In this tactical analysis, we analysed the game between América de Cali and Grêmio. It was the first matchday in Group E in the Copa Libertadores, the South American counterpart to the Champions League. Grêmio qualified from finishing fourth in the Brazilian Série A while América de Cali qualified by winning the Colombian League. Grêmio won in Cali with a 0-2 due to their tactics and individual players.
We looked at why Grêmio fielded a defensive-oriented tactic in this analysis as the three-time Copa Libertadores winners scored in two convenient moments. Renato Gaúcho’s squad scored through a set-piece and a counter-attack.
As you can see in the line-ups above, both head coaches drew on what seemed like unlimited resources. Alexandre Guimarães has been the head coach of América de Cali since June 2019 and he played with his most commonly used 4-3-3. Coach Guimarães gave Adrián Ramos a miss – the former Borussia Dortmund player is the most experienced in Guimarães’ squad, but he has lost his agility. The statistics show that América were pressing high and compact against the favourites from Brazil. The length between their lines accounted only 37 metres, compared to the 50 metres from Grêmio.
The team from Renato Gaúcho started also with his common 4-3-3 tactics. He overloaded the central midfield to gain possession in this zone. Besides, his pair of wingers should get space on the flanks as he banked on his fast wingers Alisson and Éverton. Everton is very fast and has a significant technique. This is why he is linked to Manchester City. After Renato Gaúcho’s Grêmio led with two goals, they switched their tactics to a 4-5-1 formation. Grêmio played this tactic also in their defensive formation.
A view on the stats revealed América de Cali as the evadable underdog. Their squad is worth € 20.03 Mil. against € 97.13 Mil. for Grêmio’s team. But the statistics also unfolded the fact that the teams operated at almost an eye level. América de Cali had 53% possession and won 50% of their duels. Also, the stats in the passing accuracy are quite similar. While Grêmio passed with an accuracy of 86%, América de Cali had 85% accuracy.
The deciding difference in this Copa Libertadores group stage match was the quality of chances. Both teams shot five times on the opponent’s goal, but only Grêmio scored twice. Gaúcho’s team had an expected goal rate of 1.37, so they outscored their opportunities. On the other hand, Guimarães’ squad had an expected goal rate of 0.94. So, América de Cali underperformed in front of the goal. Only 0.24 of it was in the second half after they trailed by two goals.
Analysis of Grêmio’s organised defensive lines vs América de Cali’s lack of courage
In the tactical analysis below, you can see how Grêmio defended with compact lines. América de Cali built up around the half-way line.
The Colombian team overloaded the wing with midfielders, where the ball was at. Thus, they wanted to draw the combination play due to their numerical advantage. Meanwhile, Grêmio defended in a deep block. Their tactic was to straighten the spaces in the threatening areas as both wingers of Grêmio dropped into the second line.
As you see in the analysis above, América de Cali had almost eight players behind the ball. With such a defensive-oriented tactic, it is difficult to gain threatening positions. There were only two players left to gain possession in Grêmio’s half. Furthermore, Grêmio is well structured in their defensive formation.
So, it was easy for Grêmio to keep América de Cali away from their goal. As you see, Guimarães’ central midfielder ran up towards Grêmio’s midfield-line. He aimed to shift the defensive formation but Grêmio’s Alisson reacted correctly. He ran in a curved shape towards the player, who had possession. Alisson covered the passing line to his opponent by this move. Alisson also realised his right full-back behind him, so his opponent could not gain space down the wing. América de Cali’s left-winger was covered.
Also, Alisson guided the player with the ball towards his central midfielder. As a result, they were able to double him. Instead of going into the dribbling, América de Cali’s midfielder tipped to his half and played a pass back. This gave Grêmio time to reorganise their lines again.
América de Cali missed penetration in Grêmio’s half. The next analysis shows a similar situation. Grêmio defended with the same formation. The centre-back Juan Segovia built up.
The Brazilians were attacking when América de Cali crossed the halfway line. So the centre-back remained unmarked and had time to build up. But instead of gaining space and fanning out, América de Cali’s player came towards Segovia. They had five players in their half against no player from Grêmio. These players were missed in the final third. Admittedly, coach Guimarães protected his team against counter-attacks but they would have also had a numerical advantage with two or three players in the back.
The image below shows how América de Cali should have acted to gain more opportunities. This is how you fan out a defensive block tactic.
