Tactical analysis Athletico Parnaense Internacional 1-0

Athletico Paranaense – SC Internacional: Last-gasp piece of quality wins Paranaense a chaotic yet dysfunctional match (1-0)

Paranaense found dominance in this match through their diagonal threat and sustained pressure off the ball. Internacional seemed far too reluctant to keep the ball down and, rather, pumped hopeful balls into the channels time and time again. As the game ebbed away, it took a little more than what both sides had been doing thus far, given how indecisive they were throughout.

Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.

Paranaense welcomed the break in schedule for the Copa América as they had suffered through four league defeats in five games. Despite being down in thirteenth prior to this, they sat just six points below their fifth-placed opponents. And, in a matchup that has not seen the home side lose since September 2014, Paranaense would have been hugely optimistic. 

Both sides had to cope with fixture congestion due to Copa do Brasil quarter-final duty. Tiago Nunes, though, only made two changes to his eleven which drew at home to Flamengo in midweek: Lucas Halter was replaced in defense by Pedro Henrique whilst Wellington dropped out of the midfield for Lucho González, still in keeping to the same 4-2-3-1 system.

Odair Hellmann took a much more drastic approach following their 1-0 defeat away at Palmeiras. He named nine (!) changes, with only goalkeeper Marcelo Lomba and central midfielder Nonato keeping their spots. Even the 4-4-2 system did not keep its place as a 4-3-3 setup was installed instead.

Paranaense establish foothold

It took a while for this match to settle and kick into gear, but when it did, it seemed to tip heavily in the home side’s favor. Whilst both sides pressed in a mix between a 4-3-3 shape and a 4-4-2 layout – dictated by far-sided central midfielders stepping up to press – we got to see how each side dealt with the pressure.

On the away side’s end, they seemed far more panicked by the man-for-man pressure and their only response was to play risky long balls down the right. A common pattern was to play short into Heitor, who would pump it long into the channels, as winger Martín Sarrafiore dropped deep and close by. It was then up to midfielder Rithely and striker Rafael Sóbis to chase the ball, with them dragging across both center-backs. The problem was that this was a very low-percentage approach. They only very rarely won either the first or second ball.

Internacional’s right flank approach in attack.

Internacional’s right flank approach in attack.

This was just about Internacional’s only way of attacking throughout the whole match. They had very few connections to the center-backs because the central midfielders ahead of the holding midfielder played like true forwards.

Paranaense, on the other hand, were far calmer and more stable in their possession approach. Beginning in a 4-3-3 setup, the countering movements of Lucho on the left – pushing up into the attacking line – and Nikão on the right – dropping deep into the vacant right-back position – created a 4-2-3-1 shape. As right-back Jonathan pushed on, Nikão was free to drop deep, overload the first phase of play and collect the ball from the center-backs. Against Internacional’s 4-1-4-1 layout, which soon retreated to more of a 6-3-1 shape, the time Paranaense afforded themselves helped massively in exploiting the space in behind.

It was when the visitors dropped into that 6-3-1 shape where Paranaense had the most joy. The idea on the away side’s end was to have support against the constantly narrow attacking diamond inside, whilst the wide-midfielders cover against the wide threat – they did little such thing. With so much time on the ball, Paranaense were able to get their heads up and locate Jonathan’s constant runs on the diagonal, since the wide-midfielders were never actually in line with the defense and consequently left a pocket of space that could be exploited. In the early stages, this led to a couple of good opportunities to cross but the quality of the deliveries was not up to scratch.

Paranaense’s 4-2-3-1 structure with the wide threat of the fullbacks.

Paranaense’s 4-2-3-1 structure with the wide threat of the fullbacks.

What was so impressive about Paranaense’s ball-game, as well, was their commitment to their 4-2-3-1 structure. Jonathan and right-winger Marcelo Cirino rotated constantly inside and out, whilst the central attackers came across in support of the ball, too. 

