Brasil started the game against Russia with inside fullbacks. This together with the midfielders playing close to each other created a very stable structure in ball circulation. This created two overloads, which were used in various ways by Brazil.
- In the midfield they had a 5 v 4 overload, with the two inside fullbacks complementing the midfield three of Casemiro, Coutinho and Paulinho.
- With quick changes of sides they could isolate a 4 v 3 with the striker, nearside winger and nearside 8 complemented by the striker.
Let’s see a few examples of how these numerical advantages played out on the field.
This situation at the very beginning of the game showed the importance of the winger on the ball far side playing as high and wide as possible to create space for changing the sides.
Willian is a winger who can reach maximum speed in a very short distance, his diagonal runs without the ball kept the wingback of the opponent always on alert, and marking the Chelsea attacker closely.
The movement of Casemiro was crucial in pulling the far side 8 of the Russian midfield three to the ball side when Marcelo was pressed by the other 8. Normally the ballside striker of the Russians kept the number six – Casemiro – in his cover shadow. By this striker moving back and trying to deny the space of Casemiro, Miranda suddenly had more space to change the sides.
With the wingback not moving up to press the side change, but instead the midfielder going wide Paulinho and Dani Alves can immediately double the 8 running out to press the ball.
Switching from the centre back to the opposite half space
Switches from one half space to the other are very easy. Immediately from the centre back a passing lane can be opened to the opposite half space just by the 8 moving a little bit to the side.
If Coutinho receives such a pass, Marcelo can come up without the ball and they can immediately make a 2 v 1 against the 8 of the Russians. If the sideback decides to step up just a little bit, to have better access to Marcelo, Gabriel Jesus immediately makes the run behind into the space left open in the back five. If the sideback doesn’t step out, then Gabriel Jesus can beat his opponent with a dummy run forward and a step back to receive between the lines.
The diamond of Marcelo, Coutinho, Douglas Costa and Gabriel Jesus
On the left side Coutinho makes excellent diagonal runs to move out of the cover shadow of the midfielder . Against the back five of Russia when the wingback moved out to press Marcelo, Douglas Costa moved deeper and wide to pull out the sideback. As Marcelo received the ball Coutinho sprinted into the space between the sideback and the centreback. The latter was kept inside by Gabriel Jesus.
The inside fullback on the ball far side can pull the 8 of the opponent a little bit closer to him, which means the sideback might be a bit closer to the attacking midfielder – Paulinho – of the opponent. This means the sideback can’t create a 2 v 1 against Gabriel Jesus, the back five of Russia gets too wide. Also Russia doesn’t have an extra man to potentially receive runners from midfield, which becomes important in case Coutinho attacks the space between the sideback and the central defender.
If Coutinho’s run is covered by a midfielder, then by pulling his marker with him he opens the diagonal dribbling lane for Douglas Costa. In this instance Costa drops towards the ball starting from the inside of the sideback. This way if receiving the ball to his inside leg (left), he already beats the sideback just by receiving the ball to the inside and can advance unopposed diagonally.
Casemiro’s task was to stay behind the ball stays behind the ball, always in a position to change the sides with one pass to the opposite halfspace.
At the change of sides the 8 stepped out to Dani Alves. Either Paulinho could stay free, or the sideback stepped out to mark him. In the latter case Willian only has his man to beat with a well timed diagonal run, and Dani Alves only has to put the ball into the space behind.
If the centre back dribbled in unopposed, then sooner or later the midfielder of the three stepped out to stop him. This was the perfect moment to double up on this midfielder. With this defensive dynamic – trying to man mark all the players on the ball side, with no regard to compactness behind the player stepping out to press the ball – Russia allowed Brazil to escape the pressure and play to the other side, which they have left open. Again to fullback provided the link to receive the switching pass from Willian.
The movement of Coutinho was crucial in creating space for Marcelo. When Willian rotated back, Coutinho moved up a little bit, taking his marker with him. He moved just enough so that a defender couldn’t take him over, but his marker couldn’t step out and press to Marcelo either.
The greatest positive of this type of narrow backline and three central midfielders close to each other is that if during circulation you loose the ball, you have at least three players very close to each other, behind the ball who can defend the way to the goal. Even if there is no pressure on the opponent dribbling towards the goal these three players can decrease the distance between them while retreating. Since the midfielders are very close to the central defenders in circulation, even if the defence has to retreat the midfielders have only a small space to cover in order to press the opponent who receives between the lines and starts to dribble.
The close midfielders, small distances lead to many possible combinations, but also the lines are close to each other, so at a ball loss the team can close behind the ball into a defensively solid shape very quickly. Not to mention that passes to the opponent’s striker can be pressed immediately both from the front and the back.
When counterpressing in the opponent’s half, they do it by putting pressure on the first player who wins the ball from the opponent, and continuing to hunt sideways and back passes. The player hunting is the one who pressure the first player. He pays attention to keep the man he left in his cover shadow. The rest of the players are standing between two players, closer to the one who is more likely to receive the ball. This way they can either win the ball, or keep pressing the receiver of the next pass.
The back four closes back very narrow. While on the other side Willian stays high for an immediate change of sides in case the ball is won. The back four stands there with perfect staggering, with maximum number of lines created.