With the Brazilian Serie A‘s restart, São Paulo club Palmeiras travelled to Curitiba to face Athletico Paranaense.
Palmeiras are looking to build on their quality campaign in 2019/20 where they finished third in the league and were knocked out in the Copa Libertadores quarterfinals by Gremio. Led by the former Real Madrid manager Vanderlei Luxemburgo, the Verdão have begun the season unbeaten after two draws and a victory against Athletico Paranaense.
Athletico Paranaense finished fifth in the league and were Copa do Brasil champions in 2019. They will look to continue their continental and domestic success competing in the Copa Libertadores and the Serie A. The side from Curitiba began their season with two wins against Goias and Fortaleza before two straight defeats.
This tactical analysis will look at the tactics that allowed Palmeiras to take the three points back to São Paulo.
Lineups and formations
The home side, led by Dorival Júnior, lined up in an attack-minded 4-1-4-1. Forming the central part of the defensive unit was goalkeeper Santos, and centre-backs Lucas Halter and Thiago Heleno. The outside backs were Abner Vinicius on the left and Khellven on the right side. The lone pivot screening the defence was Wellington, while the two attacking midfielders were Léo Cittadini and Richard. On the wings for the Rubro-Negro were Vitinho and Nikão, while Carlos Eduardo led the line at striker.
Luxemburgo had Palmeiras line up in a 4-2-3-1. Goalkeeper Weverton and centre-backs Luan and Paraguayan Gustavo Gomes led the defence. Rounding out the defence were outside backs were Marcos Rocha and Diogo Barbosa. The double-pivot in midfield consisted of Patrick de Paula and former Serie A player Bruno Henrique. Playing in front of the double pivot was Lucas Lima, and flanking him were wingers Rony and Gabriel Menino. At striker was the former Spartak Moscow and AC Milan forward, Luiz Adriano.
Furacão in the attacking phase
Their main goal was to play directly to the wingers, who would knock the ball down to a supporting midfielder. They also cycled the ball frequently, to shift the Palmeiras defence and create space for the wingers to receive the ball higher up the field. Doing an analysis of their frequent passing combinations we are able to see this more clearly.
We will now look at how Athletico Paranaense executed their tactics with examples from the match.
Paranaense’s back three
In this instance from the match, we see how their shape looked when they had the ball, and how they would attempt to find their wingers.
When in possession, Athletico Paranaense would have Khellven push higher up the field and then inside. Abner Vinicius would drop level with the centre-backs to create a back three, while Khellven and Wellington would provide the inside options.
With the outside backs starting high then drifting inside, Athletico Paranaense were able to drag the defending wingers inwards and create space for their target wingers. In this example, we see Athletico Paranaense overloading the right sight of the field. Due to the Palmeiras defence being pinned back, Lucas Halter has plenty of space and time on the ball. He is able to easily pick out a direct pass to the left-winger Vitinho.
Vitinho then knocks it down to Carlos Eduardo. Although the pass is sloppy and the move breaks down shortly after, we are able to see the tactic that creates a numerical advantage for the home side.
Furacão’s defensive manipulation
If Athletico Paranaense were possessing the ball, they would cycle the ball between the back three looking for a gap in the defence. The back three made it difficult for Palmeiras to cut off the passing lanes to the centre backs using one forward. This would mean that the inverted outside backs and midfielders always had an option to pass back to maintain possession.
Using this example we are able to see this tactic in action. Khellven is seen playing the ball back to centre back Lucas Halter. His positioning has forced the Palmeiras winger inside so that he could mark him. This opens up a lane for Halter to pass or dribble through.
Since he is comfortable with the ball at his feet, Halter drives forward into space. Although Luiz Adriano does attempt to pressure Heleno, he is not able to impede his forward progress. The Athletico Paranaense defender is then able to pass to the winger Nikão.
