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RB Bragantino: Red Bull’s latest project in South America – scout report

In 2019, Red Bull purchased CA Bragantino, in Série B at the time, to become RB Bragantino. Later that year, Bragantino won the second division and was consequently promoted to Série A for the first time in 21 years. Two years later, they have reached the Sudamericana final and qualified to the Libertadores with a sixth-place finish in the Brasileiro.

The club model implemented at Bragantino is similar to the ones at Leipzig and Salzburg; sign young talent to develop and sell for a profit. They had the youngest squad in the Brasileiro 2021 with an average age of 24.2 years. One of the club’s first signings was midfielder Claudinho, currently at Zenit. He was signed for €437K and sold two years later for €15M. Bragantino has reinvested this money and recently signed players like José Hurtado, 20 (€3.1M), Natan, 20 (€3.5M), and Eric Ramires, 21 (€1.9M).

Red Bull are famous for implementing similar playing philosophies at their clubs, and Bragantino is no different. The 40-year-old manager, Maurício Barbieri, has been fantastic in developing Red Bull-like tactics with a high-press and direct football.

In this scout report, we will examine Bragantino’s tactics in the 2021 season through statistical and tactical analysis.

Formations and starting lineup

With the departure of Claudinho and the arrival of Bruno Praxedes, Barbieri has opted for a hybrid 4-4-2/4-2-3-1. Praxedes is a strong, tall creative player who can either play as an advanced midfielder or as a centre-forward alongside Ytalo. Out wide, Barbieri’s preferred choice was Tomás Cuello and Artur. With Cuello returning to Atlético Tucuman, Helinho will likely be the alternative. In the middle, Jadsom has become a regular starter alongside Eric Ramires or Emiliano Martínez. Fabricio Bruno is consistently played alongside either Natan or Léo Ortiz. Aderlan and Luan Cândido are the fullbacks with Cleiton in goal. Below is the frequency with each Barbieri used both formations along with statistics for the previous five matches. Note the exact players aren’t all correct as they have been preseason and end-of-year games.

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Build up

Similarly to other Red Bull teams, Bragantino play direct football. They averaged the most long passes per 90 in the Brasileiro at 43.83. Similarly, they averaged the fifth-highest progressive passes per 90 at 64.68. Needless to say, Barbieri’s team looked to quickly progress through defensive lines, sometimes in the air, sometimes on the ground. First, we will have a look at the build-up.

They initially looked to play short with either centre-back. The fullbacks did not sit high but rather provided support on the wide channels. Jadsom played the single-pivot ahead of the defensive line.

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In this initial phase, they were patient. The defensive line moved the ball around until one of three possible situations appeared. The first is simply space for one of them to drive into. In this instance, Léo Ortiz has space and carries the ball into it.

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Obviously, another option is the long ball or progressive pass. With the other midfielder pushing higher, a line of five players would form. These players are constantly coordinating movements to create space and receive the ball. In the same image above, notice how after Praxedes checked for the ball near the big circle, he starts to move away and Ytalo starts dropping to occupy the space Praxedes was previously at. Natan’s passing map against Palmeiras perfectly illustrates this tendency to go direct. There are stronger, more lateral links between the backline. He then has links with all five front players.

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The third option is Bragantino’s young holding midfielder. Jadsom, as we progress higher up the pitch, can play the role of a deep-lying playmaker. The 20-year-old sits in front of the backline and usually looks to activate wide players or forwards in behind when he gets the ball. Below, he receives the ball in the midfield and quickly plays it to the left-wing channel where they have numerical superiority.

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Progression

As Bragantino hold possession in the midfield and look to enter the final third, they maintain similar principles. Before strategies, movements, and passing style, player distribution is key. Barbieri instructs his wide players to play as inverted wingers. Not traditional wingers where they hug the sideline and look to drive the ball down the line. Not inside forwards who sit more centrally while the fullbacks occupy the wide channel. But inverted wingers, who start on the wide channel and make diagonal runs in behind but are also comfortable receiving to feet and dribbling inside to their stronger foot. Not coincidentally, Cuello and Artur’s strong foot is opposite to the side they play on. Against Del Valle, Artur can be seen on the top of the screen while Cuello’s upper body is visible at the bottom. The struggle to fit them both in the camera highlights their wide position to stretch the defensive line.

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Additionally, Eric Ramires will push much higher almost joining the front two. The three then perform similar roles. Ytalo and Praxedes are constantly coordinating their movements and creating space for each other. While Ramires will give depth and sometimes make runs, he looks to check in more often than not. This average position map from a different match illustrates the attacking set-up.

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With that being said, the players have no problem rotating positions and occupying different spaces. This will create confusion in the defensive line and more often than not create space as well. As Jadsom drives the ball wide, the left-back makes a run forward while Ytalo drops to occupy Jadsom’s previous position. This rotation is also key in maintaining numerical balance to prevent being vulnerable. In this instance, they end up losing the ball but as a makeshift left-back, Jadsom is able to recover it.

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Ytalo and Praxedes’ coordinated movements are key in progressing to the final third. They are very good at making opposite runs. When one drops in to receive the ball and the defender follows, space is created behind and the other is quickly attacking it. From the other perspective, when one makes a run in behind, the other prevents a defender from providing cover by checking in to get the ball. Against Palmeiras, Praxedes checks in to receive the ball. As the ball is coming to him, Ytalo is already making a run into the space left behind. Knowing this, Praxedes lays his teammate off who quickly plays a pass in behind for Ytalo.

