In the second leg of the semi-final between Flamengo and Grêmio, they were looking for the finalist against River Plate in the Copa Libertadores 2019, the counterpart to Champions League in South America.
After Grêmio drew a tie in the first-leg at home, they got demolished 5:0 by favourite Flamengo in the second-leg. Grêmio went in the game as the clear outsider. The team of coach Renato Gaùcho started well in the game in the first 30 minutes. However, they lost more and more the control of the game, as Flamengo held more possession and combinations. Grêmio were not able to calm down the game, anymore. Flamengo exploited some mistakes and carelessness at the right time to gain the lead. On top of this, the red-black ones had identified a weak spot in Grêmio’s defensive tactic during set-pieces.
We analyse this and more in this tactical analysis, showing how a disaster like this could happen to Grêmio.
Coach Gaùcho rebuilt his XI because he had to give his playmaker Jean Pyerre and his starting striker Luan Vieira misses due to injuries. He changed his tactics to a 4-2-3-1 formation that converted into a 4-3-3 without possession.
Grêmio pressed high with a close-packed midfield row. Behind this formation was the tactic to mark every strongly playful construction player. Flamengo should not come to fruition. Especially the central-midfielder Willian Arão, who dropped between the centre-backs during the build-up, should feel the pressure. The playful full-backs Rafinha and the former Atlético Madrid player Filipe Luìs should be marked by Grêmio’s full-backs. Éverton should cause a sensation in the offensive.
On the other side, Flamengo’s coach Jorge Jesus drew on unlimited resources. He unveiled his most likely tactic, a 4-2-3-1 formation. Next to Arão played Gérson on the pivot. Bruno Henrique should move freely around the top striker Gabriel Barbosa. The offensive lived on the outstanding statistics of the former Inter man Barbosa. His stats exhibited five goals and an assist for one before this semi-final in Copa Libertadores. Flamengo won the upper hand after 30 minutes because both full-backs participated more in the build-up as they moved stronger in the central midfield.
Grêmio’s loss of the compactness
As you can see in the picture below, Flamengo were attacking and lost the ball at Grêmio’s box. It was more than half an hour played in this situation. Hitherto, Grêmio played an intensive attacking-pressing. As you see in this picture, the defensive-oriented midfield was still very close-packed. A pass to one of the midfielder was not gaining space but furthermore was allowing Flamengo to press the ball.
Instead, Grêmio wanted to stage their winger Éverton. Grêmio also knew before the game, that Rafinha and Filipe Luìs like to interpret their position very offensively. Coming behind their backs led to scoring opportunities. So, the idea behind the pass was not so bad. But Gaùcho had to play with a less playful XI. Below, the ball was played poorly.
Fla’s Rafinha anticipated the pass and intercepted it thanks to his good positional play. The same applies to his teammate on the other side, Filipe Luìs.
As you can see below, Grêmio were not in a compact formation anymore. The initial idea to switch the game in a counter-attacking or to hold possession by Grêmio’s wingers was destroyed by such a poor pass. If the winger was holding possession, the rest of the team could catch up. In this case, Grêmio were compact again after a lost ball. But now in the situation below, Grêmio’s chains are fanned out.
Flamengo now had enough space, especially in zone 11 and on the outside. Such an experienced player like Rafinha sees this space and knows how to exploit it. He moved in it and had enough time to play a crossing. This was the key to get the stone rolling. There were several crosses from Flamengo’s wings, as you can see in the statistics of Flamengo’s crosses below.
Grêmio were actually in a pinch: should they pull back their wingers to gain compactness again and lose more passing opportunities in the forward space for this, or should the wingers still widen the field to set some counter-attacks?
Coach Gaùcho decided for compactness, but unfortunately, his team lagged through a counter. As a result, his tactic was thrown up and he had to change it again.
The accident for Grêmio took its course directly after the changeover. Flamengo extended their leadership by the goal of Barbosa just one minute after the second half was whistled. Despite the fact, that nothing changed for Grêmio, as they still needed two goals, they were not able to create chances after the 2:0.
Flamengo exercised dominance in the midfield
After Flamengo built a comfortable lead, they switched their tactics in a maintaining role. The full-backs dropped a bit to form a stable back-four. They wanted to avoid becoming countered. In this phase, between the 2:0 and the 70th minute, the statistics show a possession close to 70% for Flamengo.
