Copa America preview: Defending champions Chile need aging stars at their best

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Copa America preview: Defending champions Chile need aging stars at their best

Chile have history in sight this summer. Winning the Copa America in Brazil would be their third straight title in the competition, which no nation has done under the current format. The only problem is Chile are not the same side that twice defeated a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina in 2015 and 2016.

Chile didn’t even qualify for the 2018 World Cup and since then they tried, with little success, to restore the national team to its former glories. Juan Antonio Pizzi was replaced as head coach by Reinaldo Rueda in January 2018 after La Roja missed out on a place in Russia last summer.

Rueda has a wealth of experience at international and club level of various age groups. The 62-year-old worked his way right through the Colombia youth teams before managing the seniors for two years between 2004 and 2006. He also led Colombian outfit Atletico Nacional to their first Copa Libertadores title in 27 years in 2016 before getting the hot seat with Chile.

Having built his reputation as a manager working with young players, Rueda is now tasked with reinvigorating an aging Chile squad where a number of players looked past their best. Rueda has endured a relatively mixed start to life as La Roja head coach, winning just five of 12 matches in his first 18 months in charge.

Chile have six players in their squad for the Copa America with more than 100 caps and nine players the wrong side of 30. Six of the other 11 other competing nations do not even have one player in their squad with a century of caps. The average age of the squad is almost 29 and the youngest outfielder is just 24.

A major issue for Chile is there is not an obvious wave of talent coming through to replace some of the iconic names in the squad. Bologna midfielder Erick Pulgar is one to keep an eye on after an impressive campaign in Serie A last term. The 25-year-old scored six goals and provided two assists in 28 league games in 2018/19 and averaged 2.3 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game. Not only that, but the defensive midfielder also averaged 2.1 key passes and had 1.2 shots per game.

Copa America preview: Defending champions Chile need aging stars at their best

Alexis Sanchez has been an exceptional player for Chile since debuting for La Roja in 2006 but he is Rueda’s biggest problem heading into this summer’s Copa America.

The Manchester United No.7’s career has taken a startling decline in the last 18 months. There were signs the 30-year-old’s powers were waning during his last six months at Arsenal but it was thought at the time he had simply downed tools, determined to secure a move away from the Gunners. However, since joining United at the start of 2018 things have only got worse and now United are desperate to offload his enormous wages.

Sanchez only started nine Premier League games last season, making another 11 appearances from the bench. He returned just one goal and three assists in that period and struggled to stay fit in the second half of the season. It’s unclear whether he will be completely fit this summer, either. Sanchez finished the 2018/19 campaign with a WhoScored rating of 6.60 in the Premier League, having never previously finished a league campaign with a WhoScored rating below 7.00 in the last nine years.

Rueda will also hope Arturo Vidal can roll back the years after a relatively mixed spell at Barcelona. The 32-year-old is back in the mix for the national team after previously retiring from international football in September 2017, only to backtrack on his decision a month later.

Vidal and Sanchez have played integral parts in each of Chile’s last two Copa America campaigns and they will have to be at their best if La Roja stand any chance of winning a third straight title in the competition.

Predicted XI (4-3-1-2): Gabriel Arias; Mauricio Isla, Gary Medel, Guillermo Maripan; Jean Beausejour; Charles Aranguiz, Erick Pulgar, Esteban Pavez; Arturo Vidal; Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas

John Wright