The match disputed for the Round 36 of the Brasileiro Serie A between Palmeiras and Flamengo could have been more exciting in different circumstances. These two teams were fighting for the title 6 months ago when the new Flamengo manager Jorge Jesus took over. Now, with Flamengo being crowned champions last weekend, there isn’t much to play for.
Nevertheless, the match ended in a 3-1 victory for the champions of Brazil. This tactical analysis gives insights into the revolutionary tactics used in this game by Flamengo that gave them another comfortable victory, extending their non-losing streak to 28 games. The tactics used by Jesus are yet to find a tough opposition, and this analysis shows that Palmeiras are yet another team that struggled to put a stop to Flamengo’s attacking fluidity.
The hosts Palmeiras lined up with its strongest eleven after having a midweek game against Fluminense. They knew Flamengo would be their toughest challenge of the competition and playing at home meant they had to show up at their best. Key players like Dudu and Felipe Melo returned to the squad to increase their chances of a positive result at home. The team lined up in a 4-2-2-2 formation, which then changed into either a 4-2-2 with a diamond in midfield or even to a 5-3-2 when defending.
In return, Flamengo also presented a stronger starting 11 after a midweek game against Ceara, where they won comfortably by 4-1. Felipe Luis, Rafinha and Gerson returned to the starting eleven after resting from the Copa Libertadores final, while Gabigol was suspended in midweek due to receiving a red card in the final. Although they have already won the league, Jesus does not want to slow down the pace. Every point they now earn increases their record-breaking points, so clearly, he wants to get as many as they can. The team lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but it was clear that Jesus still wants to use its 4-4-2 formation when defending and give full freedom to its players during the attack.
Flamengo finding the spaces in midfield
Throughout the game, it seemed like Flamengo had all the space they could ask for in midfield. The fact that Palmeiras were stretched out on the pitch allowed Flamengo’s build-up to be very fluid and players constantly moved out of position to participate in it. Thus, Flamengo were always able to penetrate through the centre of midfield and pose threats from there.
The image above shows an example of the spaces left in the centre of midfield by Palmeiras. The 4-2-2-2 formation was a poor choice by the host’s manager because it gave Flamengo exactly what it wanted. Jesus’ tactics revolve around attacking fluidity. This is showcased in the image above, where Gabigol (the striker) drops into the halfway line to receive the ball in between 4 Palmeiras players. This situation did not only allow Flamengo to create an overload in the midfield and penetrate through it, but it also made Palmeiras’ pressing obsolete.
Once again it is visible to see Gabigol dropping back into his half to receive the ball from the centre-back. Not only is he free from the press, but he also has loads of space and time to turn and run at the Palmeiras defence.
This time we see Gerson occupying the space between the Palmeiras four-man pressing, which includes the two strikers up top and the two attacking midfielders. Once again, Gerson has time to turn and pass the ball to his free team-mate Felipe Luis, who in turn has the space and time to run with the ball down the left flank.
Now, how are Flamengo able to get so much space in the middle of the pitch? By observing the positioning of its defence, a clearer explanation comes into perspective.
The picture above shows how Flamengo positions its defence in the build-up, and how Palmeiras tried to stop them from playing out from the back. Each of Flamengo’s players from the three-man block that Jesus uses for its build-up phase is marked by an opposition player. However, due to the lack of width from the 4-2-2-2 formation, the Flamengo full-backs are left with big amounts of space to receive the ball.
This image is the follow up from the one before it, where Diego Alves (the keeper) kicks a long ball out wide to the right-back Rafinha. The space he has on the right flank is more than enough to control the ball and choose his next passing option with a clear head. It is visible to see Palmeiras’ diamond in midfield, which lacked width and compactness, thus why the wide areas on even the middle of the pitch were free from opposition press.
Once again, it is visible to see how the Palmeiras pressing style is very ineffective against the Flamengo build-up play. The image above shows another important factor in Flamengo’s tactics. The Palmeiras player on the left is left with a dilemma. He either presses the right-back, which gives space for the dropping attacking player to receive the ball in the middle of the pitch, or he presses the player in the midfield, which in turn gives the right-back space to receive the ball and run down the flank.
The image above is the follow-up of the previous one, where the player in midfield received the ball unmarked, had time to turn around and find one of his team-mates, another attacking player that dropped into the midfield to receive the ball. It is clear to see that the player receiving the ball is also free of the opposition press, and thus, he can play a perfect through ball to Gabigol, and that is how Flamengo get their first goal of the match.
Flamengo’s intensive pressing
One of Jesus’ key tactics in his Flamengo side is the pressing. The players adopt a man-to-man style of pressing that is so intensive and so relentless that it forces the opposition to clear the ball almost all the time.
Here is an example of how Flamengo press. When the opposition tries to play out from the back, each of Flamengo’s players follow their man around, not allowing them to be a passing option for the build-up phase. All of Palmeiras’ players are man-marked by an opposition player. Thus they are forced to kick the ball long.
Another example of this kind of press. Flamengo does commit a lot of players forward to prevent the opposition from building up from the back. You can see Flamengo’s left-back Felipe Luis following his marker to the last third of the pitch. Flamengo has no caution in keeping its defensive shape when pressing like this, which can also be a dangerous factor for a counter-attack.
Nevertheless, it was with this kind of pressing that Flamengo reached their third and final goal of the match. Notice how, even in its half, Palmeiras is outnumbered four to five players. This intensive pressure was more than enough to force the Palmeiras’ centre-back to make a mistake and giving the ball to the opposition. Gabigol, with his incredible form, did not miss from such a short distance.
Palmeiras diagonal balls
As previously mentioned, Flamengo can be caught out in the counter due to their style of pressing, and that is precisely what Palmeiras tried to do.
During their attacking phase, Palmeiras would pass the ball around until a situation like this happened, where the Flamengo midfield block would be only on one side. This would happen because of the man-to-man pressing done by Flamengo. As you can see, Palmeiras would commit most of its players on one side of the pitch to make Flamengo’s pressing stay only on that side, just like it is shown in the image above.
Then one of Palmeiras’ defensive midfielders would get the ball and switch flanks as fast as possible, so that Flamengo would be unbalanced on that side, leaving the Palmeiras’ attacking midfielder or full-back on a 1v1 situation with the Flamengo full-back.
This 1v1 situation is showcased in this image here. Flamengo are now rotating to the other flank, while the Palmeiras player is in a strong position to create a dangerous attack for his team. Because of Flamengo’s compact defensive structure, playing out wide was Palmeiras’ best chance of scoring, however, because their formation lacked width, they had to be very patient for opportunities like this to occur. Thus why they were only able to score a goal late in the match, which came from a wide position.
Once again, Flamengo showed why they are the champions of Brazil and of South America. Their fluidity and freedom in attack is still a tactical mistery to most managers in the national league, and their intensive pressure does not give any breathing room to the opposition to play their game. As a result, they increase their streak to 28 games without losing. The question is: who will beat them?
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