Vitor Pereira joined Shanghai SIPG in the tail end of 2017. The Portuguese manager joined the Chinese club after spells in Portugal, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Greece, and Turkey. Since then, Pereira has gone on to manage the club in just over 80 games, quite a considerable feat when you consider the turnover of managers in the Chinese Super League.
This tactical analysis will profile Pereira as a coach and how he has set up Shanghai SIPG this year. In particular, the piece will focus on how Pereira`s tactics have attempted to get the best out of Oscar, Marko Arnautović and Hulk. It will also cover the problems that Pereira will need to solve in order to climb the table and claim that elusive first spot.
In Possession style
Shanghai are an interesting side to watch when in possession. With previous clubs, Pereira has alternated between differing back four formations. An analysis of Shanghai, however, shows he has mainly settled on a back five, alternating between a 3-4-2-1 and 3-5-2.
In established phases of possession they are fairly fluid with lots of movement between positions. Pereira allows a considerable amount of rotations within their basic structure. For example, the central centre-back for Shanghai will often step into the midfield if the opposition press with a front three. As the ball is switched to the opposite centre-back, he drops out. This movement can disrupt the opposition and create a split second of space.
In this particular instance, the movement of the centre-back drags the striker with him. The opposite striker then ushers for his own central midfielder to step up. This slight moment of confusion is enough for Shanghai to bounce a pass to the wing-back who drops it back to the central midfielder and therefore break their oppositions first line.
If the striker was to completely drop onto the central midfielder, then the centre-back would be free to receive the ball. In this way, we can see proponents of positional play used by Vitor Pereira to progress the ball up the pitch.
The centre midfielders are also fairly mobile in terms of their movement in possession. As the wing-backs are constantly high and wide for Shanghai, there are often spaces on the outside of the wide centre-backs. On occasions, the ball side centre-back will almost become an extra full back.
One of the two central midfielders can and do drop into the spaces on either side of the centre backs. This is another rotation that occurs when the opposition press with a front three. It allows them to build up with numerical superiority.
As a result of their positional play, Shanghai tend to be able to build through consecutive lines with ease. From here, they look to get the ball into the feet of the front three. After this point, Pereira gives them freedom to move and combine however they like.
The front three will rotate amongst each other but most of the time, Arnautović will be the last man. The Austrian will stretch the defence whilst Oscar and Hulk sit just behind as seen in the image below. The midfielders and centre-backs of Shanghai look to feed balls into this triangle.
As they are positionally fluid, Oscar also has a tendency to drop deeper. This is often why there formation fluctuates between a 3-5-2 and 3-4-3. Pereira can even at times play Oscar as one of the central two midfielders, especially if they are chasing games. However he usually sits just behind the front two. When Oscar drops deeper, Hulk usually pushes on, creating a backwards triangle. This is seen in the image below.
As would be expected, Vitor Pereira and Shanghai are highly dependant on their brilliant foreign trio to fashion and convert goal scoring chances. Out of their last 15 goals, 14 goals have come with at least one of the trio involved in the build up.
Whilst Vitor Pereira was known for his high pressing teams in the past, he has adjusted slightly to suit his players at Shanghai. Pereira is aware that his foreign contingent of Oscar, Hulk and Arnautović are best known for their attacking exploits. Therefore Pereira has formulated a system to minimise their workload and maximise their attacking output. Shanghai often play a five at the back when all three of the foreigners are available. Additionally, they will sit deeper for periods of the game, allowing the opponent to get higher up on the pitch.
This then provides an excellent platform for Shanghai to break with, often a triangle of Arnautovic up top with Hulk and Oscar behind. They can break quickly, with many of Shanghai’s goals coming in these moments. Additionally, because Shanghai are able to soak up pressure, the front three can often find themselves three versus three, which usually ends in favour of Shanghai.
Presumably, Pereira sticks with a back five to have an extra man in defence. This adds defensive solidarity. It also allows Shanghai to leave Arnautovic, Oscar and Hulk in higher positions, ready for a counter-attack. Their two midfielders are usually fairly mobile and attempt to pick up the defensive slack of the foreigners.
