The Brazilian Serie A continues its start to the 2020 season, with two historic clubs that were not too far apart in 2019. Corinthians and Fortaleza met for the first time this season during matchday 5.
As one of the biggest clubs in São Paulo, Corinthians has a massive following in Brazil and around the world. The Timão finished the 2019 season in 8th place and earned a qualifying spot to the Copa Libertadores. Corinthians have begun the 2020 season with a win, a loss and a draw.
Led by legendary goalkeeper Rogério Ceni, Fortaleza finished 2019 one point behind Corinthians. The Tricolor enjoyed a relatively competitive season, making it to the first round of the knockout stage of the Copa Sudamericana, losing to Argentine side Independiente. Fortaleza was able to bounce back from two early defeats to win and draw the past two games.
This tactical analysis will look at how both teams ended their first meeting in a stalemate.
Lineups and formations
The home side, led by Tiago Nunes, lined up in a 4-2-3-1. Goalkeeper Cássio started between the posts with centre backs Gil and Danilo Avelar in front of him. Rounding out the defence for Timão were outside backs Sidcley and Fágner. The double-pivot for Corinthians consisted of Victor Cantillo and Éderson. The São Paulo side’s front four were Ángelo Araos as the attacking midfielder, Léo Natel and Ruan the wingers and former Manchester City man Jo at striker.
Rogério Ceni lined the Tricolor up in a 4-2-3-1. Starting in goal was Felipe Alves with Paulão and Jackson as the centre backs. Gabriel Dias and Bruno Melo were the left and right backs. Fortaleza’s midfield three consisted of Juninho and Felipe in the double pivot, with David as the attacking midfielder. The wings Osvaldo and Romarinho, with Wellington Paulista leading the line at striker.
Timão in the attacking phase
Corinthians enjoyed 60% of the possession in the game, and they made sure to test Felipe Alves when they attacked. The Time do Povo registered 18 shots, with 7 on target. Of their 101 possessions, 72% reached Fortaleza’s half.
Looking at the analysis of their average positions, Corinthians played with a very high line and reduced the spaces between themselves vertically. This tactic was to ensure an option between lines, and quick recovery in transition.
Corinthians mainly attacked through the left-hand side, as we see above. The following part of the analysis will go into detail as to how they implemented this tactic.
Left side, strong side
Timão’s build-up tactic was to drop one of the midfielders between the centre backs. Typically this player was Éderson. In an asymmetrical move that is slightly similar to Bayern Munich, the two wingers would play closer to the striker Jo and Sidcley would push higher up the field from his left-back position. Fágner would slide inside next to Cantillo.
Using an analysis of Corinthians most frequent passing combinations we see how their possessions typically played out. With Sidcley pushed high, Corinthians would create a line of five attackers that were constantly asking questions of Fortaleza’s defence. The home side manipulated the defenders with quick ball movement and positional play to pin the defenders.
In this example from the first half, Corinthians have established possession and are building up from the halfway line with a back three. We see in the initial analysis that playing the ball to the right has shifted the visitors to defend that side, marking their respective players. After Gil plays the ball to Éderson, the midfielder keeps the switch going and passes to Danilo Avelar.
Since the ball has been played quickly, Corinthians have caught Fortaleza in the middle of shifting over to the other side to defend. These tactics has given Avelar space to dribble into. We also see that Sidcley on the left and Léo Natel at the top of the penalty have pinned defenders to them with their positioning. This leaves Jo to manoeuvre against the two centre backs. Since Avelar has time and space, he plays a long pass into Jo which ultimately strays out of bounds.
Fortaleza’s defensive shape
In response to Corinthians attack, the Tricolor attempted to stifle any progress through the centre of the field. They mainly operated in a low block, looking to intercept passes and pin the home side on the flanks. Fortaleza’s defensive discipline is shown in their 51 interceptions throughout the match. While sides like Atlético Madrid are high intensity in defence, Fortaleza’s low block was low pressure. Their defenders operated on pressing triggers. With the following example, we will see how this was executed.
Using an example from the first half, we see Fortaleza’s defensive low block in action. Forming a 4-4-2, the space between the defensive and midfield lines is very compact. This is done to discourage any passes through the middle. As the ball arrives at Jo’s feet, Gabriel Dias moves to pressure the striker. Feeling the pressure, Jo plays the ball back to Danilo Avelar. The pass back triggers Wellington Paulista into a press that forces Avelar towards his left.
With only one option left, Avelar passes the ball to Sidcley. The left-back is immediately under pressure by Romarinho who has covered the necessary ground to force Corinthians backwards again.
Fortaleza’s numbers in the box
Due to their focus on defending the central areas, Fortaleza did allow Corinthians to cross the ball. The home side was able to get 14 crosses off, although 7 did find their mark. The Tricolor remedied this by putting as many defenders in the box as possible.
The numerical superiority still lies with Fortaleza, with centre back Jackson able to mark two attackers by himself. As the ball comes loose, Jackson then clears the ball.
Fortaleza’s issue with space
In the attacking phase, the Tricolor did not have much going for them. Due to their low starting position after recovering the ball and the high positioning of Corinthians backline they rarely escaped their half. This is evidenced by the 7 possessions that reached the home side’s penalty area.
When they were able to establish some type of possession, Fortaleza attempted to create space between the lines by stretching the defence. Looking at their average positions above, we see how Fortaleza attempted to get Corinthians to open up and allow pockets of space. What is also noticeable is how they attempted to exploit Corinthians right flank. Knowing that Sidcley would be higher up the field, Fortaleza was able to get in behind the defence through direct balls to the corner.
Using the goal that they scored, we see the perfect example of this tactic in motion. Corinthians are defending a goal kick with two centre backs and Éderson the defensive midfielder. They have all man-marked, while Sidcley stays higher ready to press a short pass.
After a quick pass from the centre back to the goalkeeper, the ball is then played directly to the front three. As one player checks to flick the ball on, the other two run behind and create a 2v2 with the centre backs.
With the ball successfully flicked on, Wellington Paulista then runs inside of his marker to receive the ball. As he takes it down the flank, Romarinho is sprinting into the penalty area from the opposite side.
Due to the lack of awareness from the defenders, Romarinho is able to arrive in the penalty area unmarked and into space in front of the goal. Seeing the wingers run, Paulista then plays a cross into the area for Romarinho to finish.
Time do Povo siege tactics pay off
Corinthians possession was not their only weapon against Fortaleza. Using their high line allowed them to win the ball back and relaunch attack after attack. Looking at an analysis of attacks per minute, we can see that Corinthians effectively kept Fortaleza held back.
After recovering an errant pass from Fortaleza, Corinthians are able to draw the Tricolor out from their low block. As they move into a 4-2-3-1, Éderson plays a pass over the top towards substitute Gustavo Mosquito.
Mosquito is able to exploit the space on the left flank and dribbles towards the penalty area. As he winds up to cross the ball into the forwards, Luan is all by himself at the top of the box. Fortaleza’s double pivot is late tracking back and no one has marked him.
After the ball is not cleared properly, it falls to Luan. Since he has not been properly marked the Brazilian is able to volley the ball comfortably and score the equalizer.
This was an interesting tactical match between Ceni and Nunes. While Fortaleza attempted to stifle Corinthians with a low-pressure low block, the home side was able to tie the game up due to their sustained assault. Both teams can potentially be contenders for automatic Copa Libertadores places if they are able to close games out with their respective tactics.