This was evident in the buildup to the first clear cut chance of the match as Jonathan recovered his right-sided position to create a link inside. As center-forward Marco Ruben came across to provide an option, the three combined perfectly, using one-touch play and an excellent third man run on Cirino’s end to get in behind the opened-up Internacional defense. He attempted to keep his composure by trying to dink it over Santos, who managed to tip it onto the bar.

Despite being largely out of the picture, Internacional’s persistent strategy managed to pay off just a couple of minutes later when, from a very deep free kick, Sóbis won a flick-on down the right for Sarrafiore to latch onto. With a quick turn and cross, he found, unsurprisingly, one of his team’s midfield runners, in the form of Nonato. He had his first effort smothered before Sóbis picked up the scraps and blazed over a glorious chance to go ahead against the run of play.

Rhythmless second half

What did not help the game flow, though, were the fouls being committed, of which there were sixteen committed in the first half alone. These fouls often put the home side into good positions to create a chance but they could not muster anything. The same was happening at the beginning of the second half as the rhythm of the game disappeared completely.

We were yet to see Paranaense settled in the middle third as Internacional restored some of the aggression in their press, which still failed to achieve anything, really. And, interestingly, Nunes had tweaked his shape a little. It was now a much more rigid 4-3-3 shape with a much flatter central midfield structure. Whether this was to have access into both vacant halfspacesHalfspace – If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. or not was unclear, but the aim for potential stability down both sides seemed fairly sensible. However, it came at the price of their potent first-half threat quickly fading. 

That did not, however, stop Paranaense from creating a good headed chance for Roni two minutes into the half. This move highlighted the huge lack of vertical compactness in Internacional’s shape, as their three-man midfield stretched themselves as if it were independent of the wide-midfielders, which should have in no way been the case. In doing so, Bruno Guimarães managed to collect the ball freely on the corner of the box after Nonato had been dragged wide. He whipped in the first good delivery of the match and found Roni’s head, which was glanced over.

As Paranaense began to lose grip, they were guilty of losing the ball more and, thus, Internacional were being given ways back in. Here, when they did so, the visitors pulled out the exact same trick in transition. With Rithely bursting through the right-sided channels to draw across Léo Pereira, this left Sóbis isolated against Henrique; thanks to a clever double movement from the striker, he managed to latch onto the cross for a tap-in, which was directed straight into the path of Santos.

The chances kept coming, as did the misses. The game was stretched, the structures and defensive actions were a mess and so were the attempts on goal. This time, Ruben found himself in behind after a simple ball over the top and through the middle, which occupied two Internacional defenders. When the ball’s path remained unchanged, Ruben picked up the pieces and timidly placed his big chance straight at Lomba. 

Changes galore do the job… kind of

Both sides were piling on their best technical attackers as we entered the final third of the match. If anything, this created more disparity in both sides’ play, as you had even more attackers stretching the pitch now. Even more cases now, also, where the goalkeeper would boot it long following claimed crosses. 

Hellmann tweaked his side’s shape eventually, moving to a 5-4-1 setup, which helped to get more men out to the ball and in aid of counterattacks, whilst keeping enough men back to deal with the Paranaense pressure.

The last twenty minutes were a blur of end-to-end attacks without any substance. But, finally, in the eighty-eighth minute, the viewing patience was rewarded with the first moment of true quality. Substitute Vitinho was driving in from the left towards the back four, where he had absolutely no trouble cutting in and trying a curled effort towards the far-post. Maybe unexpectedly, this attempt beat everyone and gave the home side a dramatic late lead, which proved to be enough to secure all three points.


Internacional failed to buck the home side trend as, on the balance of play, the hosts just about deserved their victory. However, they were very guilty of giving the game up in the second period, as well as many chances. What this win now means is that they move up one place, into the Copa Sudamericana spots, now just three points behind their opponents.

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Peter (20), lives just outside of London. He’s been writing about tactics and such for over a year now, contributing to a couple of sites during that time. His main club is Arsenal but he’s also followed Real Betis quite heavily since Quique Setién took over last year. This form of writing has become a great passion of his and, although he’s unsure of what his end aim is, he’s enjoying being given new opportunities to continue doing so. [ View all posts ]


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