The Liga NOS restart is an opportunity Boavista Porto and head coach Daniel Ramos need to grasp with two hands. Before the competition was put on hold due to the lockdown, Porto FC’s neighbours found themselves 11th in the league standings. This evening, Boavista take on 8th-placed Moreinse in a clash between teams separated by only one point.
Below, we take a look at how exactly Boavista are set up to compete with Portuguese’s finest football teams. In order to make the following tactical analysis as comprehensive and detailed as possible, the offensive, defensive, both transition phases and set-pieces tactics will be studied.
A spacious offensive structure
At Boavista Porto, the Portuguese-born Ramos appointed one day after Lito Vidigal’s sacking on the 17th of December, has preferred three-at-the-back formations over anything. Of course, these set-ups offer numerical advantages in both the offensive and defensive phases. In the first and second offensive phases (first and middle third of the pitch), numerical advantage across the backline is recommended to comfort the centre-backs; in potential transitions, but also in possession.
A well-distributed string of players behind the ball creates more angles to access players in front of the ball. Boavista Porto does this very well, yet the spacing in relation to the forwards do not complement this tactic. The picture below further highlights this spacing issue, which also appears in their defensive structures.
While these distances originally seem to be disturbing their possession in the second phase, it may be pre-meditated. Ramos’ 3-2-5 stretches the opposition horizontally using the full-backs. This generates more space between the lines centrally, but Boavista rarely take advantage of that. Rather, they switch play from left to right, putting in a cross or shooting from long range.
As seen in the picture, the right-back is very advanced, hugging the touchline. This allows wingers to operate in the half-spaces as illustrated on the left-hand side (the left-back is out of the frame). Naturally, the wingers play much tighter to the centre-forward now, encouraging intricate link-up play. Yet, despite this organisation, the Boavista XI struggle to move up and down the pitch as a compact unit, evident in defensive transitions.
Another mishap is their diversity in the final third. Crosses and long shots are their go-to goal sources, neglecting quick play around the opposition box.
Most shots Boavista take are located from outside the area, mostly from the half-spaces. The aim of these long shots is not necessarily to score directly (because the unlikelihood is sky-high), but rather to rebound the ball goalwards. Hence, most of these shots dip right in front of the goalkeeper; one of the toughest shots goalkeepers can face due to the unpredictability of the surface, ball, direction and bounce.
The crosses are one-sided because of Boavista’s pattern in possession; the left side is way more fluid than its counterpart. Below we see the structure of Boavista’s left side:
Irrespective of who is playing, the left-winger always drops more than the right-winger. While this structure does not comply with the rules of positional play, namely to not occupy the same vertical and horizontal lanes more than twice, it seems to be effective. The intentional overload attracts opponents, creating a “weak side” on the opposite side of the field. Due to the current location of the ball, the opponents turn their backs on the weak side, while a teammate can run freely in their blind side. Boavista Porto’s right-back Carraça is their main outlet in this pattern. At the end of this pre-meditated move, a cross is to be expected, as previously mentioned.
Yet, because of Ramos’ expansive and attacking philosophy, the team struggles very much dealing with defensive transitions.
A rest defence too spacious to defend in
The rest of the defence is the shape or structure a team establishes in possession to limit the threat when the opposition ultimately conquers the ball. Yet, some teams are considerably better coached in these situations than others. Some bypass this conundrum by committing ‘tactical fouls’, but all have to remain compact and allow as little space as possible. Boavista Porto barely tries any of the tactics suggested above.
As depicted above, only the 3-2 structure remains completely intact, due to the high positioning of both full-backs. In order to avoid granting the opposition this much space, it would seem feasible to only let one full-back advance at a time; offering more depth in defence. While three centre-backs in defensive transitions seem useful due to the numerical advantage, they are still very easily taken out when the opposition runs at them in a straight line.
Boavista’s centre-backs are often exposed to for example 3v3 situations due to the eradicate pressing decisions the two (often underloaded) midfielders make – reminiscent of Jorginho at Chelsea.
In this particular situation, the ball-carrier has a positional advantage over the two central midfielders next to him so I will not count them into the equation. Two runners ahead of the carrier stretch the back three by running to their open shoulder. The lack of communication is highlighted when the middle centre-back, former Bundesliga player Ricardo Costa steps out and opens the lane to the centre-forwards.
Settled shape in defensive phases
When Boavista successfully settle after an opposition counter-attack, they can showcase their 5-4-1 block – of course, included in this analysis. Much like the Inter side coached by Antonio Conte, Boavista defend with two broad lines (5-4 backbone).
The right-sided midfielder of the second line doesn’t appear in the picture for reasons I will explain later, but this very much still is a 5-4-1 formation, which Ramos sometimes alters to a 5-3-2 dependent on the opposition build-up play.
This picture tells a lot about the traits Boavista resonate when set up in this formation. First of all, there is always pressure on a wide player, due to the wide defence created by a line of five. In this screenshot, it is the midfielder pressing though. This defensive tactic is particularly useful due to the emergence of creative full-backs, such as Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool.
