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The tactics Arthur Elias is using to ensure Corinthians Feminino retain their superiority in Brazil – tactical analysis

Women’s football fans are well aware of the authority exerted by Chelsea and Emma Hayes in the WSL. However, an equally impressive level of dominance is currently unfolding in the landscape of women’s football in Brazil, which will be the focus of this tactical analysis.

Since their refounding in 2016, Corinthians Feminino has asserted their dominance as a formidable force in women’s football. The club has clinched the Sao Paulo state championship – the Campeonato Paulista title three times, additionally, they have reigned supreme with an impressive tally of three Copa Libertadores Femenina victories, firmly establishing themselves as continental champions. Domestically, Corinthians Feminino has triumphed with four Campeonato Brasileiro titles and one Copa do Brasil title, leaving no doubt about their unrivalled success on Brazilian soil.

As the first phase of the Campeonato Brasileiro is about to draw to a close, Corinthians find themselves on course to retain their title. Despite a surprising recent loss to Kindermann, they remain at the top of the table, above close rivals Flamengo. 

The club has been under the astute leadership of current manager Arthur Elias, who assumed the reins in 2018. This tactical analysis will allow us to explore the tactics and style that the 41-year-old has implemented which have brought Corinthians resounding success both within Brazil and across the landscape of South American football.

Preferred formations

To kick off this analysis, we will begin with a look at the Corinthians manager’s preferred formations. The graphic above shows us that Elias has primarily used a 4-3-3 formation which is easily shifted into a 4-1-4-1 formation when he requires a slightly more defensive structure. 

The 4-3-3 formation encourages an attacking mindset and allows them to dominate possession, create goal-scoring opportunities, and initiate a high press on the opposition. It allows for fluid movement, and effective passing, enabling players to interchange positions and maintain offensive fluidity. Corinthians can showcase their attacking prowess by utilising this formation while maintaining a solid defensive structure.

Build-up in central areas

When observing Corinthians building their attacks, the first thing that becomes immediately noticeable is their preference for utilising the central areas and half spaces, rather than relying on width. The heatmap clearly indicates the specific regions of the pitch where they are most active.

Instead of frequently crossing from the byline, Corinthians Feminino prefer to either deliver the ball into the box from deeper positions or play through the lines, aiming to manoeuvre the ball into the opposition’s penalty area. This strategic choice facilitates quick and efficient ball circulation, as the players are in closer proximity to each other. Consequently, it allows for shorter passing combinations, which significantly improves the team’s ability to break through the defensive line.

Operating within tighter spaces grants Corinthians players the advantage of exploiting gaps and allows them to effectively disrupt the opposing defence. This method creates confusion among defenders and creates opportunities for the attackers to carve out scoring chances.

Additionally, by adopting this style of play, the team can maintain control of the ball and dictate the tempo of the game as they average 61.13% possession per 90. This emphasis on central areas and half spaces really enables Corinthians to dominate possession and consistently threaten the opposition’s goal.

Figure 1.1

Here in Figure 1.1, we can see just how narrow Corinthians are in attack as they push numbers forward into the opposition penalty area. Often when Arthur Elias’ team find themselves in this position, players will then look to move out into slightly wider areas to create space for players in more central areas as we can see in this image. 

We can also see that they like to get forward in numbers as there are five players in white. Of course, this increases the likelihood of creating scoring opportunities. With more players inside the box, there is a higher chance of receiving through balls, or rebounds that can be converted into goals. The increased presence of attacking players puts pressure on the opposing defence, making it difficult for them to mark each player effectively. As we can see in Figure 1.1, Cruzeiro have brought eight players back in an attempt to halt the Corinthians attack. 

Figure 1.2

Here, we can see how Corinthians Feminino opt to move the ball into central areas when building an attack from the back. The central forward will often drop back in order to receive the ball from the central defenders. Consequently, this often draws the opposition’s central defenders out of their defensive line which allows plenty of space for the wide players to make inverted runs into more central areas.

Figure 1.3

There are two aspects of Figure 1.3 that we are going to talk about. Firstly, another element of Corinthians Feminino’s build-up play under Arthur Elias is that one of the fullbacks will stay reasonably wide while the other fullback will make an inverted run into the central midfield area. We can see here that Tamires is holding the width on the left side, meanwhile, Katiuscia is making a run from right back into the central area.

The heatmaps above represent the areas where the two fullbacks operate on the pitch. We can see that Katiuscia in particular likes to operate in the halfspaces on the right side. This allows her to provide a numerical overload in midfield so that Corinthians can build up by playing through the lines and retain possession. We know that Arthur Elias likes his team to build up in more central areas so this movement of the fullbacks is an important part of that as it forces the opposition to adjust their defensive shape and creates gaps that can be exploited by other attacking players.

Inverted runs by fullbacks also provide a different angle of attack – as they move into half-spaces or central areas, they can receive the ball in a more advantageous position to deliver incisive passes or take shots at goal. Therefore, their positioning allows them to have a better view of the entire field and make intelligent decisions based on the unfolding play.


Now, if we return our attention to Figure 1.3, we can see that similarly to Figure 1.2, the central striker tends to drop deeper in order to create space for the inverted wingers to run into central areas. For a recent run of games, Elias has been deploying Gabi Zanotti in this role as a False 9 as we can see above.

As Zanotti is traditionally a central midfielder herself, she automatically looks to make these off-the-ball movements. We can see from the heatmap above that when she has been used as the central striker, Zanotti spends a significant amount of time outside the penalty area in the midfield areas and zone 14. As she drops deep to receive the ball, it becomes difficult for defenders to track her movements and mark her effectively. This is what creates confusion for defenders, leaving spaces for other attacking players to exploit.

