Saturday, 9 July 2011

Brazil struggling with lack of width

Two draws in the first two games of the 2011 Copa America for Brazil. Two games where they've struggled as an attacking unit.

Under Dunga, they were criticised for sacrificing flair and creativeness for work rate and defensive capabilities as well as an emphasis on counter attack. Menezes has tried to reinforce the mentality on attack and a settled 4-2-3-1 formation compared to Dunga's lobsided formation that depending on which way you saw it was a 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-2 diamond or a 4-3-2-1.

However the problem in the first two games so far for Brazil, against Venezuela and Paraguay, is that they have struggled with a lack of width in the final third of the pitch. Both opponents have defended very well and made it very hard to break through. The space in the middle has been tight and compact and at points it's made Brazil look clueless.

Brazil's first goal came mainly from the tenacity of Ramires. He won two challenges in the Paraguay midfield in quick succession and for the first and only time in the match, Brazil created an overload of 5v4 in attack and Jadson hit it into the back of the net with a good strike from 20 yards out.

It was no coincidence that for the last few minutes of the half, Brazil had their best period of the game. Paraguay opened up a bit more and Brazil looked dangerous on the break with their passing and use of angles. Ganso had found space hard to come by between Paraguay's midfield and defence, but he was now getting more involved in the game and the team looked threatening. 

Paraguay however looked like embarrassing Brazil in the second half, with goals from Santa Cruz and Valdez and Brazil didn't look good. It took a quick one touch pass from Ganso in a tight space and a turn and finish from Fred for Brazil to get the draw.

Menezes' substitutions didn't seem to really help. The substitution of Jadson for Elano was probably the strangest. Jadson had had a decent half, cutting in from the right and also getting the goal but bringing on Elano, generally a midfield playmaker, almost seemed to add to Brazil's problems of playing too narrow.

Brazil's play has been mainly foccussed down the middle, with a slight emphasis to the right. There's a couple of reasons for this. First of all Neymar playing on the left, cut's inside more often than not. With both oppositions, playing narrow so far, he's just been running into traffic and not helping at all. Santos at left back, has also not been as attacking as Alves on the right and so play has been slightly leaning to the right.

However Alves' runs forward haven't had the same pattern as his runs forward for Barcelona. His runs for Barcelona have mainly been very wide next to the byline, stretching the play so that the high right forward, be it Pedro or Villa, has the option to cut inside but still have a good amount of space. For Brazil a lot of his runs have been angled from the byline towards the middle of the pitch, trying to create triangles for Brazil's midfield. However this has just clogged up the middle of the field and it has been easier to defend against them.

Line up against Paraguay


There is a case to be made that Brazil are concentrating too much on the link up play and not enough about creating space for the link up play to work at it's best. Making sure Santos and Alves stick more to the flanks in the way Barcelona do, could open up play a lot better than they currently are.

Ganso was tipped to be a possible star of the tournament, yet he's been virtually anonymous so far. Both Venezuela and Paraguay brought their  midfields back when defending and kept the gap between them very small. Ganso in that attacking midfield role has therefore not had the time or room to make an impact for a sufficient period in both games. Neymar, as mentioned, has had the space that he likes to take up, cramped up and has looked very far off the £40 million release clause that Santos have set for him.

In fact the only real bright sparks for Brazil have come from the players in the deeper lying central roles who have had more space. Lucio has built up play well from the back and helped set up a chance for Pato in the first half. With him coming forward on the ball, Paraguay had an extra threat to deal with and while closing him down, left Jadson with more space behind the midfield to feed in Pato who had his shot saved by the goalkeeper.

Lucas and Ramires have provided a well balanced defensive midfield partnership. Ramires was probably Brazil's best player before he was substituted and his energy provided Brazil's opening goal. He also got forward a fair amount, helping linking the defence and attack. Lucas was in effect, playing the Busquets role, constantly making himself available for the pass and also forming a back three with Brazil's centre backs, when it was needed.

However if Brazil are to win this, then they are going to have to find a way of making more space in attack for their frontline to have a bigger impact not just their deeper players. Their best period of the game against Paraguay was when they were counter attacking and it may be something they will have to rely on a lot more if they are to win the Copa America this year.

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