Brazil encouraging, but not yet cohesive

March 29, 2011

Brazil's overall formation

Whereas his predecessor Dunga had a very consistent, specific shape in his latter days as Brazil manager, Mano Menezes has switched between systems. He started off with a 4-2-1-3 against the USA, then moved to a 4-4-2 against France recently.

In this game, he was hampered by various withdrawals through injury (particularly attacking players) and therefore sent out a side in a strange 4-3-3ish system, which dominated possession but lacked fluency in the final third of the pitch.

Tactically, the back four was fairly unremarkable – recalls to Lucio and Julio Cesar meant that, along with Andre Santos and Thiago Silva, the defence had a distinctly Dunga-esque feel to it, though Dani Alves is now first-choice at right-back ahead of Maicon.

Ahead of them, Lucas was the primary holding midfielder. He played slightly right-of-centre and generally remained in his position, doing what he does for Liverpool – intercepting, closing down, playing the ball calmly from side to side, and rarely joining attacks. He was assisted by Ramires, who played to the left of Lucas (rather than to the right, as is usual), and played an energetic role.

Ramires’ role differed from his old ’shuttling’ role, however – rather than forced to cover an entire flank by himself, he had Neymar wide on the left, so instead played a box-to-box role, getting himself into the penalty area. Neymar’s role was not unlike Robinho’s old role, starting from the left but coming inside very quickly, with and without the ball. Upfront, Leandro Damiao was a ‘prima punta’ – holding the ball up, winning headers.

The confusion came from the roles of Elano and Jadson, who both played attacking, rightish roles in midfield. Elano started off looking like a central playmaker but actually dropped deeper and formed midfield three, whilst Jadson was half a No 10, half a winger. It was difficult to see what he was trying to do, and he contributed little to the game. The two got in each others’ way a couple of times and meant Brazil didn’t stretch the play enough with the ball.

Defensive shape

Brazil's defensive shape

Brazil’s defensive shape was interesting, because they morphed into a side that defended with two banks of four on the rare occasions they came under sustained pressure from Scotland. Strangely, Ramires moved out to defend the left flank, Lucas moved left-of-centre, with Elano dropping into the right-centre channel and Jadson defending the right.

This meant that Brazil’s right side was far weaker than their left – both because (a) Lucas and Ramires are simply much stronger defensively than Elano and Jadson and (b) the former two were already in a deep position and could shuffle across easily, whereas the latter duo had the retreat 20-30 yards to take up their defensive positions.

Upfront, Neymar stayed in a wide-left role, pinning back Scotland’s right-back (which made Brazil even more secure down that side).


The most encouraging factor in terms of Brazil’s shape was that there was a stark improvement after the break, in two main respects. First, Neymar continued to be a force in the game but stayed much wider and expanded the active playing zone, which increased the gaps in Scotland’s defence and made them easier to play through.

Second, Jadson made lateral runs from the right flank into the centre of the pitch, which took Scotland’s left-back inside and opened up space for Alves, who was much more prominent in the second half – he should have had an assist, had Ramires not blazed over the crossbar from 12 yards.

The introduction of Lucas (Rodrigues Moura da Silva, of Sao Paulo) in the second half also gave Brazil drive and dribbling from the centre of the pitch – he was highly impressive, and it’s a shame he didn’t start over Jadson.

What went right?

Leandro Damião had a promising debut. He is something approaching an ‘old-fashioned’ number nine, someone who can provide a central physical presence whilst Brazil’s more creative players play around him.

Brazil as their attacking moves developed

Ramires was also good (aside from his shooting) – he provided bursts of energy from the centre of midfield, which partially compensated that Brazil had no ‘number ten’ in the side, as he linked midfield and attack.

Neymar was fantastic – the best player on the pitch by far – and looks to be suited to a wide-left role with the freedom to come inside.

Brazil’s pressing was also very effective, although Scotland were poor in possession. Against stronger opposition there may be a problem with either (a) space between the lines or (b) space in behind the defence, as Lucio and Thiago Silva were reluctant to come too far up the pitch.

What went wrong?

The Elano/Jadson confusion was the main problem – they simply played too close together and were too predictable.

On a related note, Brazil didn’t take advantage of Daniel Alves’ runs often enough. Part of the problem was Jadson – in the first half he stayed too wide, and Alves missed having a Lionel Messi / Pedro Rodriguez character to move inside and open up space, though the situation improved in the second half – after Alves could be seen shouting at Jadson to move out of his way.

In a more complex manner, Alves was rarely making runs on the blind side, as he loves to do at Barcelona. There, Barcelona often build up play in the left-centre channel with Andres Iniesta, and Alves charges down the opposite flank. However, Brazil’s ‘equivalent’ of Iniesta was either Elano or Jadson (or both) – who were down the right. Therefore, Scotland’s attention was already on that side of the pitch, and Alves was in full view.

There also remains a slight problem down the left (a hangover from the Dunga era) – to allow Neymar to come inside, Brazil need someone able to consistently overlap down the left. Andre Santos did reasonably well, but there still wasn’t quite the understanding down that wing – perhaps that will come with time.

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