The home side SC Braga took the three points in this subdued 1-0 victory over rivals Vitoria Guimaraes. Despite having the lion’s share of the possession, the visitors failed to create any clear-cut chances in the Minho-region derby.
The victory keeps Abel Ferreira’s Braga hot on the heels of second-placed Porto, and a shot at the Champions League playoffs. This will give them confidence going into the final nine games of the season, especially with fellow northerners Porto coming to town at the end of the month.
There were no changes to the home team as Abel Ferreira picked the same line up as he did in the previous week’s victory away to Rio Ave. Ferreira was unable to count on versatile full-back-cum-winger Ricardo Esgaio, however, who failed to recover from a knee injury in time to make the squad.
Guimaraes manager Luis Castro made no fewer than four changes after last week’s victory over Maritimo. Notably Pedro Henrique returned to the defence after suspension and Andre Andre recovered from injury to recover a central midfield spot. Welthon, who got the winning goal against Maritimo, was rewarded with a starting place up front. Ghanaian defensive midfielder Wakaso was tasked with protecting the backline.
Favoured left side
As can be seen in the graphic from Whoscored below, both teams placed emphasis on attacking down the left-hand side.
Nuno Sequeira’s marauding runs
Braga’s preference for the left flank, where they channelled 39% of their attacks, was mainly due to the positioning of Nuno Sequeira. The Portuguese left-back took up very advanced positions, offering himself as an option as Braga played out from the back. Left winger Ricardo Horta tucked inside accordingly so as to allow Sequeira a corridor to the by-line.
In the image below, centre-back Raul Silva launches a long-range pass to pick out Sequeira who had made a run down the left flank. This was a move that Braga attempted on numerous occasions as they looked to get in behind Guimaraes’ defence.
Even though Braga managed to find Sequeira in space several times, he wasn’t particularly effective. None of his six crosses connected and he completed only 12 successful passes in the whole game.
Guimaraes’ lop-sided build-up
The visiting side’s preference for the left side was even more pronounced, making up 49% of their attacks. And once more, an attacking full-back, in this case Rafa Soares, was at the heart of it.
As can be seen from the heat map below, Soares didn’t hesitate to get forward. He was very much involved in Guimaraes’ attacks, completing 46 accurate passes. Like Sequeira though, he was ineffective when it mattered. Soares attempted five crosses, none of which hit their target.
Considering 81% of their play came down the flanks, it’s not surprising that this lack of effective crossing cost Guimaraes dearly when it came to creating chances.
Another of the reasons why Guimaraes had so much of the ball on the left-hand side of the pitch was the positioning of the nominally right-sided winger, Toze. The former Porto player often made runs over to the opposite flank in order to create overloads.
In the image below, Toze makes a run over to the left to join the attack and to occupy the space in between Braga’s two lines of four.
On this occasion, Braga defended the space well and Guimaraes were eventually forced back and tried again down the right-hand side. Though as can be seen in the next image, when central pivot Wakaso switches the play to the right, Sacko has very few options. Toze is too slow to get back over to his natural side so Sacko’s only option is to pass to Oliveira, who finds himself surrounded by red shirts.
Lethargic passing costs Guimaraes
This failure to successfully switch from one flank to the other was a recurring problem for the team playing in grey. It was all too easy for Braga’s two lines of four to simply shuffle towards the side of the pitch their opponents were attacking.
In the move shown below, Osorio received the ball in an ideal position to play a first-time pass to Soares on the left, as Braga’s midfield were out of position and leaving plenty of space open on that side. Osorio instead opted to take the less risky pass to his centre-back partner Henrique, who in turn supplied Soares.
Completing the move in two passes instead of one might still have worked if they had done so with urgency. They took their time though, with both central defenders taking a touch before playing the ball. Inevitably by the time Soares received the ball, Braga were back in position and the space had disappeared.
Braga’s interesting build-up play
For the first half hour, Braga used their two centre-halves to play the ball out from the back, with the Brazilian Raul Silva usually being tasked with playing the final ‘killer ball’ to launch the attack. On the 30-minute mark however, they adapted this slightly. Central midfielder Palhinha dropped in between the two centre backs to form a three.
Such a change would normally be a sign that the defenders were struggling to break through a high press. But this wasn’t the case at all here, as Guimaraes’ sole striker Welthon was hardly causing the Braga defenders any problems in that sense.
Instead, it became clear that the strategy here was for Palhinha to distract Welthon, giving Raul Silva free rein to make runs further upfield in the knowledge that his centre back partner Bruno Silva had support.
This meant that Raul Silva would be able to run into space and play forward passes from a much more advanced position.
In the 33rd minute, Silva did just that. In the image below we see how Silva is able to use his advanced position to play in striker Dyego Sousa. After Sousa’s shot was spilt by Guimaraes’ goalkeeper Miguel Silva, Ricardo Horta was on hand to slot home the rebound for what turned out to be the winning goal.
Fruitless second half for Guimaraes
Although in the first 45 minutes possession had been shared equally 50-50, the second half was a different story. Braga protected their lead allowing Guimaraes as much as 64% possession in the second period. The visitors only managed three shots, significantly fewer than in the first half (where they managed eight) and striker Welthon’s stats were particularly damning. The Brazilian managed only one shot in the entire game and completed only four successful passes.
This was a deserved victory for Braga who managed the game with maturity as they ceded possession to their regional rivals, confident that they wouldn’t be able to break them down. Guimaraes will be particularly disappointed that after all their build-up focused down the wings, they weren’t able to create any clear-cut chances for their sole centre forward.
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