The Brazil Primer: When All You Have is a Neymar…

…everything looks like magic.

H/T @Emenderk

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.

How every Brazil formation is shown (H/T Zonal Marking)

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

2. ????

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.]

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.


  1. Great effort by Chile! Kari comments were particularly apt. I wonder why you saw so little of Marcelo and Alves. Were they playing more defensively.

    BTW, Anyone else having trouble posting comments? Had to use a new user name.

    1. In the first half there was a lot of Alves… then Lexus switched sides and Alves couldn’t go anywhere. Although he kept him back he couldn’t exactly get past him which just shows the skills of our hopefully not-off-to-PSG rightback.

      I also wonder how Tata came to the conclusion to bench Lexus in favour of Fabregas most of the season. Such an amazing dynamic worker with an increasing hunger for goals.

  2. Uruguay are a very poor team without Suarez. Colombia look great and both James and Cuadrado are incredibly talented players.

    1. Cavani never stops running. I’ve been watching him closely and he is never static, either in possession or out of it. Pity PSG spent €64m on him already.

    2. it’s been a long time since i’ve seen a player as equally eager and capable of taking on the player(s) in front of him as Cuadrado. you may just be right that he’d look a brilliant like-for-like replacement for Dani Alves (circa 2009) should the latter leave this summer. what a brilliant player; top assist provider in the tournament so far as well.

  3. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone play like Cuadrado at this World Cup. Right back, left back, winger, forward, non-stop box-to-box midfielder… Where he finds the energy in e Brazilian heat, I’ll never know.

    1. The power of Salsa compels you!
      The power of Salsa compels you!!
      The power of Salsa compels you!!!

    2. And the header for the goal – absolutely sublime. Most players would have tried to beat the keeper, but he knew the angle was bad and teed up Rodriguez. It’s also noticeable how much better his crossing is than Dani. When he hits the ball, it really hums into the penalty box. Imagine him and Alexis tearing up one flank.

  4. Was hoping for a Chile win towards the end there, started neutral but they won me over. Great game, the first 20 minutes were the best, lot of action around midfield as neither team would accept a passive role, sort of how I imagine Barca vs Barca would look (albeit at a higher level). How about that Sanchez? We should be getting money + Suarez.

    1. Absolutely fantastic game. Brazil seemed to have the edge in pace and talent all over the park (except for Alexis), but Chile fought them to a standstill away from home. What a tight unit. Fantastic effort. Don’t see how Brazil can lift themselves again against Columbia. Surely their legs will go in the second half. Scolari might have to make a lot of changes.

  5. Spanish press today suggesting that we may not sign a midfielder even if Xavi leaves due to Koke signing a new contract. More responsibility may go to Sergi Roberto.
    I never thought that we would sign Koke as he is a life long Atletico fan and has never given any indication that he wants to play anywhere but there. Still, with Rakitic replacing Cesc and Masch possibly replacing Song I still see the need to replace Xavi if he leaves and I’m not convinced that Sergi Roberto is that replacement.
    I suppose Rafinha is there too to pick up his minutes. I still think it best for everyone if Sergi gets a loan for the season to improve.

    I sure would like if we signed a top quality defender because this summer is beginning to smell like the last two summers of failed chases of Thiago Silva with our pursuit of Marquinhos. He doesn’t look like PSG want to let him go so we should move on to different targets assuming that there are others.
    It looks like desperation to me. Benatia is a beast, Hummels is very classy and both are better and easier targets than Marquinhos.
    Mathieu is a decent player but shouldn’t be our top target.

    1. Play Messi as a 10. Move Masch up a line. I’m not even sure where Rakitic would get his minutes, let alone Sergi Roberto.

    2. I wouldn’t agree both are necessarily better targets but both might be easier, Ciaran, if PSG see him as their future and I’m with you in starting to feel just a tad uneasy about the energy going out of our summer transfer window. The longer it goes the more desperate other clubs will know we are to sign a defender. I know there is a long way to go but we’ve been working on some of these for a while. I like our GK options but tbh that was probably always the easier part. A quick meeting with Xavi is required imo if it hasn’t already happened and if he isn’t committed elsewhere. No way is Roberto ready for a leading role over a season and although more experienced Rafinha will, at best, take time to settle.

