Dead-ball specialists like Luis Suárez can make up for the South Americans’ lack of pace and midfield creativity
The return of Luis Suárez, right-back Maxi Pereira’s suspension and Diego Lugano’s absence through injury ensures Óscar Tabárez will make at least three changes to his starting XI against England. Considering the level of performance in Uruguay’s 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica, however, 11 changes would not be inappropriate.
England were busy preparing for their match with Italy, and therefore did not watch Uruguay’s opener, which might be a good thing. “There isn’t too much from that game that we’ll be showing the players,” England coach Gary Neville said. “You could lull them into a position whereby they believe, that’s what [Uruguay] are. That’s not what they are. This is a team that win a lot of big matches – we’re expecting a tough game.”
The obvious difference, of course, will be Suárez. Uruguay’s biggest failing against Costa Rica was their determination to thump long balls into attack – only Iran, Algeria and the United States recorded a lower pass completion rate in their opening World Cup match. Suárez is not a target man, but he is capable of running the channels and chasing lost causes, and is perfect for playing ahead of a midfield lacking guile. He can create chances for himself – although there is still a question, of course, about his level of fitness.
His return means Edinson Cavani drops back and becomes a second striker, an extremely important role for Uruguay. They suffer from a complete lack of pace in defence, which means the backline has to play very deep, and the midfield protects them keenly. With Suárez playing on the shoulder of the opposition defence, it means there is a yawning gap in the side, and Cavani is instructed to cover this space with constant running. Diego Forlan, now 35, was unable to do that against Costa Rica.
Uruguay’s performance in the final third should be entirely different, although their main threat could come from dead-ball situations. Cavani is fearsome in the air, Christian Stuani and Diego Godín are tall, powerful figures, while Martín Cáceres boasts a great leap and Suárez, when not taking the set-pieces, is a clever poacher.
There were two other problems in the opening defeat to Costa Rica. The first was the lack of overlapping from full-back, with Pereira extremely underwhelming before his dismissal for a shocking hack at Joel Campbell. His suspension means Cáceres should switch to right-back, with Álvaro Pereira introduced on the left. Cáceres is not particularly talented in possession, but is right-footed and therefore more likely to overlap from that flank, while Pereira is naturally a winger, and has tremendous stamina and acceleration. However, his defensive ability will be tested, with Raheem Sterling likely to play from the right.
Uruguay also suffered from a lack of creativity from midfield. Egidio Arévalo Ríos is a pure scrapper, his central midfield colleague Walter Gargano’s long-range passing ability has deserted him in recent years, while Cristian Rodríguez and Christian Stuani are hard workers rather than creators. Tabárez introduced Nicolás Lodeiro as a substitute against Costa Rica, and he could start to provide more ambition from midfield, something Uruguay desperately require.
England, however, will enjoy plenty of possession, and it is worth testing the goalkeeper Fernando Muslera frequently. He is unconvincing, excellent at close-range reaction saves but nervous on crosses and uncomfortable saving long-range shots – and Uruguay’s style of deep defending means they invite both.