Athletico Paranaense were able to manipulate the Palmeiras defence into opening up spaces in the channels with their ball movement and use of rotations. It kept the São Paulo club unsettled for the majority of the first half, where they remained in their defensive third.
In the next section of the analysis, we look at the changes that Palmeiras made in the second half.
Palmeiras’ half-time adjustment
Luxemburgo adjusted his team’s tactics in the second half by introducing more direct play in transition and in the build-up. With the above graph, we can see exactly after halftime is when the Verdão adjusted and began to play more direct. In transition, they would find a quick outlet pass before passing the ball directly to the opposite side of the field.
The next section of the analysis will look at how Palmeiras utilized the long pass to their advantage.
Using this example from the second half we can see Palmeiras ability to quickly shift the point of attack. As the ball is being moved up the left side, Luiz Adriano checks into the space to receive a pass. Patrick de Paula is supporting just inside, creating a third man passing option.
After he receives the ball, he turns and quickly passes the ball to the inverted Diogo Barbosa. The right-back then comfortably plays the ball to the opposite flank where Gabriel Menino is 1v1 with his defender.
In possession, they would utilise the same concept but would look to create a 2v2 on the opposite flank with the outside back and winger. Using this example from the second half we see the ball being switched to the left side of the field. Diogo Barbosa is bombing forwards to overlap Zé Rafael, who is checking into the half-space to receive the ball.
Zé Rafael plays the overlapping defender and moves forward himself in the halfspace. Since the winger has received the ball further away from his natural position, the defender marking him has vacated the space in behind.
Utilizing this rotation in the channels, Zé Rafael is able to make an underlapping run to receive the ball closer to the penalty area.
This tactic pushed Athletico Paranaense’s defensive line back. By playing more direct Palmeiras was able to enjoy more possession in the attacking third of the field.
Verdão’s defensive adjustment
In the first half, Palmeiras’ defended in a 4-2-3-1. Looking to cut the centre-backs passing lane with the lone striker, they would man-mark across the midfield and wide areas. Athletico Paranaense’s attacking shape made this difficult since they were operating with a back three in possession. Below we see an example of what this looked like in the first half.
In the second half, Palmeiras adjusted and began to defend in a 4-3-3. They did this by dropping the forward line to block any forward passes through the middle. If the ball was passed to one of the wide players, then the winger would press.
As we see in the example above the midfielders were able to man-mark, and force the Rubro-Negro to play riskier long balls. After subbing out Luiz Adriano, Willian began to drop between the wingers and use his cover shadow to block off middle passing lanes.
While Palmeiras adjusted to the home side’s tactics, Athletico Paranaense continued to utilize their game plan. The problem was that there was no slight adjustment to the way they operated.
In this example, we see Lucas Halter playing the ball to Khellven. The difference now is the way Palmeiras defended. Instead of following his mark and allowing Khellven to move inside, Zé Rafael marked the space and forced the outside back wide.
As the ball arrives, Khellven attempts to cut inside to create an overload but is forced back outside with the physical arrival of the Palmeiras winger. Since his only option is to play to his winger, Khellven does so.
The issue here is that they are so close together. Having been corralled by the Palmeiras defence, the winger attempts to dribble out into the penalty area. Here he is met by Gustavo Gomes, who clears the ball towards the forwards to create an opportunity in transition.
Palmeiras long ball tactics and defensive changes unsettled the home side. The Furacão were not able to adjust to this and attempted to recreate what made them successful in the first half to no avail.
Athletico Paranaense were not able to convert their possession into quality scoring opportunities and were wasteful when the time came to take the lead. Palmeiras defensive tactics and second-half adjustment was the difference between the two sides. Vanderlei Luxemburgo will be happy with Palmeiras response after a slow start to their campaign.
The race to win the league has gotten very interesting since Flamengo has not started brightly, and these are two teams that will challenge for the top three spots. It is worth keeping an eye on Athletico PR and Palmeiras.
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