Figure 1.4

Moreover, in Figure 1.4, we can see that Zanotti has drifted further wide which, in turn, allows the central midfielders to carry the ball or lay the ball off and make runs forward. 

When forwards play deeper, it has the effect of dragging the opposition’s defensive line higher up the pitch, consequently leaving space in behind. This strategic movement disrupts the defensive structure and creates opportunities for the attacking team.

By Zanotti dropping deeper, she forces the opposition defenders to track their movement and prevent them from receiving the ball in dangerous positions. As a result, the defensive line is compelled to push up to maintain their defensive shape and stay compact. This defensive adjustment leaves space behind the defensive line that can be exploited by fellow attackers or players making well-timed runs.

The presence of space behind the defensive line offers several advantages for the attacking team. Firstly, it allows for effective through balls and diagonal passes over the top, as attackers can make runs into these open spaces to receive the ball and penetrate the opposition’s defensive lines. This can lead to one-on-one situations with the goalkeeper or create numerical advantages in the attacking third.

Launch it long

Figure 2.1
Figure 2.2

Moreover, Arthur Elias’ team are more than happy to launch it long when required as they average 48.5 long passes per 90. As we can see in Figures 2.1 and 2.2, it creates goal-scoring opportunities by allowing the attacking team to bypass the opposition’s defensive lines quickly.

Secondly, playing a long ball in attack can provide a team with the element of surprise. Defenders may not always anticipate a direct pass, making it difficult for them to deal with it. Therefore, the unpredictability of a long ball can destabilise the opposing defence and provides an advantage to Corinthians when in the attacking phase.

Launching the ball long is also a common strategy to initiate counterattacks. This is something Elias asks his team to do when they regain possession in defence, as a way of making the most of the opposition being out of their own defensive shape. With Corinthians quickly transitioning from defence to attack, they can catch the opposition off-guard and exploit spaces left behind as defenders and midfielders push forward.

Pressing high early on in games

Figure 3.1
Figure 3.2

We cannot talk about Corinthians without discussing their high pressing. It is such a key facet of their game, one they often use extremely early on in order to set the rhythm of the match. With a PPDA of 4.79 per 90, we can interpret that pressing high is very much what Arthur Elias wants from his team.

As mentioned above, it is particularly noticeable that this is something they do early on in games as it is a great way to set the tone of the match and establish their dominance. It sends a message to the opposition that they will face intense pressure throughout the game, potentially causing them to feel rushed and make errors under the relentless pursuit of this Corinthians team.

We can see in Figures 3.1 and 3.2 just how Corinthians look to press in order to regain possession. We can also see that these images are from the first half of games, this is when Corinthians high pressing is in full effect. This is what allows them to control the game’s tempo and dictate the flow of play. By pressuring the opposition early on, they can limit their time on the ball and restrict their options, ultimately controlling the game’s pace to their own advantage.

This data visual allows us to analyse the number of high regains Corinthians have made so far this season with that of their rivals Flamengo. We can see that Arthur Elias’ team have made 170 high regains compared to 136 for Flamengo. We can also see that Corinthians have made 233 counter-pressing recoveries which means they have regained possession within five seconds of losing it, which ties in with their extremely low PPDA. Interestingly, Flamengo have completed more dangerous recoveries, which is a ball recovery that has led to a shot within 20 seconds.

Figure 3.3

Later in the game, Corinthians will often ease off on the high pressing and fall back into a 4-4-2 shape in the defensive phase as we can see in Figure 3.3 – this provides a compact and balanced defensive structure.

With four defenders forming a solid line and four midfielders positioned in front, it effectively covers the central and wide areas of the pitch. This defensive shape makes it difficult for the opposition to penetrate through the middle or exploit the flanks as there are multiple players available to provide defensive support.

The 4-4-2 formation as a defensive structure also allows for efficient zonal coverage and pressing. The midfielders can establish a compact block, denying passing lanes and pressuring the opposition players when they enter their designated zones. This coordination and collaboration within the midfield four make it challenging for the opponents to find gaps or play through the midfield area.

Playing into trouble

Figure 4.1

We acknowledged earlier in this tactical analysis that Corinthians like to play through the central areas. Whilst this is one of their biggest strengths, it can also be their downfall as it can cause them to play into crowded areas where opponents can force turnovers. The central areas of the pitch are often more congested and heavily guarded by opponents. This increased density of players makes it more challenging to find passing lanes or execute precise ball control, increasing the likelihood of mistakes.

Furthermore, playing through the middle requires a higher level of technical skill and precision in passing. The reduced space and increased pressure from opponents make it easier for passes to be intercepted or disrupted. Even slight inaccuracies in passing can result in turnovers of possession, allowing the opposition to launch counter-attacks or regain control of the ball.

We can see here in Figure 4.1 that a ball has been played by the central defender to the midfielder who has been instantaneously pressed and faces a battle to retain possession. A much better passing option from the Corinthians central defender would have been to play the ball out wide to the player who had plenty of space on the left side.


During his time at Corinthians, Arthur Elias has turned them into a winning machine and that looks set to continue this season.

His high-pressing tactics mean that opponents have very little time to think before they are hustled off the ball by a Corinthians player. This intense effort and collective determination required for successful pressing galvanises the players, creating a sense of unity and motivation which is evident throughout Corinthians play.

Elias will be looking to extend Corinthians’ dominance on the domestic stage and will no doubt be wanting them to flex their muscles in continental football once again. It will be incredibly interesting to watch how his tactical style develops over time as Corinthians look set to continue to dominate women’s football in Brazil.