Notice how Ricardo Costa, the most central defender, is not paying attention due to the limited threat in front of him. Rather, he’s communicating with the right centre-back. Despite this detail, the block is mostly solidly organised.
Boavista’s block attempts to limit central access (by man-marking the opposition), and press aggressively once the ball reaches wide areas. In essence, it is a pressing trap, theoretically, the opposition would have 360° to play out of in the centre, while the sidelines limit their playing field to a mere 180°. This tactic is particularly useful when the ball is caught between the defensive and midfield line – as there are more black & white shirts to block exit routes. In the picture above though, it only blocks a long ball from the full-back.
While trapping the opponent out wide is clever, it also requires teamwork – like any pressing tactic. It would be fair to say this is not the best feature of Ramos’ Boavista.
As seen above, the left-back jumps to meet and challenge the ball-carrier. Previously, the efficiency of this tactic was mentioned – but so too was its downside. Boavista does not shift well horizontally; meaning they don’t communicate well across the backline and fail to pick up new opponents.
This picture gives us a birds-eye view of the situation, but also where the centre-backs need to be shifting to. Their current standards of shifting often let them down, opening massive holes which the opposition attacks.
Another issue the 5-4-1 (think of it as a Trojan horse in Boavista’s case) encounters in the Estadio do Bessa, is the eradicate positioning of right-midfielder Gustavo Sauer, who does not retreat deeply enough in defensive phases. As this leaves open passing lanes and acres of space, it is something that needs to be worked on.
Last but not least, their rigid man-marking system in midfield also deserves some attention. Earlier I pointed out Boavista’s aim to deny central access in the second phase, which they do by strict man-marking.
The tactic is very self-explanatory; and also one of the oldest in the game of football. Every midfielder has his specific opponent which he marks – but Boavista’s version has a more modern twist. Reminiscent of zonal marking (but with more aggressive 1v1 duels), Ramos’ midfielders pass on the opposition players when they are moving. For obvious reasons, however, this requires great communication skills – something Boavista lack. A run from an opponent needs to be noticed in a split second – because football is a game of fine margins. That split second can give the opponent the chance to turn and consequently find that killer pass.
The picture also shows Paulinho pressing the ball-carrier – a key principle of blocks that is too often overlooked. While pressing, he successfully casts a shadow over his previous opponent. This ‘cover shadow’ is another popular tactic related to Liverpool’s recent success.
Ramos admittedly does not have the quickest players at his disposal; thus less emphasis is put on patterns in offensive transitions. Despite these factors, the players still respect most of the basic principles of counter-attacking: over- and underlaps, passing into space, supporting the ball carrier. The key to a successful counter-attack is creating a decision crisis for the (underloaded) opponents. Factors such as speed, variety, number of attackers, faints and over- or underlaps all contribute to this crisis.
As previously touched on, Boavista respect the factors they have in their locker.
The overlaps are the most prominent element of Boavista’s counter-attacking game; as shown above. Altogether, it does not seem as if Ramos puts much time into offensive transitions on the training ground. Overlaps are simple yet very effective; as the opponent in a 1v2 has to turn and swivel, losing momentum, speed, direction, and perhaps eventually footing.
Boavista don’t specialise in innovative set-piece routines either, but they don’t score often from them either.
Their main offensive corner pattern is runner-orientated; there are three main runners. One starts in the everyone’s blind spot and runs to the back post, one starts from the middle pack and swarms the ‘keeper, while the last one runs to the front post to flick the ball on if it’s short. In the rebound zone, one player waits to prevent a turnover or even take a shot at goal.
On the other end, Boavista defend corners with some basic mistakes. First of all, the gap (highlighted with the white line) on the six-yard line is too spacious to defend; and easily exploited. On the back post, the player is in access but not close enough to follow possible movement. Ultimately, the rebound zone is occupied by solely opposition players. Hence, the chances of a counter-attack are lessened.
On free-kicks, the “Panteras” like to hit a spare man at the back post. This is possible because the opposition is turned into the location of the ball and where it’ll probably go; the spare man moves in their blind side. Because of his deep starting position, he also gains speed and has a dynamic advantage over anyone trying to stop him. In order to give that player more space, the players in front will attract defenders and run to the front post.
Defensively, Boavista stick to their pre-meditated height of line, irrespective of the opponent’s starting position.
Ramos’ side often gets a taste of their own medicine, i.e. the blind-side runner and the dynamic advantage. With effectively ten players behind the ball and seven in the defensive line, Boavista offers little counter-attacking threat.
Since taking over after Lito Vidigal’s bumpy season, Ramos has not seen his team rise up the table that much nor score lots of goals; but he has implemented a new, functional system in next to no time. Pre-season will be a good opportunity to iron out their weak points, such as their communication, spacing in offence and rest defence. Set-pieces can be worked on and would be fruitful for a team like Boavista; a very sustainable goal source, with little injury risk due to how little energy it consumes.
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