    3. Marquinho has to want to leave?! Surely. I mean he only got games when Silva was injured and now they pick up Luiz for $80 million? When’s he going to play. He’s good enough to start and play the majority of games for us. I am a huge fan and hope he forces a move to get more playing time. If not then we need to look to Brazil for some talent. I can’t see Hummels going anywhere, even though he’s been mentioned a lot this summer. I pray we don’t let Alexis leave. That would be idiotic and probably the worst piece of business besides Ibra/Eto’o deal. We’ve been strongly linked w/Suarez and I get it. I’d love to have him, even w/his baggage. He cares so much for the cause. He’s a winner. He needs serious psychiatric work though. A front three of Neymar, Messi, Suarez would be crazy. However, if we don’t get Suarez, which is likely, Alexis is the next best option. His confidence is sky high. He’s going to get up in the 20 goal range, which is plenty. He provides so much tenacity on defense and pressing to win the ball back. I don’t get why we would even consider letting him go. Pedro, Tello, & Deufelo would be on my list before Alexis. Even if we pick up Suarez there will be plenty of games for either one.

    1. I suspect that after the first few days of suspect penalties, it is going to take a lot for a ref to call a penalty in a knockout match.

    2. You’re right about his reputation but the tackle was from the back and then the 2nd one was a long sliding tackle. Pretty clear. Hopefully there will be no more mistakes from the refs.

    3. Before that a Mexican player got studs on his head in the Dutch box, so the ref may have thought about letting this one slide

    4. Oh yeah could well be but I must’ve missed that one. I tuned in late. Last minute work.

  6. Holland has been slow starters in the tournament so far so I expect them to pick it up in the 2nd half.

    1. But they’re playing against a side that is more accustomed to this type of weather so it will be really tough

  7. Jonathan Dos Santos’ transfer price has just doubled. Not only does he have Barca DNA, but also Dos Santos DNA.

    1. I assume you mean the penalty incident. It was a clumsy unnecessary challenge by Marquez and it was a clear penalty. Robben milked it yes and went down just like how our Alexis does it. Same style.

    2. Not to mention there were 2 other challenges on Robben that could’ve been called earlier. You can’t expect the ref to not award a penalty for one of those.

    3. I know it was a penalty, I just don’t like acting (Alexis or Robben). But there is something about Robben that just annoys the hell out of me. The replay of his face was priceless. But, I mean, if I were Dutch, I’d be psyched!

    4. To be fair he jumped over a tackle in the box 15 minutes earlier when my whole bar (mostly neutrals) were chiding him for not taking the foul. He’s definitely not as bad as he was when still at Chelsea. Truly insufferable.

    5. Completely agree w/deerwithwings. Robben was looking for contact. Can’t fault him, b/c Marquez was stupid enough to give it to him. Robben throwing his hands in the air and doing a belly flop is what gives it away. He VERY easily could’ve ridden that tackle off and stayed on his feet, but why would I expect anything else from him. He’s a pure diver at heart.

    6. Why on EARTH would he have ridden that tackle off? Nor should he have. Marquez shouldn’t have made that boneheaded challenge when his mark was surrounded by green shirts. Robben made the right play.

    7. Nope. If he could have stayed on his feet instead of the swallow dive he should have. If you go down every time there’s contact when you don’t have to we end up with a non contact sport. That’s not to say Rafa’s tackle didn’t merit the award.

      However, we’re back in the same territory we were with Neymar against Celtic. Diving / embellishing, it’s all cheating to me, I’m afraid. No time for any of them – including the Barca players who do it.

    8. That Robben play was ugly. There was contact made, and Robben embellished the hell out of it.

      A Twitter debate was parsing the difference between contact, and impeding an attacker. There was nuance there. The case for a non-call could have been made just as easily as the case for a penalty.

