Brazilian Serie A 2019: Internacional vs Sao Paulo – Tactical analysis

Brazilian Serie A 2019: Internacional vs Sao Paulo - Tactical analysis - tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

All over the world clashes between footballing greats are exciting our days. This also was the case with the Brazilian Serie A, as Internacional entertained Sao Paulo in another domestic fixture. Internacional proved to be just a little too strong for Sao Paulo, as this tactical analysis exploring the tactics will show.

In this analysis supported by statistics and a look at the tactics, we will examine three tactical trends during this Brazilian Serie A game. We will look at the pressing by the home side Internacional and how Sao Paolo set up defensively, in this tactical analysis piece.


Internacional vs Sao Paulo line ups.

Internacional employed a 4-5-1 formation in the game against Sao Paulo with manager Odair Hellmann trying to play an attacking midfield just behind striker Rafael Sóbis. The midfield presented itself in two ways, with Bruno Silva playing as a defensive midfielder just in front of the defence, and the four-man midfield assisting the striker. According to the manager, this midfield would be instrumental in their style of play against Sao Paulo.

The opponent’s manager Alexi Stival of Sao Paulo had a different approach to this game. He fielded a slightly more balanced 4-2-3-1 formation in this away game. Rodrigues Húdson and Igor Liziero formed the defensive block just before the four attacking players in this formation. The sole striker was Raniel, who was assisted by the attacking midfielders Éverton, Tche Tche and Vitor Bueno.

This clash provided to be a close encounter but in the end, it was Internacional that got away with the win. This tactical analysis will look at the key tactical trends in this game.

Internacional attackers pressing Sao Paulo 

The attacking style of play by Internacional was quite interesting to see, but the pressing on the halfway-line and on Sao Paulo’s half is what was key to the attacking style of play by Internacional.

In this piece of the analysis, we will look at two different forms of that pressing style. The first example of pressing Sao Paulo was on their halfway-line with two different zones of pressing. We make a distinction between the pressing of the strikers and the pressing by the attacking midfielders. This distinction can be seen in the image below, where we have identified two different zones.

Two different zones of Internacional pressing when Sao Paulo have the ball high on their own half

As you can see above, there are two different zones of pressing on the half of Internacional. When the ball is passed to the Sao Paolo wing-back on the right, Sobis presses that wing-back. He is the only one that presses in that area of the pitch. When Sao Paulo played the ball to the other side of the pitch, this would be identical with Sobis being the only one that presses.

This also can be seen in another example, as the one you see in the image below. The second zone of pressing was done by the two most forward midfielders. When the ball would come in this zone, the midfielders would close into the ball and press right there. As soon as the midfielders would press, the third midfielder would take over the marking.

Sobis does not press at the ball that is not in his zone, but the midfielders do

As the ball is in a different area, this time it is not Sobis who presses the Sao Paulo defence, but the midfielders instead who press the opponent’s midfield. Two players make a move towards the ball while the third player also makes a movement forward to mark the free man, which is created by the press of the two pressing midfielders.

This type of pressing was done swiftly and it needed to be done that way because Sao Paulo’s passing style was direct, and when Internacional was not quick enough, the visitors could escape this pressing style of play.

Another form of pressing that Internacional used during this game against Sao Paulo could be found when the formation changed in the attacking phase of the game. Instead of a 4-5-1 formation, the formation changed into a 4-4-2 formation and the two strikers were instrumental in their pressing.

In the attacking phase, Internacional changed their 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 with the two strikers pressing the defence

As can be seen in the image above, the two strikers both had a role in the pressing. Sobis went to press the right central defender which left the defender to make a quick choice. Simultaneously, Nonato started to press the other central defender, which left two viable choices for the right central defender: passing the ball back to the keeper or play the ball long to wing-backs on the flanks.

The two strikers were the first to press the full-backs, but they needed the support from the four-man midfield to succeed. In the following situation in the 31st minute of the game, they were only assisted by one attacking midfielder.

In pressing up front, the two strikers press the full-backs

As you can see in the image above, the central defenders are pressed by the two strikers. When one striker presses the defender with the ball, the other striker moves to the other defender to prevent a pass going in that direction. The defender is limited in his choices but still has an option to play the ball long to the dropping midfielders instead of passing it to the keeper, and that is what Internacional wanted.

The two strikers press upfront, but it’s the attacking midfielder who has a vital role in the success of the press

Limiting the passing options and getting the ball to a position where Internacional can use their power to dictate the style of play was the priority. Vital for that to happen in this situation was the movement of the attacking midfielder. As soon as the strikers pressed, there was an option for the full-back to escape the press. The pressing by the attacking midfielder was vital in controlling where the ball was played to. If the attacking midfielder did not press, Sao Paulo could easily play its way out of this press.

The central defenders of Sao Paulo had difficulties with this style of pressing and often opted for the choice to play it to the keeper, who would then pass it long. As a consequence of that, Internacional were given a new opportunity to regain possession of the ball through aerial duels. Internacional won 25 of their 54 aerial duels, which was slightly better than their opponents who won 24 of their 54 aerial duels.

Sao Paulo’s defensive set up in transition

Although Sao Paulo had 5263% possession of the ball, it was Internacional that clearly had more shots in this game. They had 13 shots in this game, while Sao Paulo had 8 shots. The reason why Sao Paulo managed to keep the clean sheet for so long in the game was because of their defensive set up. This tactical analysis takes a closer look at the defensive set up in transition.

In the image below you can see the standard defensive set up with their 4-2-3-1 formation at the beginning of this game.

Sao Paulo’s back four against Internacional

Sao Paulo had a back four with wing-backs who would play high up the pitch. This left space between the centre-backs and the wing-backs, which could lead to hazardous situations in the back, especially as both wing-backs would make runs down the line.

When the wingbacks are not present during a counterattack, there is space on the flanks for the opponent to utilise

Sao Paolo attacked with a prominent role for their wing-backs who would make runs down the line in order to assist the attackers. In the case of a counterattack, this could lead to a situation where the rest of the defence consisted only of the full-backs on their own half. If played right by Internacional, there could be a 2v2 situation.

In those situations, it was necessary for the defensive block to trail back and to assist the defence. If that happened there would be a defensive block of four players, as can be seen in the image below.

The defensive centre block by Sao Paulo in a counterattack

The Sao Paulo central duo initially stood in a 2v2 situation, but the defensive midfielders made sure they closed in quickly, which created a block of defensive players. Therefore, the 2v2 situation became 4v2 situation, which was easier to manage for the Sao Paulo team.

Although Sao Paulo managed to close this gap, it resulted in a few dangerous chances for the home side and if it was not for the strict defending, Internacional could have won by more goals than they did.

Final thoughts

The game between Internacional and Sao Paulo was a close one. The pressing by Internacional and the defensive set up by Sao Paulo left the home side with the advantage but the game was looking to end in a 0-0 draw. The pressing by the attacking players was well constructed and saw the visitors struggle to attack, while the Sao Paulo defence was not flawless, as this tactical analysis has shown. A late penalty converted by Sobis, saw the home team win this game in the Brazilian Serie A.

Artwork by @chapulana

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