…everything looks like magic.
Confession: I haven’t actually had a need to analyze any of the matches from a tactical point of view. This WC has been so entertaining that I’ve just been taking it in, inhaling the sights and sounds and drama — basically everything– in a sort of fugue state. Spain, Italy, England, Ivory Coast, Ghana all out in the first round? Omg. Messi? Omg. Neymar? Omg. The sheer amount of comebacks? Omg. Suarez bit someone? Omg–well, he’s done it before. Costa Rica’s everything? Omg. And so on and so forth. I can’t even get down all the Omg-s I want to because there are too many, to say nothing about the Oh Nos that have been uttered. Everything’s sunshine and roses for this football fan. No need to add anything.
But then CBC – the official broadcaster of the WC in Canada and the company we Canadians pay our taxes to (like The BBC in the UK) – decided to introduce this incredible multistream feature on their website that allows you to see the regular TV stream, two streams following one player on each team, two streams following the coach of each team, and a tactical stream. All at the same time. The same time.
How can I not get in on that action?
So what you guys will get is Brazil from the point of view of this CBC tactical stream.
Brazil essentially play with four forwards, two defensive midfielders, and the usual backline of marauding fullbacks and strong center backs. Sure, we can get into the nuts and bolts of how they move around but that’s the basis of it.
I find it curious when I look at the Brazil lineups and see them put Oscar in the hole behind Fred. In actually, he’s often shuffled to the left wing and plays the role of both that and left midfielder. Neymar, who tends to operate in a free role, is in a situation similar to Messi’s where he drops deeps to get the ball. Fred is there in theory to spearhead the attack but is in reality like one of those toy arrows that have suction cups at the end instead of a pointy end. Ramires is all about the thug life does the same as Oscar on the right to considerably less effect; Hulk has more success but has trouble passing instead of shooting – in other words, the unselfish portion. So the formation IMO looks sorta like this:
But on the subject of Brazilian forwards and unselfishness, they don’t really defend. They stay up field when Brazil loses the ball with the justification that when Brazil win the ball back they’ll be ready to counter attack. The obvious flipside of this is that there are less Brazilian to defend. Take this corner they had to defend against Mexico:
Neymar and Fred are the two players up field. (Oscar and Ramires – who have the joint role of left and right midfielders, remember – have dropped back to help defend the corner.) If you’re curious that’s David Luiz at the top of the box.
Now a Mexican defender actually pulls away from Neymar and Fred and shuffles to the top the box. David Luiz has to follow the Mexican player he was marking who was previously at the top of the box but has now drifted away to the right. That leaves that Mexican defender open. What happens next is Neymar actually bolts back to mark that player.
Mexico get nothing out of this corner, really. But it was just interesting to see Neymar take initiative and come back to defend, even though he doesn’t have to. His entire role in his Brazil team is to “make things happen and help the team”, something vague like that, but he saw in that moment that the better idea was to come back and mark that open player. Just something I found cool and thought I’d highlight.
But seriously: What’s up with that hole where the center of the midfield should be?
Scolari wants athletes in his midfield, runners and those that will work hard. He’s not interested in making it a place of contention, rather he’s relinquished that area entirely and has moved a lot of the play to the wings. Often you see the forward of the wings cross the ball to the opposite wing, these huge cross-field balls that elude almost everyone, because there is no player in the center – like, say, Kroos for Germany – that can link the ball from one side to the other.
Of the two defensive midfielders, Paulinho is the one that goes forward and he sits in the spot between whoever’s RW (Ramires or Hulk) and Alves. Luiz Gustavo doesn’t do the same on the left, though; instead, he sits in front of the CBs. That increases Oscar’s load on the left considerably, as Marcelo still bombs forward, and so Oscar’s attacking threat is diminished. For example, Brazil get a corner against Mexico.
That’s Oscar at the bottom left (in red) occupying the area where the Brazil LB should be; but because Marcelo has moved up to help the offensive during the corner, Oscar has to defend his space. This happened many times against Mexico and, imo, was a real factor in the 0-0 outside Ochoa – or should I say 8a, amirite? – because Oscar was always dangerous the few times he was able to run at the Mexican defense.
I think Oscar is a brilliant footballer with a clear sense of responsibility and a high footy ‘IQ’ – he knows Marcelo would be at risk of being overrun and unlike Ramires who is simply a ‘hard worker’ and doesn’t really have much to add in the attack, Oscar has much more to offer up front that he’s sacrificing for more balance on the wings. I hope Scolari finds a way to get Oscar off the wing and into the center because he’s really being wasted there.
What’s also interesting about Brazil is how often there is a broken formation with a bunch of forwards and a bunch of defenders, and nothing linking the two together unless Neymar drops deep or Oscar pulls central. Loads of space between the lines.
