Chile are a very good attacking side, and under Bielsa acolyte Jorge Sampaoli, the South American have been back to their swaggering best. Chilean sides have always been remarkably inconsistent, but after their heroics in South Africa they suffered a prolonged dip under Claudio Borghi. Sampaoli has returned Chile to the identity formed during El Loco’s tenure, meaning high intensity, heavy pressing, attacking full backs and wide forwards. Sampaoli’s Universidade de Chile side were by far the best South American side in 2011, snatching the Apertura, Clausura, and even upset the Brazilian and Argentinian monopoly on the continental cups by winning the Copa Sudamericana; the first Chilean side to do so. He has carried this impressive form into his reign at the head of the Chilean national team, leading his side to World Cup qualification, third in the table, ahead of the likes of Uruguay and Ecuador, and behind only Argentina and Colombia.
For all the positives, Chile are still a defensively appalling team. They conceded 25 goals in 16 qualifiers, only bottom two Bolivia and Paraguay conceded more than Chile. As England got to see, Chile’s fullbacks love to bomb forward, and Baines and Johnson were given a torrid time by Juventus defender Isla and Jean Beausejour. Chile love to double up on the opposition full backs, with their own defenders pinning back the opposition and their wide forwards then slipping in the channels to be played in by an advanced playmaker. This happened time and again versus England, with none of the back four impressing. Alexis Sanchez, who has been so crucial in the hugely impressive way Barcelona have coped without either the presence or stellar form of Lionel Messi this term, continued his rejuvenation so far this year, to make it 12 goals for club and country since the new season kicked off. His two goals rounded off a hugely impressive game for the former Undinese man, but England’s defenders needed to do better.
Cahill has been a solid presence at the back for England under Hodgson, and Leighton Baines has to be considered one of the best left backs in the world, but neither was able to shackle Sanchez and Vargaz. Glen Johnson was also largely ineffective, but the biggest disappointment has to be the performance of Phil Jones. The Manchester United defender was fresh from having played a crucial side in the reigning Premier League champions’ victory over Arsenal, and had their influential playmaker Mesut Ozil in his pocket the entire game. However, having fully earned his call-up and place in the starting line-up, Jones did little to stake his claim on the position. Fraser Forster was perhaps the only positive at the back for England on Friday, the Celtic man did nothing wrong, and a few good stops, combined with a few poor touches from the Chileans was the only thing that kept the goal tally below two. If Joe Hart continues to be shut out of Manchester City side by the huge Romanian Costel Pantilimon, then Hodgson can have confidence in Forster’s ability to fill the void.
Although a let-down, England will have expected Chile’s forwards to cause their back line some problems, what is truly alarming is that England were not able to exploit the space left in behind Chile’s marauding wing backs to trouble their fragile back line. Despite 13 shots in total, England were only able to notch 5 on target and could not could not cause a bulge in the talented, if sporadic Claudio Bravo’s net. It was an experimental line-up for Hodgson, but it was England’s more experienced players that let their manager down; there was no fluidity in England’s midfield, and Wilshere, Milner and Lampard never asserted themselves in possession, giving Chile 57% of the ball. This left England’s attackers with little service; Rodriguez was a quiet and peripheral presence on his debut, and Wayne Rooney cut a frustrated figure up front, harrying and chasing to little effect. The one shining light for the Three Lions was Adam Lallana. The Southampton man was marvellous in attacking midfield; truly two footed, Lallana caused problems for Chile on both flanks, and was at the heart of everything good England did. Lallana was perhaps unfortunate to not earn a goal on his debut, winning a corner off of Claudio Bravo, after an excellent move saw Rooney slip the Saint in behind the Chilean defence. England won 11 corners to Chile’s one, but were unable to exploit their opposition’s lack of height.
It has been refreshing to see the likes of Southampton trio Rodriguez, Lallana and Lambert in the England squad of late, one of the main issues plaguing the England national side has been managers picking players based on reputation rather than form. However, it still baffles that Milner who struggles to get a game for Manchester City seems to be first choice, even ahead of the likes of James Ward-Prowse, shining this year in that stellar Southampton side, and Manchester United metronome Michael Carrick. Based on Friday’s performance, it is obvious that Chile will bring great entertainment to the World Cup, and England still have a long, long way to go if they are to challenge the best in the world.