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Now against Del Valle, the same type of movement is made. Ytalo drops in while Praxedes makes a run in behind. Especially in this instance, Praxedes’ defender is unable to receive cover from his partner.

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Bragantino’s front five is also constantly making runs. As previously stated, they are one of the league’s leaders in progressive and long passes. They are constantly looking to play direct and attack space behind rather than work through the midfield. These runs are most commonly diagonal, usually, but not necessarily, towards the goal. As Ortiz looks for a passing option, the two players on the right side are making diagonal runs in behind.

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Much more noticeably, the front five make similar runs against Palmeiras’ high line. As Aderlan is able to break Palmeiras’ high press and drives at the backline, all five players are making runs in behind. As most teams, including Palmeiras, play with a back four, they have an overload and consequently an open player as Patrick de Paula tries to track back.

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One of Bragantino’s goals against Palmeiras comes from a superb long pass. Still in their defensive third, Aderlan plays a beautiful ball in behind for Ytalo, who is able to finish it off.

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Ytalo is a key player for Bragantino and the receiver of a lot of long passes. His pass map illustrates Bragantino’s passing style and direct football.

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Chance creation

As Bragantino are constantly looking for direct play and balls in behind, they don’t often have possession with numbers in the final third. In the times they do, though, they have a clear strategy: wide channels. All of their wingers are very good dribblers and RB consequently have the second-highest dribble success rate in the Brasileiro at 57.4%. The illustration below maps out successful dribbles in the final third for their last five games alone. It is remarkable how many of their dribbles turn into shots.

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Furthermore, they constantly look for crosses. When available, the wide overlap is used. This option will either see the overlapping fullback receive the ball in a dangerous position or may force the defender wide allowing space for the winger to dribble into. In this case, Internacional have nine players in their defensive third. Luan’s overlapping run creates an option that leads to a dangerous low cross.

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At times, the fullbacks will attempt to cross from higher positions. While deliveries from this area aren’t statistically optimal, they have two very tall forwards in Ytalo and Praxedes who are often able to finish these crosses.

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Defensive organisation

In their own half, Barbieri’s team defends in a compact 4-4-2. They look to move as a unit, always remaining compact. Staying compact prevents spaces and passing lanes in between lines. Most importantly, however, this compactness prevents them from becoming outnumbered wide or centrally. Wingers are able to track overlapping fullbacks and midfielders can cover fullbacks if needed. It also allows them to quickly combine and get out after winning the ball.

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In the image below, notice how they are not defending man-to-man, but rather by zone. Players must be aware of their surroundings and quickly close passing options down.

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High press

This would not be a Red Bull team if it did not press intensively and very high. At any rate, Barbieri was very good at developing a pressing system at Bragantino. Their behaviour during the press varies from team to team. Barbieri and his staff analyse the opposition and their build-up in order to determine the optimal strategy. At times, they may look to force the opposition wide as the opposition’s midfield may be very good. At others, they will force the opposition inside to prevent good wide players from getting on the ball. Regardless of the specific strategy, Bragantino have one of the best, if not the best pressing system in the Brasileiro.

The graphic below shows how often they have recovered the ball in the final third over the last five games. Out of 19 recoveries from positional pressing, four have led to goal-scoring opportunities straight away.

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Two of the most crucial aspects of a successful pressing system are the angles through which the pressures are made and pressing collectively, as a system without holes. Bragantino constantly do those things, and their players have proved to be very intelligent. They constantly know where the others are and are able to dictate their actions accordingly. The image below does a good job of illustrating this. Praxedes realises the two wide players are well marked by his teammates, so he angles his run and cuts the opposite holding midfielder and centre-back off with his pressure. What makes the instance above even more impressive, is the fact that they have been forcing the opposition inside all game. He realises the circumstances for this specific moment and adjusts.

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As mentioned, Barbieri dictates his pressing strategy according to the opposition’s strength. Del Valle likes to maintain their fullbacks higher as they are very good at attacking. Consequently, the forwards were constantly pressuring at angle to prevent the wide pass.

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In the instance below, they are able to recover the ball and quickly counterattack a disorganised defence. Artur prevents the wide pass as he pressures, allowing Aderlan to remain more centrally.

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When the ball is played through the middle, Aderlan is able to intercept it and immediately drive forward.

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Contrastingly, Barbieri instructed his team to force Palmeiras out wide as their midfielders are very good on the ball. In this first instance, Cuello forces their right-back to play an unsuccessful long ball wide after successfully closing off the middle. Notice they have two wide-open players in the middle, but Cuello’s run nullifies both.

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Losing by two goals with 35 minutes played, Palmeiras get a bit more desperate. This time, in a very similar situation, the right-back decides to risk the ball through the middle. However, Cuello once again pressures at the correct angle and intercepts the pass.

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After intercepting the ball, Cuello immediately drives forward to a 3v2 situation resulting in a great opportunity.

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Conclusion

Red Bull’s project in South America has been successfully developing, as this scout report demonstrated. Through statistical and tactical analysis, it is clear Bragantino are following the Red Bull playing philosophy. Manager Barbieri has successfully implemented a high pressing system alongside direct football, which have worked very well. After only two and a half years, Bragantino have not only reached the topflight in Brazil but qualified for the biggest continental competition. Step by step, Bragantino work towards becoming one of the best teams in South America.