In the last round of this year’s Série A competition, second-placed Santos was playing against the crowned champions, Flamengo. At first sight, there wasn’t much to play for, except for Santos securing their second place in case of victory. But in this league, the game itself is a great motivator, so fans were expecting a great fight between the two biggest clubs. An astonishing win for Santos in the last game of the season will surely leave good memories in the hearts of their fans. In this tactical analysis, we are going to see how Jorge Sampaoli managed to get this well-deserved victory over their formidable opponents.

Team News & Lineups

Série A 2019: Santos vs Flamengo - tactical analysis tactics
Lineups for this game (Credit: Wyscout)

Flamengo lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1, their most-used formation this season. Crushing victory against Avaí was gained with basically another lineup. So, for this game, Jorge Jesus made 8 changes and put up the best available starting line-up: the main goalkeeper, Diego Alves, has stepped in the first team, Filipe Luis as well, the main pair of centre-backs, Rodrigo Caio and Pablo Marí, were back on the pitch. Also, the midfield duo of Gerson and Willian Arão were playing together. Gabriel Barbosa was back in his original position, i.e. a striker, from which he scored an incredible 25 goals this season, and Bruno Henrique, the second-best striker in Série A, was playing down the left flank.

As for Santos, they were also playing in their usual 4-3-3 formation. Their best striker was back in his position, one of the best players of this match Carlos Sánchez was also back and partnering with Diego Pituca in the midfield. For the last changes, Jorge was substituting Luan Peres, who got a red card in the last game and Lucas Verissimo was playing centre-back together with Gustavo Henrique.

We can see that teams were beginning this match in different positions. Flamengo were in much better shape after getting rested and also they were on a good run of form, winning the last five matches in the league. whereas Santos were mixing up great performances with defeats. So, how come Santos get such a terrific result? We will dive into the tactics of the managers and analyse the fixture.

Flamengo build-up play and pressing style

Jorge Jesus used 3-4-3 formation for the team’s build-up play. As said earlier, their formation for this match was 4-2-3-1, so for this transformation to happen Willian Arão was going in the defensive line to form a back-three with Pablo Marí and Rodrigo Caio, while fullbacks were pushing high. It allows having enough players in defence and also provides a lot of options in midfield, allowing to form multiple triangles for the build-up.

Série A 2019: Santos vs Flamengo - tactical analysis tactics
You can see Willian Arão joining the ball line to help to progress the ball and allowing Filipe Luis and Rodinei to go forward (Credit: Wyscout)
Série A 2019: Santos vs Flamengo - tactical analysis
This is another example of Willian Arão joining the back-three to help in the build-up (Credit: Wyscout)

Flamengo’s attacking play is built around the fast movement of the players and the ball. Copa Libertadores finalists often make overloads on one flank in order to distribute the ball to the free player on another side of the pitch.

Série A 2019: Santos vs Flamengo - tactical analysis tactics
You can see 4 Flamengo players making an overload down the pitch (Credit: Wyscout)

This team definitely has players for this type of football. Barbosa, Bruno Henrique and especially Gerson, who is the motor of this team, performing a huge amount of running work. Attacking players have the permission to free roam in the final third, for example, Barbosa often drops deep to receive the ball, just like Roberto Firmino in Liverpool. This creates an enormous amount of different variations of progressing the ball forward, with players allowed to make unexpected decisions.

Their defensive organization and pressing style are one of the most thoughtful defensive structures in Brazil. While defending, they tend to form a 4-4-2 or sometimes(like in this match) a 4-4-1-1, which is practically the same structure.

Série A 2019: Santos vs Flamengo - tactical analysis tactics
Here is an example of Flamengo’s defensive structure using 4-4-1-1, with one of the midfielders pressing the opponent who has the ball (Credit: Wyscout)

Jorge Jesus uses a man-marking tactic when defending, so like in the image above, Flamengo player is putting pressure on his opponent(left midfielder in this example).

Also, it is important to understand that this is not a rigid structure. Like in their attacking play, players can move out of position depending on the situation on the pitch.

Série A 2019: Santos vs Flamengo - tactical analysis tactics
This is an example when players are not precisely on their positions, still defending like an organized unit (Credit: Wyscout)

Santos build-up play and pressing style

Santos really needed to fight hard in order to resist this Flamengo team, and that’s what they did.

Their build-up was much more similar to the build-up of other Brazilian teams, with a huge intent on the individual skills of players. The success of every attack pretty much depended on every player’s decision, not on the organised attacking system. In this match, Santos players showed their best qualities and produced great individual performances.

In order to break the first line of pressing, Santos used, for the most part, long balls with the hope to get something out of it. Surprisingly, it was working pretty well and they created a lot of chances from the second balls.

Série A 2019: Santos vs Flamengo - tactical analysis tactics
Santos players were great under heavy pressure. In the image above you can see Gustavo Henrique successfully hits the ball long (Credit: Wyscout)

Their main goal in the attack was to get the ball to their wingers as much as possible. When the wingers were in the penalty area, they would often cut back and pass it to the midfielder or another winger who was running towards the penalty arc. This is how they scored the first goal of the game:

Série A 2019: Santos vs Flamengo - tactical analysis tactics
Soteldo passes the ball over to Marinho and Brazilian scores a nice goal (Credit: Wyscout)

The second one was caused by an opponent’s mistake and 35-year-old midfielder Sánchez hit it precisely into the left corner in the 23rd minute.

Santos’s pressing style required a lot of intensity and work ethic from the players. Their main idea was creating 2v1 situations while defending. So, wingers were always tracing back, as well as the forwards were helping in the defence too.

This way of defending left Flamengo attackers helpless, and they haven’t managed to create a clear-cut chance in this game (0.53 xG for Flamengo and 1.98 for Santos)

Série A 2019: Santos vs Flamengo - tactical analysis tactics
In the image above you can see Bruno Henrique is up against two players. And a similar pattern can be noticed throughout the whole game (Credit: Wyscout)

With such desire, it all came down to hitting the net when creating goalscoring opportunities, and the players didn’t slip up. Santos were leading 2-0 before the break, totally in control of the game.

Soteldo’s performance

In the second half, Flamengo had to step up and show their fans that they are the actual champions. So, they began to leave big gaps behind them while attacking, and this is the moment when Santos’s left-winger Yeferson Soteldo stepped up massively. He wasn’t quiet in the first half too, but it was the second half when he showed his best qualities. He regularly was given space down his flank, and he used it efficiently:

Série A 2019: Santos vs Flamengo - tactical analysis tactics
You can see that Soltedo has huge amounts of space to run into
Série A 2019: Santos vs Flamengo - tactical analysis tactics
Soteldo provides a low cross for Eduardo, who finishes it with the header (Credit: Wyscout)

The fourth and final goal came from the same manner, only from the other side of the pitch, where right-back Ferraz made a cross for Sánchez, who scored a double.

Conclusion

In this analysis, we saw how determination and work from the first until the last minute can bring unexpected and terrific results. Some can say that this match doesn’t play much a difference, because there is such a gap between the teams in terms of results. But the passion and desire showed by Santos in the last and seemingly meaningless match of the season is worth a lot of respect. It is a great achievement against such a team, and, let’s be real, it is a pretty cool way to finish of the season.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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Artyom Osipov