After winning against Bolivia, Brazil were looking for a win. This would put the Seleção in a superior position to a group that houses opponents like Peru. Neymar’s absence against Venezuela poses a challenging test for Brazil and how they cope without their star man. On the other hand, for Venezuela, this was a must-win match. La Vinotinto had had a draw against Peru and with that, a draw against Brazil would certainly make their chances of advancing very low. We aim to show you the tactical analysis of this Copa América matchup through the analysis of the playing styles of each team.
The only change from Tite was the switch between Fernandinho and Arthur. Following the 3-0 win against Bolivia, Tite replaced Fernandinho for Arthur Melo. Rafael Dudamel made three changes to his Venezuelan team that drew to Peru. Jhon Chancellor and Luis Del Pino Mago were replaced by Yordan Osorio and Robert Hernández. Finally, Jefferson Savarino was rested for Darwin Machís.
Brazil’s midfield pivot look to catalyze Brazil’s buildup
Every good attack starts with excellent buildup play and Brazil’s was no exception. Having the pair of Casimiro and Arthur created an interesting pattern.
As is usual, the two centre-backs split off along with the full-backs going to a higher position up the flank. The interesting phenomenon occurs with the midfield pivot. Casemiro, when compared to Arthur, is not at the same technical level. Casemiro’s positioning in this midfield pivot is that of a defensive midfielder.
As such, Casemiro is more focused on tactical aspects such as pressing, tackling, and stopping counter-attacks. On the other hand, Arthur has a similar role to that of a regista. While not a true regista, Arthur is the main focus of the buildup moves and is ever present to provide the team with an outlet.
Seeing these two different styles, the buildup becomes asymmetric. Casemiro would often position himself deeper than Arthur and as such would be near the defence. On the other hand, Arthur was allowed to roam freely and position himself higher or equal to Casemiro’s positioning.
Here we can see that Arthur is much higher positioned than Casemiro and as such, can drive into the central space (shown in blue). This movement will allow the ball to be vertically progressed to the attacking trio.
An asymmetric build up also translates to an asymmetric press from Venezuela. The team would start pressing with the striker Salmon Rondon initiating the asymmetric press. While the press did prevent Brazil from building up through the central corridor, it also allowed Brazil to have more space on the side that Arthur was situated on.
Arguably, it was the right-hand side that was more dangerous as it housed the duo of Dani Alves and Richarlison. Compared to the left-hand side, the right-hand side had experience (from both the players) but also explosive skill and pace.
As such when Venezuela initiated their asymmetric press, Brazil would start shifting their formation and the centre-backs towards the right. From there, the centre-backs would pass between themselves to draw the asymmetric press as much as they could.
From there, they would pass to Arthur who was left with more space. Arthur would use this space to advance up the field and pass the ball to the wing flanks.
Brazil’s midfield pivot look to add depth to Brazil’s attack
This special midfield pivot also gave rise to interesting patterns when the ball was in the opposition half.
When Brazil were in possession, the full-backs are positioned high. While this does allow for Brazil to play wing combinations, it also leaves them at a disadvantage with counter-attacks. To prevent these counter-attacks, Casemiro would be in line with the two centre-backs and make a makeshift back three.
This pattern was important as it allowed Arthur to drop near the defensive line and move laterally and vertically. Arthur’s lateral movements provided numerical superiority on the wing while his vertical movements provide support to the attacking trio of Phillipe Coutinho, Richarlison, and David Neres.
Another pattern from the duo of Casemiro and Arthur was to make a rectangle with the two centre-backs. This rectangle gave rise to numerical superiority in the central corridor. This was because when Venezuela defended, they took on the formation of a 4-4-2.
Without the creation of a rectangle, the centre-backs would be faced with a 2v2 situation. Moreover, since the full-backs would be positioned high, it would make the progression of the ball difficult. To compensate for the lack of progression of the ball, the fullbacks would have to drop deep, a movement which would stifle most of Esquadrão de Ouro’s attacking prowess.
The creation of a rectangle creates a 4v2 situation which allows the centre-backs freedom. This space is important as both defenders – Thiago Silva and Marquinhos – are ball playing centre-backs.
In the above picture, we can clearly see the 4-4-2 structure of Venezuela. Notice how the presence of the midfield pivot distracts the two forward men. This allows the two centre-backs (shown in yellow) to move to the right and left halfspace and start Brazil’s attacking structure.
As such, they can enter the half-spaces and launch through balls to the attacking trio or launch diagonal balls to the striker where the likes of Coutinho and Neres can vie for the second ball and start a direct attack on the defence.
Here we see Marquinhos occupy the halfspace and pass a through ball (shown in purple) that eliminates two opposition players. Moreover, Richarlison can then get the ball which will end up in a 1v1 situation with the fullback. Now all of a sudden, Venezuela are at the receiving end of a Brazil attack that is taking place in the final third.
Aside from freeing the centre-backs, the midfield duo also, as a unit, provided support to the attacking organisation of Brazil. Sometimes, due to the structural rigidity of Venezuela, Roberto Firmino and Coutinho had to drop deep to collect and progress the ball.
The pivot allowed them to do so and create creative attacking combinations. For example, the movement of either Firmino or Coutinho would attract the nearby players. This attraction would lead to the creation of holes between the midfield and defence line.
Either of Neres or Richarlison could occupy this space and pose as dangers to the defence. Firmino or Coutinho could pass to the double pivot who could launch a chipped ball to the aforementioned players. From there, Neres or Richarlison could attack the half-space and start quick interchanges.
