Debinha scout report: why Brazilian is crucial to North Carolina Courage’s tactics
The 2021 NWSL season, the top flight of women’s football in the USA, is well under way, with plenty of teams making their mark early on, and plenty of players showing good form. One team showing early promise is North Carolina Courage, who have won one, drawn one and lost one so far. They have plenty of good players in the team, but the one who binds them together is Brazil midfielder Debinha. Usually operating in an attacking midfield role, she is involved in a lot of their final third play, creating chances and finding spaces in opposing defensive lines.
This tactical analysis will look in closer detail at her game, analysing her positioning, ability to see spaces, and the way she links up with others around the pitch. This will give us a greater understanding of her place in Courage’s tactics, and why they always look more likely to win when she is on the pitch.
The first thing to look at is Debinha’s positioning, showing us how she helps her team around the pitch.
Debinha is very much a team player, and never expects her teammates to constantly play the ball into her. Instead, North Carolina Courage’s fluid formation allows all of their players to move around the pitch, positioning themselves in ways that help them to keep possession. This image demonstrates how one Courage player has gone inside, looking for passing options to move the ball to. Debinha makes space for her by coming out to the wing, and this also provides her teammate with a wide passing option if she wants to use it. This shows how the Brazilian’s positional awareness makes her a key part of Courage’s tactics.
The bigger picture here is that Debinha’s movement maintains Courage’s wide attacking setup, making it harder for Washington Spirit to cover every part of the pitch. This means that one player will likely be left open, ensuring Courage can move the ball forward and keep their attack alive. This is another reason why Debinha’s intelligent positioning is important for her team. Courage head coach Paul Riley wants her to play more centrally, which is perhaps highlighted by her poor crossing accuracy of 27.8%, but the fact that she can play in these areas when needed gives Courage more options tactically.
Debinha is not only an attacking player, but plays a major part in the defensive game too. Orlando Pride have possession just inside Courage’s half here, but are unable to advance forwards with it. This is because Debinha has closed them down at pace, dislodging the ball and enabling her teammates to race onto it, launching a counter-attack. The Brazil international has won 42.9% of her duels this season, and 71.8% of her recovery attempts in the opposing half, so it is not surprising that her teammates trust her to win the ball back in these situations.
Being a modern midfielder means players need to be good at all defensive, attacking and transitional aspects of play. We know Debinha is good in attack, but this image shows her defensive strengths too. This was particularly useful against Orlando, who have the likes of USA striker Alex Morgan, who spent time with Tottenham Hotspur Women in the WSL last season, and women’s football legend Marta in their team, so always pose a threat in attack.
We have analysed Debinha’s positional abilities in open play, but she also plays a vital role in set-pieces, especially in corners. As this image shows, she tends to position herself in the D, away from the action inside the box. This initially seems strange, given the threat she poses, but her role here is to win back possession if the opponents try to break out of their box. This is a common occurrence, and it allows Debinha to either shoot at goal or pass into a teammate when she wins the ball back. This setup is an important tactical feature of Courage’s play, and we can see how Debinha’s positioning is a key part of it.
When playing for her country, Debinha has a different role altogether. She tends to play as a false nine, leading the line, unlike at Courage, where she has players ahead of her most of the time. Debinha therefore needs to create options herself, which she does by playing on the shoulder of the last defender, as she is here against Canada, taking advantage of any gaps they leave open.
Whilst the ball is on the nearside wing, Debinha’s positioning forces the Canadian defenders to stay with her, rather than closing it down, as that would leave her in open space behind the defence. However, some Canadian players, such as right-back Ashley Lawrence, generally make that mistake, and it was one of the reasons why Lawrence’s PSG Feminines lost out to Barcelona Femeni in their Champions League semi-final tie last season. In this image, Debinha is ready to punish them in the same way if they leave her unmarked.
The last section showed how Debinha’s positioning is key to her team’s tactical play, but we will now turn our attention to her ability to see spaces, helping her team to maximise their attacking opportunities.
North Carolina Courage have one of the best midfield units in the NWSL, with Debinha featuring alongside Republic of Ireland international Denise O’Sullivan, who played on loan at Brighton and Hove Albion Women for part of last season, and Sam Mewis, who joined the team from Manchester City Women last month. This gives them a good balance in games, with players capable of getting forward and moving back as needed, never leaving gaps open.
