Argentina 1-0 Brazil: Messi with superb winner

November 18, 2010

BRAZIL: 1 Victor; 2 D Alves, 3 T Silva, 4 D Luiz, 6 A Santos; 5 Lucas, 8 Ramires; 7 Elias, 10 Ronaldinho, 11 Neymar; 9 Robinho. ARGENTINA: 1 Romero; 8 Zanetti, 13 Pareja, 4 Burdisso, 6 Heinze; 14 Macherano, 18 Banega; 23 Pastore; 10 Messi, 9 Higuain, 7 Di Maria. Usual diagrams back soon.

This game started well, faded in the second half, before being won with a brilliant Lionel Messi goal.

International friendlies are, as much as anything, an opportunity to experiment – to try a new shape or new players in a pressure-free environment. That is the main concern for managers (rather than necessarily trying to win the game with a tactical shift to exploit the opposition’s weaknesses) so rather than the usual analysis of how the two sides faced each other, here we’ll take the sides individually.

Brazil

Mano Menezes was constrained by injury problems. Pato had started all four games under Menezes as the lone forward, whilst Carlos Eduardo had started the last three as the playmaker. Both were unavailable.

Therefore, Menezes was forced to rejig. Robinho was the closest thing to a main striker, though he dropped to the flanks and into deeper positions. Neymar started from the left and moved central, Elias kept a relatively disciplined right-wing position, and Ronaldinho returned in the central playmaker role. There were few surprises in the other seven positions.

Compared to Dunga’s regime, there is unquestionably more fluidity in the attacking positions. Previously, Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano all had very specific roles. Here, Menezes allows his players much more positional freedom, and there was frequent switching of positions between the front four. With this seemed to be a slight lack of cohesion, however – Robinho is clearly not a number nine but nor does he look particularly able to be a false nine – his natural inclination to run with the ball doesn’t lend itself to good link-up play.

Ronaldinho was singled out for praise by Menezes after the game – “Ronaldinho did well, taking responsibility for creating offensive moves. He was substituted because of his physical condition and not because of his performance. We brought him back to the Selecao at the right time” – but the quality of his performance will be overstated. The fancy flicks were there, but so too was a lack of real cutting edge and ruthlessness in the final third, the same reason he is currently not starting for Milan.

Early on pressing was a big part of Brazil’s game, but the nature of the contest (and perhaps the heat) meant that this didn’t last long, and the tempo dropped as the match went on, making it difficult to judge how Brazil will play without the ball in competitive games.

The two central midfielders have a good understanding – Lucas generally sits in front of the back four to the left, with Ramires playing a more energetic role to the right, but these two are happy to switch around during play. Whether they have the imagination on the ball, however, is questionable. Gilberto-Melo to Lucas-Ramires marks a shift from destroyers to ‘busier’ players, but there is probably a need for more of a ball-playing midfielder alongside a holder, especially if Brazil are going to be less of a counter-attacking side and more of a positive side based upon ball retention and out-and-out attacking play.

There was, however, a positive display from the back four. Andre Santos is clearly much more of a natural full-back than Michel Bastos, and he and Dani Alves got up and down the line well to allow the wide attacking players inside.

Argentina

The back four of Argentina was also arguably their biggest positive from the game. After Diego Maradona’s dislike of attacking full-backs, it was notable how often Gabriel Heinze got forward on the left, with Javier Zanetti his typical buccaneering self on the opposite side.

Javier Mascherano – even for him – played very deep in front of the defence, sometimes dropping between the centre-backs to come and get the ball. Slightly more advanced than him was Ever Banega who was positionally-disciplined and more of an intelligent ball-player than Mascherano, indicating that Argentina have found good balance in their two deeper central midfielders.

The main point of interest was Javier Pastore, who was starting just his second game for Argentina, and his first alongside Lionel Messi. He had a decent, solid game – coming deep to pick up the ball in midfield, which in turn allowed Messi into more central positions, whilst Angel di Maria kept more width on the left.

Gonzalo Higuain was the main striker but dropped deep and to the flanks to build up play, and the initial signs – despite the fact that it took a last-minute Messi wondergoal for Argentina to score – were positive in terms of the front four.

It was probably more 4-2-1-3 than 4-2-3-1. This may seem like a slight, irrelevant difference but the two systems are quite different, especially when they do not have the ball. At the World Cup, the central players in 4-2-3-1s (Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Oezil) tended to play higher up than the wingers, but here Pastore was much more of a link between the two deep midfielders and the front three.

Argentina 1-0 Brazil: Messi with superb winner

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