Corinthians – Palmeiras: Derby Paulista Ends In Stalemate (1-1)
After breaking a winless streak of four games, Palmeiras had the opportunity to prove a point against the three-game unbeaten Corinthians in the Derby Paulista. Palmeiras seemed to be the better side initially, yet they eventually crumbled because of their own flaws, of which Corinthians took full advantage.
Tactical analysis and match report by Kareem Bianchi.
Thirteen games into the league, the top of the table in Brasileiro Série A’s is still shaping up, yet the current crop of teams occupying the higher spots of the table seem to be a fairly accurate indication as to what to expect from this year’s title race participants.
Led by Jorge Sampaoli’s Santos, chasing Palmeiras met Fábio Carille’s Corinthians on their climb to first place. Their position in second, two points off the top, after a streak of three games without a win in the league (five in all competitions), was a testament to Luiz Felipe Solari’s men’s unbreachable start. Thus, Palmeiras’ fans must have hoped that their latest win over Godoy Cruz in the Copa Libertadores would be the shape of things to come, anticipating a return on the right track. Corinthians could instead count on an unbeaten streak since the Copa América break and their confidence coming into the Derby Paulista.
Palmeiras have a point to prove
Palmeiras started the match quite well. Their 4-2-3-1 shape, wherein Palmeiras would build the play consistently, presented Solari’s team with chances to attack their rivals’ backline. The degree of directness from defense to attack mixed with some slick passing between the forwards made Palmeiras’ play extremely problematic to counter and easily disrupted Corinthians’ defense.
Whenever one attacker or midfielder dropped back into space, another teammate would move into the opposite direction, in order to be ready to receive the following pass. This made the front four tricky to deal with, as their unpredictable movements were balanced each time and created dangers all over the pitch at multiple lengths (for example, when the wingers tucked inside, the fullbacks stepped up to provide an option out wide). Left back Diogo Barboso often pushed, acting as a left winger, meaning left winger Raphael Veiga came inside to overload the center of the field.
Palmeiras’ 4-2-3-1 shape versus Corinthians’ 4-1-4-1 medium / low-block.
Corinthians’ lead in the thirteenth minute, therefore, would have come as a surprise if football’s percentage of randomness was not an acknowledged factor in the lovely random game of football. Especially on set-pieces – as was the case with Corinthians’ opening goal – where it is easier to create episodic narratives unrelated to the context and flow of the game.
The real surprise was perhaps Palmeiras’ increased struggle at carrying out what had worked so well in the first ten minutes. Sometimes, one goal is all that’s needed to properly change a football match and that’s what happened here. Corinthians, with a goal already in the bag, could sit back and wait patiently for a slip from Palmeiras to start a counterattack. As a result, the trailing side could not find the necessary and adequate breakthroughs centrally and had to attempt to access the middle via the wings (mainly by playing passes into the center-forward in the box who would subsequently lay the ball off).
Although Corinthians’ defensive shape was ball-oriented, having five players in midfield allowed them to cover the width of the pitch well. Palmeiras’ slow play in possession further aided this, as quick switches of play, naturally, are harder to defend than slow switches. The need for a goal also made the possession frantic in some situations in which the ball and options could have been handled more optimally and rationally; instead of looking for the most direct solution without evaluating the advantages of such decisions compared to others.
Eventually, the 61% possession in Palmeiras’ favor didn’t lead to much after Corinthians’ lead and the contest took a sterile turn with neither team being able to create tangible and consistent threats to the opposition’s goal.
Funnily enough, Palmeiras’ equalizer came from a set-piece as well, setting the scene for an intense derby in the second half. The tables turned, though, and unable to succeed in their plan from an offensive point of view during the first half, Corinthians took matters into their own hands but the hosts seemed to encounter the same difficulties Palmeiras faced against their defense.
Whereas Solari’s side showcased some interesting solutions to break down the opponents’ defensive block, A defensive block is the compact group of defenders that defends a particular zone, either their own half in a medium defensive block, or the zone around their own box in a deep defensive block. Carille’s men seemed to have improvised their control, as their shots reveal as well: four, two of which on target with an expected goal The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take. value of 0.1.
Therefore, in the second half, their passing was mainly horizontal, looking to disorganize the opposition’s shape by inviting players out of their position. Why what they lacked were movements to support the offensive structure and create issues for the defenders at the same time. When the ball reached the full-back, the central midfielder would shift towards the wing, essentially vacating the center and inciting ineffective full-back-to-winger passes which the rival winger intercepted multiple times. Even if the ball was successfully passed to the winger, the receiver would have had few options. The only solution was to dribble inside and then pass the ball to the onrushing midfielder, however, most times the defending fullback was able to prevent the attacker from turning.
Better pressing leads to better Corinthians
A contributing factor to the dominant – although not decisive – second half display from Corinthians was the pressing. Throughout the first half, they had rarely displayed will to recover the ball or even merely disturb Palmeiras’ buildup from deep but after the restart, their all-round plan drastically changed. The forwards immediately stepped onto the back four, with the striker in charge of pressing the two center-backs while the fullbacks were assigned to the wingers.
Virtually cut out of play by the forwards’ positioning, the double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. came in support of the backline by moving wider and deeper in an attempt to draw the central midfielders out of position (and disrupt the central cover). The intent was to invite as many players as possible to press and play direct passes to the forwards. Pivot Gabriel Girotto was, however, effective at defending the space behind the midfielders, avoiding the eventuality of having to defend dangerous counters.
With both teams unable to create chances, and despite putting an effort into attempting to win the game, the ubiquitous flaws in possession ended the game in a stalemate.
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The importance of the Derby Paulista could be felt even from behind the screen, and the emotional involvement from both teams was evident. However, the tactical aspect was not neary as embracing and eventually happened to be what stopped one of the sides from standing out.
With this draw, Palmeiras find themselves four points off league leaders Santos and at the crossroads between the impressive first minutes and the inability to react to adverse situations. Halfway between Santos and third and fourth-placed Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro, it’s paramount Solari finds a way for his team to recover their lost consistency.
Carille’s men will benefit from yet another draw with one game in hand which could take them one point from fourth place in case of victory. Considering the structural issues showcased it’s not a bad spot to be in, although the question remains: will they be able to keep it up?
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