Why Brazil’s breakthrough was always going to come from Maicon

June 16, 2010

It was inevitable that Brazil would eventually score against North Korea, and it was almost as inevitable that they would do so through Maicon, their rampaging right-back. Here’s why.

Firstly, the diagram on the left shows general positioning of both teams when Brazil had the ball in midfield. Brazil have four attacking players who play clearly-defined roles, whilst North Korea effectively had eight defensive players – three centre-backs, two wing-backs, and three central midfielders, the central one sitting deeper than his two colleagues.

This meant that they were effectively able to double up on Brazil’s attackers, particularly at the back. Although they did not implement a strict man-marking system, some of their players naturally tracked their direct opponent. These are marked by a red ‘glow’ around the four players being marked.

The right-wing picked up Robinho, the left-sided centre-back picked up Luis Fabiano, the left-back picked up Ramires, and one of the midfielders picked up Kaka.

This left North Korea with two spare men at the back. But because Luis Fabiano plays slightly to the right, and was therefore picked up by the left-sided centre-back, the two spare men were the central and right-sided centre-backs. They had no man-marking responsibilities (marked by a green ‘glow’), and looked to cover for their teammates when Robinho, Kaka and Fabiano got past their man.

It caused a problem on North Korea’s left, however. Elano moved into wide positions and was up against the left-wing-back, but because the centre-back on that side was picking up Fabiano, he couldn’t directly cover for the left-wing-back, meaning North Korea were already more vulnerable on that side.

This hasn’t even mentioned the Brazilian full-backs yet. Maicon and Michel Bastos both looked to get forward, but Maicon did more effectively. Why? For two reasons. Firstly, because Bastos often found Robinho in front of him, taking up his space. Secondly, because Bastos was attacking into an area of the pitch where there were spare players – albeit a centre-back.

Maicon, however, was often left in oceans of space, and the player who probably should have been tracking him, the left-sided midfielder Pak Nam-Chol (marked by a blue glow) was afraid to venture from his midfield role. Here’s a photo from just before the goal:

Now, if you draw an imaginary line to halve the pitch into two halves, Elano and Maicon are the only players on the opposite side of the pitch to the ball. The Brazil formation is slightly unusual as it features two players in the centre-forward position at this point, but the basic shape remains.

Maicon has a lot of space ahead of him, and starts to move into it.

Here it is from another angle:

A couple of seconds later, the move has progressed and Brazil have a two-on-two situation down their right, but one of the two North Korean players is Pak Nam-Chol, no 4, who is struggling to get across to snuff out the danger. He points towards the space that needs to be covered, in behind the left-back, but it can’t be covered because the left-sided centre-back is not one of the spare defenders, he is instead concerned about his man (who appears to be Robinho rather than Luis Fabiano, at this point).

By the time Maicon shoots, he is ten yards clear of the left-back, whilst the North Korean midfielder who pointed out the space remains in exactly the same position as when Maicon was 30 yards from goal. None of the centre-backs have come across to Maicon, as North Korea have got used to maintaining their two free men at the back, and (unnecessarily) have four defenders against two forwards.

Maicon, as we know, smashed the ball into the net. He got time and space on the ball because that was the side where Korea were less well-stocked. Either the left-sided midfielder needed to track him, or the defence had to shift across to let one of the ’spare’ defenders pick up Luis Fabiano, with the left-sided centre-back coming to meet Maicon. Neither happened, and Brazil went ahead.

This highlights two problems in different respects:

Specifically, defences become too concerned with the threat from Brazil’s left, and don’t prepare for the potential problems from their right.

More generally, this is the major issue with 5-3-2 or 3-5-2 formation – it leaves the opposing full-backs completely free.

And for those who believe Maicon didn’t mean to shoot, here’s his goal against Portugal two years ago:

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