Copa Libertadores 2022: The edge between Corinthians and Flamengo – tactical preview
For what could be the fixture of the year in Brazilian football, Corinthians and Flamengo will face off for a spot in the semi-final of the Copa Libertadores 2022. The derby between Brazil’s two biggest fan bases has 104 years of history, with football’s most iconic legends being protagonists. From Zico and Romário to Sócrates and Ronaldo, this derby has hosted numerous legends.
In addition to the history behind this fixture, this year’s quarter-final will be a fascinating tactical clash between two distinct managers. With Vitor Pereira in charge, Corinthians will be relying on stars like former Arsenal and Chelsea winger Willian and Róger Guedes to lead their attack. On the other hand, Dorival Júnior’s recent appointment has brought some stability to Flamengo, with their star players finally returning to form. Additionally, both teams have signed some big names over the past few weeks, and they will certainly be hoping to make an impact. Most notably, Flamengo have brought in former Barcelona and Inter Milan midfielder Arturo Vidal.
In this tactical analysis preview, we will examine the tactics behind this mouth-watering Copa Libertadores quarter-final. In order to determine how the two systems interact, we will first examine their recent meeting in the Série A. After their tactical strategies are identified, we will consider what might give each team the edge in this close battle.
Three weeks ago in the Série A, Corinthians defeated Flamengo in a narrow 1-0 victory after Rodinei’s own goal. Although a few key players were missing, the match showcased how the two teams’ tactics interact in a preview of the quarter-final. Despite the 1-0 result, the match was fairly even as neither team was able to dominate. While Flamengo had twice as many chances, the quality was equal with both teams creating around 1.3 xG. Possession was also equally distributed, with Flamengo having just over 51%.
Further metrics, however, allow us to identify a difference in strategy and effectiveness. Through both statistical and tactical analysis, we can examine the structure and behaviour of both teams in this match. First, while the two teams were pressing high, neither were entirely successful. Flamengo’s 10.29 PPDA is higher than Corinthians’ 12.72, explaining their slight advantage in total passes. Furthermore, when compared to Flamengo’s 9.42%, Corinthians’ 11.49 long pass percentage highlights a slightly harder time in their build-up.
Corinthians lined up in an asymmetric 3-4-1-2, with right wing-back Rafael Ramos being slightly lower than left wing-back Lucas Piton. In the middle, Víctor Cantillo and Du Queiroz formed a double pivot. On the other hand, Flamengo pressed in their initial 4-3-1-2/4-1-3-2 structure.
Corinthians almost exclusively look to build up through the sides, a strategy Flamengo were able to exploit. Using the touchline as an extra defender, Mengão shifted across in a zonal press while maintaining their structure. While one centre-forward blocked the switch, in this example Gabigol and the midfield would join the other in attempting to box Corinthians in. The natural narrowness of Flamengo’s 4-3-1-2 dictates their pack-like behaviour out of possession.
While Dorival’s press certainly complicated Corinthians’ build-up, Vitor Pereira’s side still enjoyed large spells of possession, as did Flamengo. Consequently, pressing was not a deciding factor in this match, though it did pose a threat.
At half-time, Vitor Pereira switched to four at the back, and more specifically, a 4-4-2 out of possession. At any rate, Corinthians also deployed a zone-oriented press as seen below. Depending on the scenario, either Du Queiroz or Giuliano would step up alongside Róger Guedes to form the 4-4-2.
However, Vitor Pereira’s press was not as successful and organised as Dorival’s, resulting in Flamengo breaking out a couple of times. In addition to finding players in between the lines, they also found success in attracting Corinthians to one side before switching to the other. In the example below, Fabrício Bruno is able to find Ayrton Lucas with time and space to advance into the middle third.
In the middle and final third, Flamengo were also more effective, largely due to the way the two tactics naturally clashed. Vitor Pereira’s side is characterised by attacking through the wings, and Flamengo were easily able to stop that. While the São Paulo side had 32 positional attacks, only one resulted in a shot. This ineffectiveness, especially against a low block, has been Corinthians’ biggest puzzle in recent matches.
In transitions, they were able to succeed. As seen below, Timão looked to find diagonal passes attacking the space behind the defensive line. When done effectively, this lowers the defensive line and creates cutback opportunities for players arriving late.
Flamengo did not hesitate to drop into a low block, though, and successfully prevented this. As a result, Corinthians would often retain possession in the wide areas without holding any real threat. In the instance below, while three players occupy the wide channel in the final third, there is nobody centrally. Flamengo’s compact defence is able to make it virtually impossible for them to reach the penalty area with danger.
This one-dimensional strategy in possession leads to Corinthians being quite predictable and ineffective at breaking down low blocks.
On the other hand, 82% of Flamengo’s xG was created through the middle. They were able to do so by building through the wide areas before playing inside the final third. By maintaining maximum width at all times, they were able to stretch Vitor Pereira’s defensive organisation. Consequently, after attracting Corinthians to one side, there would be gaps to exploit in the middle.
