Brazil met Peru in the Copa America final – a final that probably no one predicted at the beginning of the tournament. Brazil showed their pragmatic side and defensive resilience to overcome Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Meanwhile, Peru showed incredible improvement since the 0-5 defeat to… well, Brazil. They managed to beat the mighty Uruguay on penalty, then destroyed two-time defending champion Chile 3-0.
Yesterday, Brazil showed predictable wing-play but managed to capitalise on the opponents’ few defensive mistakes; while Peru’s monotomous strategy of using target man Guerrero was successfully neutralised. Even after Gabriel Jesus was sent off, they couldn’t trouble Brazil’s solid defence at all. In this tactical analysis, we will demonstrate how each team’s game plan fared against the other.
Brazil started this match in a 4-2-3-1 with the same line-up against Argentina: Alisson plays in goal, the back four were Alex Sandro, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and captain Dani Alves. Casemiro and Arthur were the double pivot behind Philippe Coutinho and wingers Everton and Gabriel Jesus, while Roberto Firmino was the central forward.
Peru also used a 4-2-3-1, with Yoshimar Yotun and Renato Tapia the double pivot, while captain Paolo Guerrero was the sole striker.
Brazil in possession
It’s really not much of a surprise when Brazil likes to play from the back, especially when both their goalkeeper and their back four are good with their feet. During the build-up, the back four and the double pivot stayed rather deep and close to each other. These six players could easily get pass Peru’s first line of pressing, which often consists of Guerrero, attacking midfielder Christian Cueva, and left winger Andre Carrillo. Those three often tried to form a triangle and maintained the distance with each other.
In defending, right winger Edison Flores often stayed lower, perhaps fearing Brazil’s left side overload and the overlapping runs of Sandro. We can conclude that Peru let Brazil build up comfortably, instead of pressing high like in the semi-final against Chile. Brazil has pacey wingers in Everton and Jesus, and the dropping deep Firmino can facilitate Brazil’s counter-attacks easily. Peru saw what Brazil did to Argentina, and they try to avoid making the same mistake.
Below we can see that Peru at times defended in an asymmetrical 4-3-3, with Flores here in a right central midfielder’s position.
If Brazil get past their first line of pressing, they will retreat to a 4-4-1-1, with Guerrero hardly contributing to the defensive phase, and Cueva actively tracking to press the ball-carrier.
Brazil indeed had no trouble playing out from the back. However, even with the abundant attacking talents at disposal, Tite couldn’t get Brazil to be a really strong team offensively. They didn’t seem to have a lot of creative ideas in attack. They often tried to get the ball to the winger, hoping he will beat the opponent’s full-back in 1v1 situations and get a (usually low) cross in. That didn’t happen quite often, but during one of them, Jesus managed to beat left-back Miguel Trauco, and his cross found the unmarked Everton, who scored with the tap-in to give Brazil the lead. Peru’s defence was attracted to Firmino and Coutinho’s run towards the golden zone, and right-back Advincula could not track Everton’s run.
This started with Alves’ sudden long ball over the top towards Jesus. In this situation, Jesus tricked Trauco by pretending to drop deep, pulling Trauco forward before immediately making a run towards the space behind him.
Everton also utilised this trick to get into the large space behind Peru’s right-back.
Wing overload was key to Brazil’s win
Brazil also showed flexible movements among the attacking players. We know that Coutinho and Firmino like roaming around a lot: the former often dropped to connect with Casemiro and Arthur and get the ball to the wingers and striker; while the latter is by no means a traditional forward – he actively participates in both attacking and defending. Both of them often moved wide to overload the wing and facilitate an attack in these areas with some slick combinations. Firmino often switched position with Jesus, who is essentially a central forward. These kind of movements were Brazil’s best means of disrupting the opponent’s defence.
Below is an incident with the position switch between Jesus and Firmino. Casemiro combined 1-2 with Jesus, then found Sandro totally free on the wing. He was free there because Coutinho on the left half-space attracted Peru’s right winger, while right-back Advincula tried to follow Everton all the way, out of his defensive third. Advincula has poor positional sense – he was easily lured out of position by Everton and then tried to stick with him all the way – and very often Everton’s dropping movements could open up big space for Sandro’s overlapping runs.