      Marquez made the error in giving the attacker a chance to do it. Rare is the attacker in world football, including in our locker room, who wouldn’t have felt that contact and gone down. Perhaps not as spectacularly as Robben, but they would have.

      But Mexico screwed their own pooch by closing up shop, and the Dos Santos sub was mystifying.

  8. Of course I’m happy that Holland went through but it’s sad seeing underdogs and hardworking sides such as Chile and Mexico to go out. And I will really miss their managers. Lively characters on the touch line that shows a lot of passion and energy from the sidelines and it transmits to their players. Sad to only see them again in 4 years time.

    1. I wish they played teams such as Costa Rica and Greece instead of the heavyweights.

    2. He’s certainly better at cheering when his team scores than coaching them. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a tactical screw up as when Mexico stopped attacking the moment they scored. I just knew Holland would win the game after that. And to think he took off Gio, too. They were lord and master the first 50 minutes of the game. My God what an inept soul…

    3. Mexico dug their own hole when they took off Gio. You cannot defend a 1-0 lead at the World Cup. This has been proven every time. Without Gio they simply fizzled out in attack and that allowed relentless raids after raid. One of them had to go in. Had Gio been in the field, they could have easily exploited Dutch nervousness in the 80s and hit them on the counter.

    1. Thanks for the video. Love the music! Samper will be running the midfield before long. Has all the qualities. He’s also very strong for his age and doesn’t get pushed off the ball easily. Can’t wait to see him get minutes under Enrique!

  9. Fabulous Keylor Navas. Marvellous Costa Rica. They played for one hour with one man less, and still had the spirit and bravery to take their penalties like that!

  10. from ESPN:

    “The one at the end was a penalty, I was fouled,” he [Robben] told Dutch television channel NOS.

    “At the same time I have to apologise in the first half I took a dive and I really shouldn’t do that.

    “That was a stupid, stupid thing to do but sometimes you’re expecting to be struck and then they pull their leg away at the last minute.”

    See, part of me applauds Robben for being so honest about his ‘technique,’ but man, “…sometimes you’re expecting to be stuck….” On the other side, Herrera’s out blaming the referee for their loss. That’s even worse, especially considering his decisions had a lot to do with that collapse at the end.

    1. No one likes to see players who dive as much as Robben, but I think his words honestly address what we all know by now: diving is one of an attacking players greatest weapons:

      1) Diving pays off because the only penalty is a rare yellow card. The only reward is victory and immortality, particularly in a World Cup.

      2) Diving is a performance art. You either put on a good show or you don’t get one. Any player that does not do down immediately and convincingly on contact does not get a penalty. Robben is saying what we all know. He was looking for the contact and was preparing to dive but failed to make the desired contact with the defender’s leg.

      3) The fact that defenders know that Robben dives makes it harder to play him. He is good at making a meal out of any contact, so he is also more likely to get space in the box to score. This coupled with the fact that except for Messi and Ronaldo, he is that last player in the world you want to give space to makes playing him a nightmare.

      4) Diving also invites future penalties. If a player goes down 4 times, the player is more likely to get at least 1 penalty. Two of those might have been dives and two borderline penalties, but I would think that without the two dives, the ref might not have called one of the borderline cases.

    2. Very good points. I also think that in this particular case, if you step on someone’s toes, it is disingenuous to claim afterwards that the attacker dived.

      To those who thinks dives can be rooted out of the game by yellow cards (or worse, suspensions), I think it is extremely hard to determine when a player dives, embellishes or simply loses balance. Again video technology is the only solution. Why dive if you know the ref will use video to not give you the call?

    3. But you notice that even his “admission” is very calculating: I went down when I didn’t get the penalty, but I didn’t when I did. If Refs called every foul in the box, particularly on set-pieces, there would be 20 penalties a game.
      Maybe refs should have a rule that if, when a player goes to ground, his hands rise above his head, it’s a drive.

  11. Grande Costa Rica! Vamos los ticos! I am so excited for my overachieving CONCACAF brothers-in-arms. They play the offside trap so well.

    Does anyone know why the Greek manager was sent off before the penalties began?

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