Here, they have possession in the final third, but the Orlando players are closing them down, trying to force a mistake that they can capitalise on. Debinha has seen this, and runs into the central space in front of goal to help her teammates out. She increases her speed whilst doing so, allowing her to meet the ball and shoot at goal. This catches the defender ahead of her out, and this is another reason she is such a dangerous player and a crucial part of the Courage team.
However, her goalscoring record once in these spaces is not as high as perhaps expected, as she has only netted 0.55 times per game so far, despite having an expected goals (xG) value of 0.62, whilst she only gets 30.3% of her shots on target. Therefore, being more productive in the box is one thing she can still improve on.
It is not just centrally where Debinha gets into good spaces. Here, Orlando’s defence is organised, but is not positioned centrally. The Brazilian has noticed this, moving into the box behind them and giving Jamaica midfielder Havana Solaun, in the yellow circle, a target to find with her cross. Whilst Debinha’s headed effort goes over the bar, it shows the threat she poses in the box, and her ability to see open spaces around the pitch. Her teammates know that, if the ball is in the final third, Debinha will always get into an area to receive it, allowing them to keep their attacks alive. This is another way she is a crucial part of their tactics.
We have already seen how Debinha plays on the shoulder of opposing defenders, but what is significant here is that she doesn’t move forwards. Her teammate has come inside here, looking to move the ball into those ahead of her, but the space is not where Debinha is initially positioned. Instead, she moves sideways, into a different gap, as the blue arrow indicates, which gives Courage more chance of successfully transferring the ball behind the defensive line. Therefore, her spatial awareness and ability to adapt her positioning is a key part of their attacking play.
However, what really helps the team is Debinha’s ability to keep calm under pressure and link-up play around the pitch.
Here, we see Debinha in a playmaking role, just outside the box. From here, she can move the ball into different areas of the pitch, depending on where her team will have a better chance of shooting and potentially scoring. Her teammates provide her with short and long passing options, making it hard for their opponents to predict where the ball will go.
The Brazil international opts here to pass to striker Lynn Williams, with Racing Louisville unable to intercept it. Whilst Williams’ effort misses the target, this demonstrates the threat Debinha poses in the final third, and how her role as a pivot allows Courage to link players around one focal point. Therefore, Debinha is their playmaker, and the one the team look to when they need to move the ball into different areas around the pitch.
Debinha’s composure in possession is just as impressive when she is under pressure from opponents. Despite needing to move the ball quicker than she ordinarily likes to, she doesn’t panic, playing a perfectly-weighted pass through to Williams, who cuts back and scores Courage’s second of five in this game. Debinha was the one directing their attacking play in this match, positioning herself well and constantly finding teammates, setting up chances all over the pitch, and her ability to see and expose defensive gaps caused plenty of problems for Louisville.
When teams play with a low block, as Orlando do, Debinha becomes even more important. One of her key strengths is quick decision-making, and she works with teammates to get into areas between opponents. Here, a simple one-two allows her to run into the space behind the first Orlando line, opening up options ahead of her to move the ball to.
It is worth noting that her passing accuracy this season stands at 73.7%, indicating that this is a clear strength of hers, and she also has a 58.8% accuracy for passes to the final third and a 45.7% accuracy for passes into the penalty area, all of which benefits Courage when they need to move the ball forwards quickly and accurately.
Her link-up play helped to break down Orlando’s low block in this game, so this is yet another reason why Debinha is central to her team’s tactics. However, she knows she can’t do it all by herself, and needs the support of her teammates, like with this move. This team ethic is why Courage have been one of the toughest teams to play against this season, and Debinha is the one driving them forward.
It is not just in attack that Debinha links up play. We have already seen in this scout report how she gets involved in winning the ball back from Courage’s opponents, and we see here how Washington Spirit are looking to close the ball down in Courage’s half. Debinha has tracked back to help her team out, remaining composed and without trying anything too risky. Instead, she plays the simple short pass to her teammate, again highlighting how she is a team player, but also how she links up play in different areas of the pitch, making her the complete midfielder, able to play in any area and perform any role.
In conclusion, this analysis has shown why Brazil midfielder Debinha is one of North Carolina Courage’s most important players, and how she gives them different qualities on the pitch. It is clear that, despite it being very much a team effort, she is the one who brings them together, and is at the heart of all their good play. Therefore, we can see why she is valued so highly both for club and country.