As you can see in the image above, Arão had the ball. With his positional play, he has a delicate feeling for a game’s dynamics. He was the pivot between Flamengo’s offensive and defence. His teammates demonstrated good movements, too. They did not just form triangles but also diamonds, as you can see in the picture above. Arão had now three opportunities to play the ball forward. A classy midfielder like him recognizes also the space behind his unmarked forwards.
In the next image is the take-up. The scene was straight before Flamengo were making everything clear. As you can see, Grêmio had nine players behind the ball, while Flamengo attacked with five players. So, there was a manpower advantage situation for Grêmio, but Flamengo scored their third goal.
Coach Gaùcho’s team did not get access out of their superior number, because their central midfielder, right to the referee, was too passive. If he went into a defensive duel, his teammate in the bottom of the picture could help him to double. This would had the result, that Filipe Luìs would run into a covered room.
As you can see in the image above, Grêmio’s central midfielders did not get access. Giorgian De Arrascaeta ran almost 10 meters, without feeling any pressure. As a consequence, he played an interface ball straight in the box. Filipe Luìs got the ball, made a turn and got fouled – penalty. Barbosa stayed cool and converted it. He improved his stats with his second goal of the evening. After the 3:0, the game was already decided but Flamengo wanted more.
Tactical analysis of Grêmio’s defensive tactic at set-pieces
As if the exit out of the Copa Libertadores was not enough, Grêmio gave away two goals more to their rival. In this tactical analysis, we analysed also Grêmio’s desolate behaviour at set-pieces in this game.
Flamengo were able to score three goals from set-pieces – two corners from the left side and one freekick from the same side of the pitch. In all three situations, you can recognize a clear pattern, as you can see in the pictures below.
The picture above shows the second goal of the game. The ball was drawn to the first post. Grêmio defended in man-cover plus one player at the first post and another one at the edge of the box.
Flamengo ran in from the penalty point. As you can see, Grêmio had a clear majority in the first post. They even had a man directly positioned at the spot where the ball was crossing. Due to individual deficits, they elongated the ball to the second post. Here, Barbosa was defecting himself and nailed the ball under the crossbar.
The red-circled player was ineffective at his position. His task was to clear too short balls. But at that level, too short balls are rather rare. If he covered the back, his teammate at the penalty area edge could move more inside the box to block extended balls like the one in this situation.
The next scene shows the header to the 4:0. As you see, the ball came from the same side of the pitch. Again, Grêmio had the majority in the first post. The player, who covered the first post, wen along in the header duel. Grêmio lost it, in the person of defensive chief Pedro Geromel, again. Geromel just gave his comeback after an injury, so he might be not fit at this point. Grêmio had again a player, who was ineffective at the box edge.
And as if two were not enough, Flamengo made the 5:0 out of a very similar situation. They got a freekick on the left-wing, as shown in the image below.
Flamengo played a crossing on the first post. Grêmio defended again with a man-cover tactic. Like at the goals before, Flamengo ran in. One player came to the first post and the rest distributed in the middle and the second post.
Grêmio had again a majority, but in this situation, they defended just desolate. The centre-back Pablo Marí was not marked intensively. He got almost one-metre space around him. It is striking, that his direct opponent was the second centre-back of Grêmio: Walter Kannemann. Marí headed it in to the 5:0 final result. So, both centre-backs of Grêmio lost a header, which led in both cases to a goal.
In this analysis, we showed how high the level of Jesus’ team is in exploiting small mistakes.
After Grêmio had a good start against the favourite Flamengo, they limited themselves with their defensive orientated tactic. It became obvious how strong they miss their playmaker Pyerre. The highly promising talent Éverton stayed inconspicuous.
Coach Gaùcho should also think about switching his defensive tactics at set-pieces to a room-covered one, as his centre-backs lost too many one-on-one header-duels. On the other side, Jesus starting XI played like a real champion. Out of a stable defence, they withstand Grêmio’s pressure at the beginning. After the first 30 minutes played, they began to dissect their opponents’ tactics. Furthermore, they scored in important moments. Flamengo went to the final as the favourite against River Plate.