Atlético Mineiro and Club Nacional de Football faced each other in the 5th round of fixtures in the group stages of the Copa Libertadores. The Brazilian team had their last chance to fight for a place in the round of 16. For their part, the Uruguayan team arrived calmer, as a draw would be enough to qualify. The match was important to define the positions of Group E.
The following tactical analysis will show how Nacional narrowly won. An almost empty Raimundo Sampaio stadium saw the home team eliminated from the most important competition at club level in South America. The tournament acts as a springboard to move to Barcelona and Real Madrid. In truth, it was a poor game and left very little to analyse.
Rodrigo Santana decided to use a 4-2-3-1 formation. With this system, Mineiro wanted to create their attacking impetus through their defensive midfielders: Adílson Warken and Elias Mendes Trindade. The idea was that the defensive unit would build from the two players.
Yimmy Chará, Luan and Maicon made a line of three attacking midfielders. Chará and Maicon playing as wingers. Luan was the central playmaker and link man. Ricardo Oliveira, a tall, physically imposing player, was the team’s forward.
Nacional came out with a more conservative approach. They didn’t need a victory, as a draw was enough for them. The coach, Álvaro Gutiérrez, analysed the game well and set up in a 4-4-1-1. A good coach anticipates what can happen during the course of the game. Gutierrez’s attention to detail during the 90 minutes is phenomenal.
They lined up with two banks of four players that were close to each other. Two compact lines that didn’t leave much room for Mineiro’s midfielders to operate in. The coach gave the order to Matías Zunino and Matías Viña, the full backs, to play cautiously. Santiago Rodríguez, on the right, and Sebastián Fernández, on the left, were the midfielders who played from the outside to make the line of four players in the middle. Higher up, Gustavo Lorenzetti played near Gonzalo Bergessio, the only striker.
Mineiro: the disconnection between lines
Atletico Mineiro’s intention was always the same: to connect the line of defense with the attacking players through Adílson, Elias, and Luan. Luan is the primary creative playmaker. However, due to the team’s poor performance, he had to drop back quite often. Mineiro often shaped up to a 4-3-3 formation.
Adílson, Elias, and Luan formed a triangle. Ricardo Oliveira played further back than usual and a line of three strikers was formed with Chará and Maicon as wingers. Mineiro’s now attempted to create a triangle in the middle of the pitch with the two central midfielders.
Atlético Mineiro lacked a key factor in football: mobility. They were a very static team and that reflected in the large spaces between the midfielders and strikers. Mineiro was an unbalanced team. The team struggled in transitioning the ball to the strikers.
Leaning to the left
Atlético Mineiro’s response was to find the speed and imbalances of a player like Chará. The Colombian excels in individual duels. Additionally, he paired up with Fábio Santos, the left full-back to create havoc.
The two players interchanged positions throughout the 90 minutes. When Fábio Santos moved to an attacking position, Chará played in a more central position. This allowed Fábio Santos to play closer to the goal.
Atlético Mineiro tried to utilise the left flank for the majority of the match. The connection between Fábio Santos and Chará was noticeable and effect as the screenshot above indicates. Of Mineiro’s 520 passes, 38 were between Chará and Fábio Santos. This was the most combined passes of the Atlético Mineiro players.
Nacional: order in their lines
Nacional channeled their roots and play the Uruguayan way. How do you play the Uruguayan way?
With order, courage, and patience to attack. Nacional always waited in their own half with two lines of four players. They didn’t come out to pressure Mineiro instead allowing them to push forward. This shows that Atlético Mineiro lacked ideas going forward.
Nacional tried to press further forward out of possession. The midfielders and the back-line were higher up to avoid the counter-press. At times Felipe Carvalho and Guzmán Corujo were located in central positions to gain traction.
Pressure on Mineiro’s midfielders
Nacional’s coach wanted to control the midfield to dominate. His response was pressing Mineiro’s midfielders in possession. The pressure served to disrupt Atlético Mineiro’s lines and to block transitions from defense to attack.
The key players for the Uruguayan team were the two defensive midfielders: Gabriel Neves and Rafael García. Both fulfilled the function of defending the central area and bailing out the defenders. They were the link between the back-line and strikers who generated clear goal scoring opportunities.
Goal: the positives & negatives
Goals create positives and negatives for both sides. A positive for the player who scores the goal and negative from the player who concedes. The solitary goal of the game had lessons for both teams.
Firstly, the goal originates from a long ball via Nacional’s goalkeeper. Mathías Cardaccio pivots and passes the ball to the right-back that was accompanying the play. Zunino, Nacional’s right back, doesn’t let the ball go. Raúl Rivero, who replaced Gustavo Lorenzetti, runs to the right to distract Mineiro’s defender.
Iago Maidana, the centre-back, falls into the trap. The centre-backs were now far apart. Felipe Carballo, who had come in to replace Bergessio, sees the space and runs there. Zunino lifts his head, pauses and plays a perfect pass to Nacional’s striker. Carballo controls the ball with his chest and lobs Mineiro’s Victor.
The Nacional striker read the situation perfectly but was aided by a grievous mistake from the Atlético Mineiro defenders. Three passes were enough to break their ranks, highlighting their poor positional play.
Atlético Mineiro were eliminated from the Copa Libertadores. Total failure from a team that were crowned 2013 champions. With this result, the best they can hope for is a third-place finish and qualify for the Copa Sudamericana.
They barely beat Zamora Fútbol Club, the group’s weakest rival, in five games played. The Brazilian team lost to their rivals Cruzeiro Esporte Clube during the week. Overall, a disastrous week for the Galo.
Nacional qualifies for the round of 16 with one game remaining. Four wins in five games make them the inform team of the group. Their only defeat was against Cerro Porteño, the strongest team in the group. The final group stage game will pit the two strongest teams against each other to determine first and second place. Qualifying was Nacional’s main objective.
Nacional has played consecutive Copa Libertadores since 1997. Of those 22 editions they have participated in, they have only past the round of 16 three times. The next step for El Bolso will be to advance to the quarter-finals. A realistic objective if they continue playing with the same commitment and desire.
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