But let’s talk about the wing play.
They’ve ditched the midfield for it so it has to be good, right? Well, it’s not bad I guess. What’s cool is you can clearly see how they position themselves on tactical stream. There’s an outer 6 and an inner 4.
And in case you don’t see it I’ll draw strange shapes to show the distinction.
Among the inner 4 of Neymar, Fred, Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho just hangs around the right and when the opportunity presents itself (like the freak occurance Fred holds up the ball with his back to goal to lay the ball off at the top of the box to an onrushing midfielder) he crashes the box, sometimes Luiz Gustavo even joins in. Neymar often drops deep on the left to link up with Oscar and get something going. Fred retains his suction cup arrow role at the front of attack.
The outer 6 are Oscar, Marcelo, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Alves, and Hulk/Ramires. That’s where the majority of Brazil’s build up play comes from.
What about Fernandinho and Hernanes?
Good question. Fernandinho would be a massive help in terms of midfield play and Hernanes in particular would be an asset both offensively and defensively. They’d both lessen the load on Oscar and Neymar to create something out of nothing, while giving Brazil more control in the game. But their on-pitch abilities have nothing to do with why they don’t play and everything to do with Felipao and his concept of ‘family’.
See, the World Cup is a short, intense couple of weeks where players are thrown together with little time to get to familiar with one another to win a trophy that means so much to so many people. With so little training and so much pressure coaches tend to go with the players they trust, the ones that are willing to go above and beyond for him, a close-knit group. We’ve seen this with Del Bosque with Spain, Sabella with Argentina, Prandelli with Italy, and more. It’s quite common. But with Felipao it comes to the detriment of his team’s quality as well. Fred and Jo are simply not good – but they’re part of Scolari’s family. You can go through the team and have that same excuse for many of the players. This current Brazil team is certainly close off the pitch, but on the pitch is the biggest question and they haven’t exactly passed with flying colours.
When all you have is a Neymar
So I know someone who has passed the on-the-pitch question with flying colours and his name rhymes with Reymar. He’s put this team on his back and it’s pretty unreal what he’s doing under so much pressure. Before Barcelona even signed him, I was worried the pressure to perform for his country on home soil would crush him in a Bojanesque manner and we’d have to deal with the repercussion. True, that could still happen, but no one can say Neymar hasn’t shown up. In fact Neymar must make up the basis of Scolari’s game plan which goes:
1. Pass the ball to Neymar
3. Brazil score
4. Repeat until Brazil win the game.
Will wing play and individual brilliance be enough to overcome fanatical bielsismo?
That’s my main question for Brazil v Chile. Sampaoli is a rabid disciple of Bielsa (he was the other guy who was with Pep during the now-famous meeting they had with the great man at his house) Against a team like Spain, Brazil would be quite well matched IMO since they’ve already let go of the midfield and their strongest play comes from the wings. But against Chile who have their own marauding wingbacks in Isla and Mena, they’re more evenly matched. I’d actually say Brazil might even be a little out-matched because Chile with Vidal have the stronger midfield. (Not talking man-for-man but tactically). Chile’s 3-man defense, high backline, and aggressive, almost suicidal, pressing will mean Brazil will have to be alert from the get-go if they don’t want to concede an early goal, especially if Chile really press Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo. That could end really badly for Brazil.
Just look at how Chile attack a corner (against Spain):
That’s all three CBs in Spain’s half. (Yes, that black dot at the top of the picture is our new GK Bravo.) This Chilean team are bonkers and I love ‘em.
Those Chilean fullbacks
If you wanna know how bonkers – or how much they’ve embrace the total offense approach – you just need to see how they counter. Chile wins the ball in Spain’s half.
During this counter attack against Spain the two players furthest forward weren’t attackers. They weren’t even midfielders. It was Isla and Mena, the defenders.
Sure, they didn’t score but it was enough to make Casillas pull out an Iker-face – true, true, it didn’t take much to do that anymore, but still. Iker-face.
Having said all that, the individual quality of Brazil, of Oscar and especially Neymar, can’t be discounted. Brazil have a good defensive base (mistakes, limited and/or overlapping skill sets aside), and they can take advantage of Chile’s high backline with numbers (even if it’s because said numbers don’t defend) during a counter attack. If Chile end up narrow somehow, they’ll be in real danger of getting overrun in the wings, but I assume Sampaoli will do something about that.
Anyway, I’m expecting a good game. If it goes to penalties after a 0-0 grind…
[As per usual, any and all corrections are welcome. I might be slow to respond, just a heads up, but there will be answer, I promise. Also, let me know if the pictures are too big (rip mobile users). I'll resize them.]