The movement of dropping deep also allowed for another attacking combination. As Firmino or Coutinho moved, the Venezuelan formation would also be drawn inwards. As such, this would be a perfect opportunity for the full-backs to start making their forward runs.
A simple pass from Arthur can create a 1v1 situation on the wing flanks. The remaining attacking force can assemble as needed which can allow Alves or Filipe Luís to strike dangerous crosses or cutbacks.
As one can clearly see, Arthur’s diagonal pass gets past 9 players (including the striker) and sets up the running full-back with a 1v1 with the opposition full-back in an advanced wing space. Passes such as these are becoming integral to Brazil’s attacking structure.
Venezuela look to choke out Brazil’s attack with man marking and five-man defence
Venezuela knew, from the offset, that they could contain Brazil. With the absence of Neymar, Brazil’s attacks have a tendency of becoming toothless and lacking in steel. As such, they knew that a tight defensive structure was key to their hopes of advancing in this competition
One of the first ways they accomplished their goal of containing Brazil was through their formation. Lining up in a 4-1-4-1, La Vinotinto switched to a variation of the 5-4-1. La Vinotinto simply had one of their midfielders stay back so that the formation switched to a 5-1-3-1.
This change in formation was set due to a couple of reasons. One of the first reasons to go to a back five was to simply the spaces down the wing flanks. While Verde-Amarela may have lost their star man, it does not render them completely toothless. With the trickiness of the likes of Neres and Coutinho, Brazil still posed a danger.
A five-man defence helps control the danger on the wing flanks as the team can afford to defend the wings with two players. This neutralises the danger of a 2v2 and also helps bring numerical superiority.
The lone midfielder between the five-man defence and the three-man midfield is also critical as he helps keep a check on Coutinho. Coutinho’s position, which is behind Firmino, allows him a free reign of the final third space. As such, he poses a danger to the Venezuelan defence as he can directly threaten the team – with shots and dribbles – and indirectly threaten the team by attracting people around him.
By placing a man-marking on Coutinho, the Venezuelan defence had one less Brazilian player to worry about and as such, could devote its resources to paying the attention to the true dangers: Seleção’s repeated attempts at wing play.
Here the narrow structure of Venezuela can be seen. Notice how the lone midfielder is sticking with Coutinho. This prevents Coutinho from turning and attempting dangerous shots. Notice how the left wingback is closely marking out the Brazil full-back. This will prevent the full-back from having a dangerous 1v1 and ultimately prevent any dangerous crosses.
The second-way Venezuelan defence dealt with Brazil’s attack was through their defence of individual players. Venezuela enacted a man-marking whenever Seleção went to attack. This man marking was quite noticeable on the wing flanks.
Often times diagonal runs by Richarlison or Neres were closely marked and tracked by the defenders in the five-man defence. From there, one of the midfielders would quickly come to cover and defend the Brazilian full-back.
This man marking along with the five-man defence severely restricted the attacking movement of Richarlison and Neres. This is evident when one sees their attacking output. Richarlison only had one shot while Neres produced only two shots.
This poor attacking output was seen across the whole team. Even though Brazil (19) outshot Venezuela (6) by 13 shots, the Seleção only recorded one shot on target. Neymar or not, a team stacked with talent recording only one shot on target is a sign of a poor attack and, conversely, an excellent defence.
Structural problems with Venezuela’s defence
One of the problems was the lack of intensity in defending by La Vinotinto. Whenever Brazil came attacking, Venezuela was always backing off. When Brazil were in possession in Venezuela’s half, there was no aggressive pressing from the team.
The most pressing that was done by Venezuela only involved a player stepping up and temporarily pressing a Brazilian ball carrier. The lack of an organised press affected Venezuela’s desire to shut out Brazil’s attack. Since they were not pressing, fast movement of players quickly opened up space for Firmino through which he could register shots.
This lack of pressing showcases itself when one sees that out of the 19 shots, 13 came from open play. As such, the low intensity of Venezuelan pressing allowed Brazil to get closer to the goal.
Additionally, Venezuela were not as strict in their defensive structure. This lack of organization allowed Brazil to get pass their wing defence. Instead of playing wing combinations, Brazil started employing wing play to get inside the halfspace.
Due to the lack of rigidity in Venezuela’s defence, centre-backs were often found out of position which gave rise to huge spaces in the box. In fact, out of 19 shots, 11 of those shots came inside the box.
Here we see the issues in the defence. The centre-back (shown in purple) has been dragged out. This allows Neres (shown in red) to directly attack the wing flank. This will inevitably drag one of the defenders (shown in white) out of position as well. This will create a space between the two centre-backs that a Brazilian player (shown in yellow) can occupy. This will allow him to get just enough time to take a shot.
Scenarios like the one above often undid some for the good defensive work Venezuela had done. However, a poor attacking performance prevented Bazil from taking advantage of situations like this.
Brazil’s poor performance will undoubtedly be covered by VAR decisions. Regardless of those decisions, Tite has to focus on how to maximise attacking output from such a talented Seleção team. An over-reliance on Neymar should result in performances such as these.
Tite will especially look to maximise Arthur’s potential in Brazil’s attacking structure. Dudamel will be relieved to have come unscathed against Brazil. However he will have much work to do as Rondon, their main attacking presence was invincible. A lack of defensive solidity should cause him worries as there were a few chances where a more confident Brazil would have taken them apart.
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