In counter-attacking situations, they will look to play grounded vertical passes. In addition, they use combinations between Hulk, Oscar and Arnautović which can often culminate into a scoring chance. All three are capable of beating a man and scoring. Often then it is a case of arriving near the edge of the box in controlled possession and isolating one of the front three one versus one if possible.
Shanghai if creating chances through established play will look to combine on the edge of the box, creating space for a short or delicate through ball. This would be the second-most regular way that they create chances. Finally, Oscar and Hulk both have excellent crosses and will occasionally float a ball into the box from deep for Arnautović. The Austrian has scored a number of headers this year so far.
Interestingly, Shanghai have the fourth-highest amount of possession in the league. Therefore it is rather thought-provoking that they create the majority of their chances on the break. One possible reason could be that the extra space allows their foreign players to get one on one. This potentially doesn’t happen when they hold possession for larger periods as the opposition has time to get players back and double up near the goal.
Out of possession
As mentioned previously, Pereira’s teams have been known for their intense pressing in the past. The Portuguese manager, however, has adjusted to his team. Hulk, Oscar and Arnautović can be fairly lazy out of possession. Therefore it makes it hard for SIPG to press high up when out of possession. Accordingly in most phases of possession for the other side SIPG will drop into a compact block around the halfway point.
When in there 3-5-2, they will leave Oscar and Arnautović up front such as in the instance below. SIPG look to win the ball in wide areas through pressure from the outer central midfielder and full-backs.
If playing a 3-4-3, it changes slightly. As seen below, Oscar or Hulk on their respective sides will allow it out to the full-back. Then Oscar or Hulk will close from behind and look to set a pressing trap and win it in the outer corridors. The midfielder will step onto the next man and the centre backs step up in an aggressive manner. They look to win the ball and then immediately play it into one of the remaining front three.
If they have a lengthy period of possession, SIPG will look to set up an aggressive counter-press on the edge of their box. This is usually fairly successful as the foreign contingent is often in front of the ball and not tasked with pressing immediately in the transition.
It is the central midfielders or aggressively high wing-backs who are nearest to the ball. Therefore SIPG can place good immediate pressure on the ball. Often they win it back straight away or force a long inaccurate kick from the opposition.
The majority of goals conceded for Shanghai SIPG come from in-game crosses. Set pieces come in second as the most consistent way in which SIPG concede. SIPG tend to struggle as they are often undermanned in the transition phases of the game. Oscar, Arnautović and Hulk tend to be slow in getting behind the ball and forming a block after loss of possession. In particular, offensive transition moments leave SIPG extremely open if they do not finish with an end product such as a goal or corner.
In the image below, we see how the front trio have broken with pace. The attack breaks down with Urawa regaining possession. You can clearly see in the body language of the trio that it is going to take some time for them to return back.
These scenarios then leave Shanghai having to try and defend their box with only eight players behind the ball. The central midfielders and back five will then accordingly need to narrow off in order to prevent the opposition going down the middle of their structure. This leaves large wide-open channels down the wings defensively for Shanghai.
The opposition can then progress down the wide areas with ease. As a result, Shanghai regularly have two versus one scenarios in the wide areas. Inevitably, this leads to a large number of crosses. Many of these crosses regularly end in goals.
Often the wing-back gets isolated with an overlap which leads to a low drilled cross and tap in. On other occasions like the instance below, the opposition cross from deep and exploit the lax marking in central defence.
Victor Pereira, therefore, has somewhat of a dilemma on his hands. The majority of goals for Shanghai come on the counter attack. However, they also concede a large majority of goals in transition moments after a failed counter attack. What seems to be their strength is also their weakness. It will be interesting to follow how the Portuguese manager aims to improve this problem over the coming weeks.
Pereira has tweaked his system to suit the players at his current disposal. Whilst we see iterations of the past from Pereira, their deeper defending in many parts of the game seem to be as a result of the players he is working with. By granting them some degree of defensive and attacking freedom in certain areas, Pereira is aiming to withdraw the best out of his foreign contingent. What is Shanghai’s strength is also somewhat their weakness. Pereira will be looking to work on their defensive transition in the pursuit of that illustrious first place position.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the August issue for just ₤4.99 here.