In this tactical analysis, we will see how Brazil faired in their opening match vs. internationally ranked 63rd Bolivia and how they could look moving forward into the competition.
With Brazil winning the previous four Copa Americas they’ve hosted (1919, 1922, 1949, and 1989), expectations have been set high for Brazilian National Team manager Tite. It’s been five years since the disappointment of Brazil’s last major tournament hosting, the 2014 World Cup where they saw a devastating 7-1 loss to eventual champions Germany.
Tite before the tournament said that naming this squad was harder than his World Cup squad, highlighting the enormous pressure on him to succeed in Brazil’s backyard. Interestingly he chooses two defensive midfielders in Casemerio and Fernandinho. In a game where Brazil would have more of the possession, Luis Paqueta or Arthur could’ve been the more fair selections.
Bolivia lined up in a 4-4-2 as they looked to make a defensive stand. Only three of the players from the Bolivia squad play outside of Bolivia’s first division.
The fullbacks would tuck inside, this created an extra man in midfield and resulted in effective counter press. Whenever Brazil would give the ball away, they would outnumber the Bolivia player and quickly close him down winning the ball back or forcing a turn over high up the pitch. Their counter press limited Bolivia to 54 total completed passes in the first half. This allowed Brazil to extend their periods of possession with the ball. Contributing to Tite’s philosophy of controlling the game through possession.
Bolivia on the ball looked to play through this pressure by forming triangles. This would in theory give Bolivia players extra solutions in possession. Unfortunately for Bolivia the intensity of Seleção’s counter press and the gap in quality between the two sets of players proved to be to much across the 90 minutes.
Brazil’s toothless attack
Brazil teams of the past have been described using words such as fluidity and flair. However Tite’s brand of possession football couldn’t relate on the night. Brazil played at a slow tempo, lacking intensity and overcomplicated passing sequences at times.
The two defensive midfielders, of course, did not offer much penetration through the middle so Firmino and Coutinho were tasked with dropping deep and linking play together through the middle.
Bolivia’s 4-4-2 shape proved to be a tough nut to crack without the penetration from midfield. Brazil would be forced to play around Bolivia and saw most of their success in wide areas.
In the first 45 minutes, Brazil produced 17 crosses to Bolivias zero. Fullbacks Dani Alves and Fillipe Luis played a large part in this constantly producing service from wide for Coutinho and Firmino. However, Coutinho and Firmino between them only registered one shot on target in this period.
Tite’s Halftime Changes
Something had to be changed at halftime for the hosts. Tite’s most recognizable and effective change came in midfield.
He didn’t swap personnel but rather changed their instructions. Having one of the two defensive midfielders Casemerio and Fernandinho play in between Bolivia’s midfield and defensive line. This allowed Brazil to produce more forward passes which created more intensity and threat in their play. Notably, changing instructions rather than personnel also saved Brazil a substitution. A great move by the manager.
As you can see below, Fernandinho in this scenario is tasked with moving forward. Compared to the first half, neither of the two would operate in such areas and keep a close proximity between them.
Another change made was to the attack. Roberto Firmino and Richarlson began to swap positions with each other, Firmino moving out wide and Richarlson moving inside. Richarlson at Everton this season proved to cause danger in central areas. This made Brazil’s attack more unpredictable and dynamic. This change particularly directly resulted in a goal.
Coutinho at False Nine
Without superstar Neymar in the Copa América squad, an opportunity arises for someone to be the hero in the Brazil squad. On this day it was Philippe Coutinho being played in a false nine role.
Coutinho has previous experience in this role playing at Barcelona. Scoring a goal and assisting won in Barcelona’s 4-2 Champions League win over Tottenham Hotspur in October.
An analysis of his performance vs. Bolivia using statistics he created five chances for his team mates, boasted a 93.5% passing accuracy, and had 2 successful take-ons. More importantly, he provided the predatory instincts inside the box that Brazil lacked in the first half.
Do Brazil mean business?
After some astute changes from the manager, Brazil saw off underdogs Bolivia. Against other teams across the competition, slow starts from the coaching staff and players on the pitch, however, will not be good enough if Brazil want to achieve success.
Brazil’s system is seemingly trying to get the best out of it’s wide and central attackers while providing overwhelming defensive cover. Tite has an immense wealth of quality in depth and options at his disposal. Add onto all of this that Brazil are executing their tactics with a great outcome, we could see Brazil lift their first Copa America since 2007.