'England's ultimate test ahead of the World Cup' - What Hodgson can expect from Chile

The Chileans' unique approach to international football will awaken the Three Lions from any complacency caused by facing middling European nations for the last 18 months
By Sam Lee

At some point during an article like this, it must be pointed out that Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli is a Marcelo Bielsa disciple. We may as well get it out of the way early so you know what to expect, both from this analysis and Chile on Friday night.

There will be a 'false nine', there will be wingers running into space behind defenders, there will be breathless pressing, there will be all-out attack and there will be chances to be caught on the counter.

Chile are probably the ultimate test for England as they prepare for next summer's World Cup in Brazil. Sure, Roy Hodgson's men play Germany, among the favourites to win the whole thing, next Tuesday, but the South Americans are something special; a rare, almost irresistible beast.

The clash brings to mind Manchester United's defeat at the hands of Bielsa's Athletic Bilbao in 2012. It was a match that United could never win, such was the gameplan, energy and sheer motivation of the Basques.

They swamped United, who were not exactly fired up for a Europa League game, and covered more ground than any European team ever had in Sir Alex Ferguson's tenure at Old Trafford. The visiting players relished the opportunity to play at the 'Theatre of Dreams' and made sure it was a match that they would never forget.

That same motivation will be driving Chile, who are unbeaten at Wembley and indeed picked up a landmark 2-0 victory under the old Twin Towers back in 1998.

This time they arrive in London having qualified for World Cup 2014 with a run of five wins from their last six qualifiers. It has been a complete reversal of fortunes since Sampaoli took over from Claudio Borghi, who had replaced Bielsa in 2011 and overseen five consecutive defeats, three of them in qualifiers, by the time that he was sacked in a year ago. Borghi had seemed intent on moving away from Bielsa's tactics, which had wowed fans at the last World Cup in 2010. Sampaoli has embraced them.

Six men attack in any combination imaginable, while four provide a solid base, monitoring the spaces ahead of them so they can quickly swoop in and regain possession when required.

Trying to apply formations to a team such as Chile is a largely pointless exercise. Whether they play 4-3-3, 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-3 they will approach the game with exactly the same philosophy, pressing high off the ball and surging forwards with it, with the same number of players. It makes no difference if they are at home or away, either. We will find out exactly how far England have come in the ball-retention stakes.

Matias Fernandez will likely replace Jorge Valdivia as Chile's attacking fulcrum on Friday. Valdivia has proved to be wildly inconsistent throughout his career but is capable of imperious performances. Fernandez may not be as occasionally brilliant but is certainly more versatile, knows how to play the key role in Sampaoli's team and scored three goals in qualifying.

He is the man who will occupy that 'false nine' role, luring Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka from the comfort of their back line, and making whoever replaces Steven Gerrard - Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere or Adam Lallana - look over their shoulders nervously. They will be nervous, too, given that they will be pressed relentlessly.

'Matigol' has found it hard to break into Fiorentina's team of ball-players this season and has struggled with injury, but his blend of South American trickery and European experience means he can really hurt England.
Alexis Sanchez, who played alongside Fernandez at Colo Colo, and Eduardo Vargas will be quite literally waiting in the wings to get in behind their markers and latch on to Fernandez's jabs through the centre. Whether it be Fraser Forster or John Ruddy, the goalkeeper will have to be prepared to dash from his line.

England will know what to expect, especially after Sampaoli outlined his intentions on Thursday, but dealing with La Roja is another matter entirely.

"We know that it will be a tough challenge but we've got to try to impose our style of play on the game," he told reporters at Wembley.

"We will try to take advantage of the breakdowns in play, the transitions in play and attack on the counter. For me, the World Cup starts on Friday."

England will be in the contest, though, even if they cannot stamp it with their own sterile brand of domination.

To Roy Hodgon's credit, he sent his team out to thrill against Montenegro and a convincing victory was eventually assured. Slightly more worryingly, but certainly no less entertaining, England seemed to have no choice but get embroiled in an end-to-end battle with Poland as they looked to seal their place in Brazil. Either way, we are sure for an open game on Friday.

Chile, inevitably, are susceptible to the counterattack, which will be perfect for the unrefined skills of zeitgeist's Andros Townsend. They are also short and therefore pretty weak on set-pieces, exemplified by Gary Medel playing at centre-back. Arturo Vidal, a warrior with Juventus, will also miss out.

England actually have a pretty good record against South American sides, too, having beaten Ecuador, Paraguay, Argentina and Colombia in recent World Cups. They also secured a draw in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year, which will stand them in good stead for next summer, although the landscape has since been changed dramatically thanks to a Confederations Cup campaign which delivered hope and riots in equal measure.

Injuries to key players aside, England's World Cup preparations are proving invaluable. The visit of Chile will certainly shake them out of any complacency brought about by facing middling eastern European nations for the last 18 months.

It may not bring victory but England will be be much better prepared for a summer in South America after a run-in with Sampaoli's charges.