Flamengo’s squad is technically one of the best, if not the best in South America. Dorival’s attacking players are extremely dangerous in 1v1 scenarios, and Vitor Pereira did not want to take the chance. Consequently, especially in low blocks, Corinthians looked to have a plus one superiority in wide areas.
In the example below, Roni shifts across to provide cover when Everton Ribeiro has the ball. Aware of this, he plays it back inside where Flamengo have a 2v1 advantage with João Gomes and Marinho over Du Queiroz. By constantly changing the focus of attack and manipulating the defensive organisation, Flamengo were able to reach the final third with danger.
Progressing through the middle
After understanding how the two tactical systems clash, we are now able to identify the keys to victory in the quarter-final.
First, Corinthians must overcome their struggle to create in the final third. Especially in the first leg, away from home, Flamengo will not hesitate to drop into a low block. Given how much Timão struggled in their recent meeting, they must change their strategy.
The most significant factor behind their difficulty was Flamengo’s compactness. As seen more explicitly in their high press, they move in a pack-like manner, always staying narrow and limiting the space in between lines. When Corinthians attack through the sides, Flamengo simply shift their block across, leaving them congested and stuck.
However, this exact factor can be used to their advantage. Against other opposition, we are able to see how and when attacked through the middle, Flamengo leave a significant amount of space in the wide areas.
By changing their focus to the central areas of the pitch, Flamengo’s block will naturally stay central and narrow. Consequently, in the final third, they will be able to attack the wide areas with space and danger. Against Athletico Paranaense, this concept can be further illustrated. As David Terans dribbles in the central lane and Fernandinho supports from deeper, Flamengo’s defence is attracted inside. As a consequence, space is created wide for Khellven to attack.
Corinthians certainly have the players to do this, and Guedes is a key part of that. When given the freedom to roam, the 25-year-old is constantly able to find gaps within the defensive organisation to receive the ball. Additionally, with his technical ability, he is able to link up with his teammates extremely well. With players like Maycon, Du Queiroz, and Fausto Vera fluctuating in the middle of the pitch, Guedes would thrive in this scenario.
Additionally, their new signing Yuri Alberto has an incredible ability to play with his back to goal. In addition to his dangerous interactions with Guedes, he is also able to perform as a deep-lying forward and assist in creating through the middle.
In the example below, Maycon is able to find Guedes within the lines who performs a beautiful backheel to Yuri Alberto.
Yuri immediately plays it back to Guedes, who, after advancing into space, finds Willian with tremendous space to attack in the wide area. Similar to Athletico against Flamengo, they suck the opposition in before releasing it wide in the final third. This strategy may be the key to getting a good result in the first leg.
While Dorival’s attacking strategy was relatively successful in its objective, the team lacked the quality to take advantage of it. Playing with nearly all reserves, they were unable to pose any real threat to Corinthians. The addition of their star players will not only increase their attacking danger but also change its dynamic. As it proved effective, they will certainly look to maintain their strategy in possession. However, due to individual characteristics, it will be carried out differently.
With players like Gabigol and Arrascaeta, they will be nowhere near as static. Especially with Gabigol, players are constantly rotating in and out of position with no rigid structure. This tends to drag players out of position and create holes within the defensive organisation. In addition to their previous strategy of stretching Corinthians and attracting them to one side, they will also be able to create space through their fluidity.
In the instance below, Gabigol drops far into the midfield from his initial centre-forward position. Arrascaeta quickly attacks the space created and receives a line-breaking pass from David Luiz.
Later in the final third, Gabi finds Everton Ribeiro in the box for their third goal. In the wide area, Rodinei runs inside in order to drag the defender in and create space for Gabi to receive and cross. Their constant movement is very effective in creating space.
Gabigol’s partnership with Pedro will also be very important. The two have completely different styles, yet they complement each other extremely well. While Pedro is a traditional number nine who does not venture much outside the box, Gabi is a free-roaming false nine.
In the example below, Gabi’s positioning pins the opposition’s right-back wide and creates space for Arrascaeta to receive the ball. Meanwhile, Pedro positions himself in between the centre-back and the left-back, forcing the fullback to stay inside. As a consequence, Everton Ribeiro is left with space on the opposite side.
After Arrascaeta receives inside, he lays off Thiago Maia who instantly plays the switch to Everton Ribeiro. The centre-forwards and their characteristics, even without touching the ball, are so important in creating space.
With the ball, Gabigol and Pedro also tend to link up quite well. Their intelligent movement and brilliant technical abilities allow them to effectively play off each other in the final third. Both are natural goal scorers, and with each other, this is only enhanced.
In their recent meeting, Corinthians and Flamengo set the tactical stage for the Libertadores quarter-final, showcasing both advantages and disadvantages throughout the four phases. For Corinthians, their struggle to create was significant. However, by changing their focus of attack, they might be able to exploit Flamengo’s defensive organisation on Tuesday. For Flamengo, simply having their star players back and exploiting their individual characteristics should be enough to put Corinthians in danger.
The quarter-final will be a fascinating tactical clash between two evenly matched sides, and as seen in their recent encounter, it should be decided by a thin margin. With both teams looking to gain the edge, it will be interesting to see how it plays out tactically.