Over the years the midfield has been widely known as the weakest area of the Uruguayan national side. Walter Gargano was seen as the best midfielder available for La Celeste in previous years but his advancing years mean that his days in consideration for Oscar Tabarez are numbered if not over. There are new names in town who are just as good as, if not better than, Gargano. So, let’s meet the midfield.
Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors)
Nandez is probably the most unknown player in this Uruguayan squad. The 22-year-old midfielder came through the ranks at Penarol before moving to Boca in the summer of 2017. He has just completed a fine first season in which he has scored four goals in twenty four appearances at La Bombonera. He currently sits on 11 caps and is widely tipped to add to that over the coming years. However, this tournament may have come too soon for Nandez and with array of talent on display in the middle of the park for Uruguay may well have to sit this one out.
Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria)
Lucas Torreira is one of the bright, prospects of Uruguayan football and is another tipped to become a mainstay of the national team for years to come. After leaving Montivideo Wanderers in 2013 for Pescara, the Italian influence took hold of the defensive midfielder and is evident in his game today. After two years and 34 appearances in Serie B, Sampdoria paid just €1.5 million for his services in 2016. Since his arrival he has earned a reputation for one of the most technically gifted defensive midfield players in Italy and many believe he will leave the Genoise club before long. Though he only has a single cap, Torreira is not only likely to make the plane but will also feature heavily in the team throughout the tournament.
Matias Vecino (Internazionale)
Having made his name in Uruguay with Central Espanol and Nacional, Matias Vecino left for Fiorentina of Italy in 2013. After a quiet first season in Serie A Vecino would go on loan, first to Cagliari and then to Empoli where he particularly impressed. He would head back to his parent club and spend a solitary season in the first team before moving to Inter Milan last summer. This season he has been a key figure in Luciano Spalletti’s plans and helped his side to a 5th placed finish and a place in next season’s Europa League. Vecino is another that will most probably start all his side’s games in Russia.
Fede Valverde (Real Madrid)
Fede Valverde so far has four senior caps and has impressed during his four games. Having spent the past season on loan from Real Madrid, Valverde was unable to help Deportivo La Coruna secure their place in next season’s La Liga but impressed nonetheless during his stint at the Riazor. Valverde is a rising star of Uruguayan football and, although he is unlikely to start many games in Russia, it is a distinct possibility that Oscar Tabarez will take the 19-year-old along for the ride.
Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus)
The 20-year-old central midfielder was bought from Boca Juniors, where he plied his trade as a youth player, at the beginning of this season. Bentancur had first option placed on him by Juventus as part of the Carlos Tevez deal in 2015. He has made 18 appearances in his first season in Turin, most of them off the bench, but many believe this is the beginning of wonderful career for the youngster. His 6 caps make him a contender to be cut from the squad, but his high-energy style of play and ability play in any role mean that he could be an asset off the bench. At the moment, it’s 50/50 whether Rodrigo Bentancur goes to this summer’s World Cup.
Carlos Sanchez (Monterrey)
33-year-old Carlos Sanchez is a bit of an anomaly in South American football – he is a rare breed who has decided to play his whole career in South America. After spells with Liverpool (URU) and Godoy Cruz, Sanchez went onto play for River Plater where he made 100 appearances. He went on loan to Puebla in Mexico for a season before signing permanently with Monterrey last summer. Obviously lacking the pace that leaves with age, Sanchez is still a quality player and could provide a touch of class from the bench if needed.
Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro)
Three impressive years at Defensor Sporting, where he won the 2013 Clausura, saw Giorgian De Arrascaeta make the move to Brazilian side Cruzeiro in 2015. After a rocky start at his new club, De Arrascaeta became a fan favourite for his habit of nutmegging, known as ‘caneta’ in Brazil, opponents in every game earning him the nickname ‘Arrascaneta’. Widely regarded as a wonderkid, it is more than likely that De Arrascaeta will be on the plane to Russia and could feature on the wing, bringing his trickery and goals to this team.
Diego Laxalt (Genoa)
Laxalt has had something of a stop-start career since arriving in Europe from Defensor Sporting in 2013. Having made just fifteen first team appearances for his first club, Inter Milan decided to sign the youngster. He would not make a single appearance at the San Siro and was sent out on loan to Bologna, Empoli and Genoa, where he now turns out on a permanent basis. Laxalt has had a decent season in Serie A but doesn’t offer as much as others who play in his position. For that reason, he is likely to be left at home this summer.
Christian Rodriguez (Penarol)
Veteran left-winger Rodriguez is now back in Uruguay having made a name for himself in Europe. A promising early career at Penarol led to a move to Paris Saint Germain (pre-oil money). A impressive season at Benfica ended with Rodriguez moving to Porto where he won the Europa League in 2011. He would move to Atletico Madrid at the beginning of the 2012/13 season and was part of the Ateltico side that won La Liga the following season and challenged Real Madrid for the Champions League. Brief and unsuccessful loans at Parma and Gremio ended with Rodriguez moving to Independiente for a single season. He has now returned to his first club and has had the best season of his career, scoring 18 goals in 33 appearances for Penarol. The 32-year-old has 103 caps for his country and while age might be catching up with him it is likely that Rodriguez will make it to Russia this summer.
Jonathan Urretaviscaya (Monterrey)
28-year-old Urretaviscaya has become something of a journeyman during his career. During a six year spell at Benfica he would go on loan four times to Penarol (twice), Deportivo La Coruna and Vitoria Guimaraes. After season in Benfica’s B team ‘Urreta’ had finally had enough of moving about and decided to get first team football elsewhere, moving to Pacos permanently. Despite featuring consistently, the winger would return to Penarol for third time to end the 2014/15 season in Uruguay. He moved to Pachuca in 2015 and made 78 appearances in Mexico and scored 13 goals. Last summer he left Pachuca for rivals Monterrey and has impressed enough to earn a call up to Oscar Tabarez’s squad this summer. His four caps demonstrate the faith the manager has in him though and he is a contender to miss out.
Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders)
Nicolas Lodeiro was once among the most promising youth prospects in the world after making his debut for Nacional at the age of 18. Impressive performances in the Copa Libertadores led to big clubs in Europe taking notice and he eventually moved to Ajax in 2010. He would stay in Holland for two years before moving to Brazil, first spending two years at Botafogo and then moving onto Corinthians for a year. After a year at Boca Juniors Lodeiro took the step of moving to the United States to join Seattle Sounders, where he has now been for two years. The attacking midfielders trickery and vision make him a great option off the bench, although the level he is currently playing his club football at and past fitness issues mean he is unlikely to start every game.
Gaston Ramirez (Sampdoria)
Now 27-years-old, it seems a lifetime ago that Southampton finally won the race for Gaston Ramirez. After proving his abilities at Penarol and Bologna, The Premier League came calling and Ramirez resisted the temptations of Liverpool instead moving to newly-promoted Southampton in 2012. He spent four largely unhappy years on the south coast before making his way to the north east to sign for Middlesbrough. When they got relegated after a season in the top flight Ramirez moved back to Italy, joining Samp last summer. It has been a consistent year for Ramirez and he has used the steady playing time to showcase his abilities. Ramirez will always get into the national side with regular football and will most likely play some part at the World Cup.
Where this side used to leave itself vulnerable in the middle of the park, it now appears to be one its strongest areas of the pitch. There is plenty to be optimistic about for fans of Uruguay now they have a more solid and dependable midfield. Lucas Torreira offers solidity while Matias Vecino will bring work rate and attacking nous. This is likely to be the part of the team with the highest probability of cuts in the lead up to the World Cup, that can only be seen as a good thing given the depth they now have.