There are still three players to provide counter-attacks. The rest of the team should fan out widely. América de Cali had to extend every space in the opponents half. Their goal should have been to stretch Grêmio’s lines. Afterwards, they had to shift the ball quickly. This results in passing alleys between the lines.
As you see in the tactical analysis above, there were no more than two players in a horizontal and in a vertical line. An exception is the right full-back because he is on his way behind the back-four. Due to the tiering, there were three passing opportunities, which all gain space. The red passing line shows, how América de Cali would have been able to overplay both passing lines with one pass. Segovia had enough time to play this long ball exactly.
Grêmio’s switch to the last third
Grêmio’s strength is their switch between the well-organised defence to their counter-attacks on the wings. Éverton is the target player. The following tactical analysis shows a counter-attack from Grêmio. They won the ball in the situation above. They switched the play as their coach Gaúcho’s tactics targeted it.
Grêmio won the ball centrally because América de Cali played a poor ball between Grêmio’s lines. There was just one striker from América de Cali against three Grêmio midfielders. América de Cali’s midfield pushed up too late, too. Grêmio forwarded the ball in this zone with two one-touch passes. Éverton made a run deep into the opponent’s half.
Diego Souza controlled the pass in the image above. He stood with his back to América de Cali’s goal, as his task was to shift the ball to the wingers. Souza just needed two touches to play a through pass to Éverton. He was in a one-on-one against the last defender. Éverton won it and made a shot.
Despite Guimarães team having more than enough man in their half, they ran anyway into a counter-attack. Gaúcho’s player who passed, remained unmarked, so they had enough time to play exact balls. Grêmio needed just seven seconds from winning the ball to finishing it. At least a counter-attack should not take longer than 15 seconds.
The next tactical analysis shows the situation straight before the second goal. América de Cali pressed with almost half of the team.
Grêmio built-up with two pivots involved. Guimarães’ central forward Michael Rangel covered the pass to the second centre-back. He also moved into space, where he offered an opportunity for a through ball. All Grêmio players were marked well, except the central midfielder. His opponent came in a little bit too late.
This made the pressing counter-productive. Due to this fact, Matheus Henrique was able to control the ball firstly. Afterwards, he could feint his opponent and turn around him. Now, there were six players from América de Cali, who were outplayed. Henrique ran towards the back-four.
Afterwards, he played a through ball on the left wing to Éverton. In the tactical analysis above, you can see how Éverton went pacey into the penalty box. América de Cali midfield dropped back slowly. Éverton dribbled against three opponents. As a consequence of these two facts, zone 14 was completely uncovered. Henrique pushed into this space. He got the ball, controlled it, and then finished it with a strike into the net. He was not under pressure, as América de Cali’s formation was unorganised.
With the two goals lead in the back, Grêmio just maintained the game. They stood defensively organised in their 4-5-1 formation. They did not miss out anything. But why was América de Cali not able to gain more opportunities in the first minutes as they pressed high?
Grêmio’s overload on the pivot
Grêmio were especially at the beginning of the game, able to manage the game. They overloaded the central zone. Their three midfielders moved consistently between the first two lines of América de Cali. In the analysis below, you can see such a typical situation.
Henrique got the ball from the centre-back. The other two midfielders were stretching the field. Both were offering passing opportunities, as the full-backs went up. If América de Cali would mark the Grêmio’s pivots, there would be passing alleys through the centre. These alleys are far more dangerous.
The tactical analysis below shows another build-up like this one before. Again, all three midfielders were involved. Henrique initiated the situation.
Maicon fanned out again to the right wing. He locked América de Cali’s striker Rangel with this movement. Lucas Silva got the ball in the centre, again. Grêmio had a numerical advantage in this zone. Henrique was saying to Éverton to hold his possession on the wing. This is what América de Cali lacked. Henrique held his position, too. By this move, he locked his opponent player, which opened the passing alley to Éverton. Éverton got the ball and played a one-on-one afterwards.
Due to this communication and rotation on the pivot, Grêmio dominated in this Copa Libertadores game. This is what coach Gaúcho wanted to see from his team in this match.
In the end, Grêmio had enough experience to win this game. They managed the game conservatively after they led. Noticeable players were the left-winger, Éverton, and the central midfielder Henrique. Both were always involved in decisive situations. So, it was no coincidence, that the second goal was a co-production of these two players.
América de Cali are an unpleasant opponent in this Copa Libertadores. They can combine, but they have to act braver if they want to withstand the group stage. Grêmio started with a win in this tournament. They have chances to come far in this Copa Libertadores, as the offence wins games but the defence wins championships.