With the likes of Everton, Sandro and Coutinho on left wing, Brazil mainly attacked through this area throughout the match – 53% of their attack occurred on the left.
Therefore, Brazil’s overload will often pull the whole Peru system over this side, and the likes of Casemiro could then use a crossfield long ball towards the right side touchline to find Alves, Jesus or Firmino.
But normally Alves stays on right half-space to help with the build-up, as well as using his playmaking ability to support Brazil’s attack in the final third.
Brazil often tried to counterpress right after losing the ball, with centre forward Firmino being a hard-working player and mastered the art of counter-pressing under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Peru didn’t set up well during these kinds of transitions, and they couldn’t combine effectively under high pressure. They often tried to dribble and ended up losing the ball quickly.
That also opened up the opportunity for Brazil’s second goal. Firmino made a wonderful sliding challenge right after Carrillo got the ball. Arthur dribbled with the ball and attracted four Peru players before releasing Jesus, who then had enough time and space to finish. Once again we saw Peru players excessively attracted to the ball-carrier and gave no attention to the ones making runs towards the box.
Peru’s lack of ideas in the final third
Like Brazil, Peru also has the ability to create short combinations in the middle of the pitch. However, they don’t try to build from the back. Throughout this tournament, goalkeeper Pedro Gallese used long goal kicks to find captain Guerrero, who is very strong on the air. Guerrero was the main target for the long balls – he would try to hold up the ball and find one of his onrushing teammates.
However, using this simple idea time and again made Peru extremely predictable in attack. Brazil managed to stop Guerrero quite successfully with the coordination between Marquinhos, Silva and Casemiro – Guerrero only won 11 out of his 24 duels in this match. And though he won 8 aerials, Brazil made sure that he couldn’t get good heading contact with the ball and most of the time won the second ball.
Brazil used a conservative 4-1-4-1 in defending, stayed compact and made sure Peru didn’t have enough time and space penetrate through the middle.
Cueva was the rare factor who could seemingly trouble Brazil’s defence with his seven successful dribbles, but he couldn’t create danger on his own. There was hardly any good short combinations from Peru, and most of the time all they can do was to try to get a cross into Guerrero, but the crosses were often poor, to begin with. Brazil made it very difficult for them to even get a cross in.
Second half changes
Conceding right before half-time, and just moments after equalising was quite a hard blow for Peru. In the second half, the midfield and forward tried to press more aggressively, but the defence didn’t step up to maintain vertical compactness. Therefore, in the counter, there was a lot of space between Peru’s midfield and defence for Brazil’s attackers to exploit.
The majority of Brazil’s shots (8 out of 12) came in this half, with Coutinho having a lot of space to dribble towards zone 14 and shoot. In more than one instances, he seemed very eager to get a goal for himself while neglecting a free teammate inside the box.
After Jesus was sent off and left the field in tears, Tite decided to lock the game with defensive changes. In the 75th and 77th minute, centre-back Militao came in for Coutinho to play as a right-back, pushing Alves to right winger position; while Richarlison replaced Firmino to lead the attack. Brazil then played with a 4-4-1.
Peru also made some formation and personnel changes, most notably the introduction of forward Ruidiaz. The addition of another forward couldn’t help Peru at all, though Brazil only played the final 20 minutes of the game with 10 men.
In the end, our analysis showed that Brazil’s tactics proved to be enough to neutralise Peru’s one-man advantage. This title is a deserved result for Brazil, whose defence remained virtually impenetrable throughout the tournament. This ensured the consistency in their performance, despite multiple issues in the attacking phase. After France winning the 2018 World Cup, Brazil’s 2019 Copa America championship once again reinforces the notion that defensive stability is the key to winning titles, especially with the knock-out format. They will look to defend their title next year, hoping to improve on the offensive side with the possible return of superstar Neymar.
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