they’ve played and beaten top-15 FIFA opposition before (as they did with the US and Mexico in World Cup qualifiers) seeing how those teams have had mixed results in friendlies outside CONCACAF, and the differing profile of Uruguay, it’s felt that this test will be vastly different to that.
NEW on OneSoccer YT 🚨@TV_JJD and @AlexGangueRuzic present our #CanMNT roundtable, breaking down all the talking points and debates to be had ahead of pre-FIFA World Cup friendlies vs. Qatar and Uruguay 🗣️— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 22, 2022
WATCH ▶️https://t.co/f9h4kL8YnH pic.twitter.com/3zFUiibs6H
While the talent will offer an important gauge for Canada, there’s then the more important thing about Uruguay - their style of play.
There, Canada has a lot of value to potentially extract. As head coach John Herdman noted a few weeks ago, one of these friendlies was going to give them a great idea of how to play against a certain one of their World Cup opponents.
“I think there are some similarities with styles of play with at least one of the opponents that we'll play, a key group stage opponent,” Herdman explained.
And when piecing it all together, it appears that the team in question is Croatia, because if you look at it, they have a lot in common with Uruguay.
To begin, there’s their ranking, as Uruguay is 13th in the world in the FIFA rankings, while Croatia is 15th, suggesting that they’re quite close in level. Plus, when considering that in the Elo ratings, which are a more accurate reflection of how things have been as of late, Uruguay is 11th and Croatia is 13th, that seems to further suggest that notion.
Plus, with both of their Transfermarkt values being around $400 million (Herdman cited Uruguay’s elevated value last week as a factor he was excited about in this matchup), there’s a lot of similarity in overall talent as much as there are results, too.
Yes, Uruguay doesn’t have a Luka Modrić, say, but they also have some profiles that you’d think Croatia would love to have, such as at centre back, for example, which evens out the score there.
Then, there’s the style of play, as Croatia typically plays with a 4-3-3, one in which their midfield of Modrić, Mateo Kovačić and Marcelo Brozović typically run the show, built off of the back of a solid defensive foundation. From there, they try to play direct down the flanks if possible, but are also really comfortable in the midfield, both in transition and in possession.
Remind you of somebody?
🇭🇷 Not many teams have had a better #NationsLeague than Croatia.— FotMob (@FotMob) September 26, 2022
After a wake up call vs. Austria in their first game, they took 10 points from a possible 12 against in-form Denmark and World Champions France, then avenged themselves by relegating Austria in Vienna. pic.twitter.com/xlRAH9LdGz
Of course, it’s not a like-for-like comparison, as Croatia relies a little more on their midfield than Uruguay, while Uruguay is just as likely to get results off its defence, but the profiles are similar, other than a few tweaks from there.
For example, how they attack is uncanny, as if you look at a lot of both teams’ recent goals, they come from transition moments, where they capitalize on getting the ball wide and funnelling it into the middle.
So although they funnel it into different areas, as Croatia tries to cut it back more to the top of the box, while Uruguay tries to target their striker around the penalty spot, the origin of those balls are the same in either case.
The captain Luka Modric gives Croatia the early lead against Austria 🇭🇷🪄 pic.twitter.com/uHL1SFYveq— DAZN Canada (@DAZN_CA) September 25, 2022
#MUFC #MUAcademy international watch: Facundo PELLISTRI shrugs off 3 players & assists Cavani for Uruguay’s 2nd goal vs Mexico 🔥— mufcacademy91 (@mufcacademy91) June 3, 2022
What a player man and this shows he should of had his chances at alaves @jb_8521 @mrmujac @FPellistri07 pic.twitter.com/BUc1NGZW5P
That’s probably the best way to sum up how these two teams stack up against each other. For the most part, the base principles are very similar, with there being slight differences here and there, meaning that for a team preparing for one team, the other can be used to mimic certain tactical nuances.
What should Canada look for?
It’ll be intriguing to see how Canada attacks this match.
Even without Araujo, Cavani and Giménez, who aren’t in this particular squad, this Uruguay test is expected to be a stiff one.
Of course, they won’t go out and entirely give up their game plan for Croatia, both due to those aforementioned differences in how the teams play, as well as to keep their plan for that game a secret, but there will be a few areas which Canada will look to prioritize.
To begin, there will be their defensive play. There, they’ll want to be really compact defensively, especially in midfield, while also doing their best to try and get numbers behind the ball out of possession, avoiding leaving space in wide areas in transition.
Unlike against Qatar, where they were comfortable leaving those spaces open, Canada will want to limit those transition moments when possible, something that they did a good job of against teams like Mexico in CONCACAF, to be fair to them.
From there, shifting to the attack, they’ll really want to use their wide speed in transition, while remaining patient but cautious in possession.
The #CanMNT played some fluid footy vs Qatar yesterday, especially on their goals— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) September 24, 2022
Both 20+pass moves, every outfield player got a touch on the sequences that led to those tallies
Just how fluid and cohesive they were in going back-to-front in possessionpic.twitter.com/eXyS8wbiMb
What that means is that unlike against Qatar, where they really tried to break them down with numbers in possession (Canada sometimes had nine players below the centre circle in possession versus Qatar), they might want to keep some players back.
But like in that game, they’ll also be looking to unlock that line-breaking pass, while trying to shift Uruguay side-to-side, allowing them to open up space in those wide areas to attack.
Therefore, when looking at that, look for Canada to do a few things:
- To pair Sam Adekugbe and either Richie Laryea or Alistair Johnston at wing back/full back, after playing Junior Hoilett as an attacking wing back versus Qatar. Be it in a back four, or a back five, having that wide solidity, especially in defensive transition moments, will be crucial.
- To really emphasize midfield play. Be it by continuing with a strong double-pivot of Stephen Eustaquio and Samuel Piette, or switching to a trio that slots in Mark-Anthony Kaye or Ismaël Koné, having a strong midfield on and off the ball will be key.
- To use their wide speed. With Alphonso Davies on one wing, and one of Laryea, Junior Hoilett, Liam Millar or Theo Corbeanu on the other wing (Tajon Buchanan would otherwise be a shoo-in, but his minutes' restriction means he’ll have to do off the bench), Canada will want to get those players into wide areas as much as possible, using that strength of theirs.
Because of that, either a 4-4-2, a 5-4-1 or a 4-3-3 would seem to be the wisest options for Canada, depending on their approach to the game. If it’s to control play a bit more, a 4-3-3 would be the way to go, while if it’s to defend and burst forward in transition, it’s a 5-4-1, with a 4-4-2 being the option if they want to go somewhere between that.
Either way, one thing is clear - this test is unlike any other Canada has faced up to this point, so no matter what, there will be a lot for them to learn, both in terms of how they stack up talent-wise, and learning how they can attack a team like this, giving a good idea of how ready they’ll be for the big stage in November.