The quarter-finals of the 2019 Copa America got underway last Friday evening at Arena do Gremio where powerhouse of football Brazil hosted Paraguay. After a lacklustre display against Venezuela then an absolute demolition of Peru, Brazil hoped to progress to the semi-finals with a good performance. Paraguay had a mixed bag of results in the group stage, drawing with lowly Qatar then keeping Argentina at bay. Enough to propel them into the quarter-finals but probably against the best team in the competition.
Brazil stuck to their 4-2-3-1 as they have used in the last five games. The back line defence remained unchanged. The two ‘pivot’ players in front of the defence changed completely with Fernandino out due to injury and Casemiro serving a ban. In came Napoli’s Allan and Barcelona’s Arthur.
Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus found himself unusually placed on the right-hand side of the attack alongside Coutinho and Everton. Firmino would be the lone striker.
Paraguay went with a 4-4-1-1 and transitioned into a 4-1-4-1 as the game went on. Balbuena served a match ban for this game so coach Berrizo shuffled the defence along and brought in Advincula at left back.
Gonzalez was moved from right-wing to the solo striker and Ortiz was brought in for Rojas.
Relentless Yellow attack
Brazil started the game just like Brazil are well known for and made their intentions clear that they wanted to score goals. The first option was to attack down the flanks but within the half spaces. By using the half-spaces, Paraguay would swarm the player in possession in a disorganised fashion. This was somewhat effective and slowed Brazil down going forward which, in turn, frustrated them. Once it was quite apparent of Paraguay’s tactics, Brazil started to recognise the bunching of players and attempted to switch the play into space on the other flank.
We can see above the erraticness of Paraguay’s midfield pulling them into a square. Brazil only seemed to notice this happen only a handful of times to execute a plan to counter it. The game tried to settle down amongst the constant ‘tactical’ fouls. Both teams were guilty of pushes in the back in an attempt to stop any direct advantage being handed over and the game began to take a very scrappy shape. With play stopping and starting constantly Brazil found it tough to hit a natural rhythm to outplay Paraguay.
Paraguay struggle to transition
The first five minutes of the game saw Paraguay trying to play directly through Brazil and resulted with a couple of shots off target, this, however, was short-lived. Once it was clear their passing skills could not out-match Brazil’s desire to win the ball back with their vigorous pressing they started to panic a little. We see below how instead of a positive move across the field to play around Brazil’s first and second line of defence, left-back Alonso plays it back towards the central defender who in turn plays it back to the goalkeeper. What doesn’t help is poorly positioned teammates who instead of giving Alonso half a chance of a straight ball through the passing lanes all lay in vertical line next to Brazil’s defenders. This leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the field, providing very little option to progress positively with the ball.
When Paraguay did play forwards it was usually a poorly weighted pass and the worst option to proceed with. Below we can see how the centre back can pass laterally to either side of him or even through the middle along the floor to beat Brazil’s first line of defence. Instead, the ball is hit nowhere near a player and straight back into Brazil’s possession. It was almost as if Paraguay did not want to keep the ball and preferred to send the ball up into Brazil’s defence in order for Paraguay to re-set a defensive position.
Brazil ignores their pivot
The usual use of Brazil’s 4-2-3-1 saw Fernandinho supporting the defence with passing options. Once gaining possession he looked to use Casemiro to make line breaking passes to set up the next phase of the attack. With those two key players out Brazil looked unsure whether to use the same tactic despite players being there in that role. Instead of using this tactic, Brazil tried finding one of the three attacking players, usually Jesus or Everton who occupied the halfspaces.
Below we can see how this was executed. Thiago Silva has the ball and with the pivot or Allan in clear sight, he opts for a more direct ball into the half-space for Jesus to run onto. Although this was the quickest route of attack and resulted in a shot at goal, passes to the pivots were often ignored in the build-up from the back but got involved in a more attacking role further upfield.
Paraguay tried their best to not park the bus and pushed upfield with a high block. The five attacking players ‘pendulum’ defend the halfway line. A player presses the opposition in possession. Once the ball is passed away the Paraguay defenders returns into line whilst another defender breaks the line to press.
Numbers in the middle
Once Brazil gained the upper hand through Paraguay’s high block the next tactic for the whites was to crowd the middle tightly as possible. This was probably why Brazil started to look to options in the half-spaces as the middle got clustered with numbers throughout the game. Below we can see this in action as Paraguay’s midfield narrowly crowd the centre of the pitch and block all the passing lanes through the middle. However, as they do this, they sacrifice the wide channels in which Brazil managed to exploit.
Numbers high and low
The longer the game went on with Brazil missing more and more chances, the more frustrated they got. Another tactic started to develop into the second half. Brazil started to divide the team into five attackers and five defenders on different halves of the pitch. When defending goal kicks the five defenders were enough to repel Paraguay and build into an attack. When attacking deep the wing backs and defensive midfielder would join in to support leaving back the two centre backs.
Below we can see how this was orchestrated.
It is fairly similar to a ‘W – M” formation though not quite as defined as the team set up pretty flat and moved from defence to attack fairly swiftly. All Paraguay could do is get more and more numbers back to stall what seemed to be an inevitable Brazil goal.
Defence unlocked, no final product
Paraguay looked more and more susceptible to conceding going into the late stages of the game. The introduction of Willian to the game made this even more so as Brazil tried to unlock the feisty defence and hit the back of the net. Below we can see how Willian has spotted the defence shifting to one side of the pitch, much like they did in the first half and switches the ball across the field to set up the final stage of the attack. The finish, however, did not come and Brazil were left risking the game going straight to penalties.
Below we can see how the teams heatmaps differed. Brazil opted to use the half spaces prominently. Overlaps to the wing didn’t really happen as they get more and more frustrated with trying to score. Paraguay were eventually pinned back into their own half and the times they did manage to break out, was down the left side of the pitch.
The statistics show how one-sided this game was with Brazil gaining 70% possession in all with 26 shots. Eight of those were on target and were either scuffed or poorly aimed. The foul count was extraordinarily high for an international game. Brazil’s foul rate is roughly around 12-16 but committed 22 in this game. Paraguay were made almost as many as the game stopped and started which prevented a fluid flow of the game.
As this analysis showed, Brazil got the result they wanted and arguably deserved through the penalty shoot out. The performance was good by complete domination but lacked the decisive finish and many chances were wasted. However, with positive momentum, They now look forward to playing Argentina in the semi-final this Wednesday which could be a classic.