Flamengo – Grêmio: Flamengo Overcomes Grêmio’s Pressing Plan And Records Historic Demolition (5-0)

In this second leg of the Copa Libertadores semi-final, Grêmio improved their pressing game with a reworked midfield trio. However, Flamengo found several solutions to overcome the press, especially from the boots of Filipe Luis, and ultimately dominated the game. In the second half, one early goal led to Grêmio’s collapse and an avalanche of four goals in thirty minutes. 

Tactical analysis and match report by José Perez.

Football is a game of randomness and small margins, where all it takes is a single goal, a player injury or a stoppage of play to tip the scales and decide games, irrespective of who created the better chances. Grêmio benefitted from this in the previous leg of the Copa Libertadores semi-final. Despite being dominated by Flamengo through several phases of the game, they stood their ground with grit and experience, and ultimately tied the game. In this second leg, Grêmio suffered the other side of the coin. In what was an evenly matched game, one Flamengo goal in the second half turned into another, and the scales tipped so hard they broke, leading to a historic demolition of Grêmio.  

For this second leg, Grêmio placed many of their hopes for victory in the return of defensive leader Pedro Geromel and attacking playmaker Jean Pyerre to starting lineup. The former managed to recover on time for the game, the latter did not. With both Jean Pyerre and forward Luan injured, coach Renato Gaúcho switched from his usual approach – two midfielders and four forwards – to a narrow midfield triangle where Michel Ferreira and Matheus Henrique played as a double pivot and Maicon played the number ten role. Up front, striker André was flanked by Allison and Everton on the wings. 

Meanwhile, Flamengo had no key absence and were able to play with their strongest eleven, which essentially takes on a 4-2-2-2 / 4-2-3-1 shape. In the double pivot, William Arão plays in between the center-backs while Gerson plays in a more advanced role. Meanwhile, De Arrascaeta and Everton Ribeiro act as attacking midfielders on the left and right, respectively, with the Uruguayan pushing up almost like a third forward and the latter staying deeper, almost like a central midfielder. 

At the forefront of Flamengo’s attack lies the deadly forward pair of Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa and Bruno Henrique, who have full freedom to move across the pitch, doing everything from supporting teammates during buildup to running behind defenders to get into scoring positions. And to boot, Grêmio has added top-level experience to the side with the mid-season signings of veteran fullbacks Rafinha and Filipe Luis.

Grêmio’s midfield trio: good for pressing, not so good for chance creation

With their new midfield structure, Grêmio managed to nullify Flamengo’s attack during the first half hour of the game, reducing them to only three shots in this time period. 

Since they usually play with four forwards who are not great at pressing tasks, Renato and Grêmio usually prefer to keep a low-to-medium A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. defensive block instead of pressing. However, with the midfield trio structure, Henrique and Maicon could drive forward and press opponents more often than usual, allowing Grêmio to play with a higher defensive block. This adjustment meant that Grêmio could press Flamengo’s buildup phase far more effectively. 

Flamengo usually builds up with three players, with holding midfielder Arão dropping between center-backs Caio and Marí. To combat this, Maicon marked William Arão, André followed the center-back closest to the ball, while wingers Everton and Alisson tried to cut off the passing lanes to fullbacks Rafinha and Filipe Luis. Midfielder Henrique moved forward to mark Gerson – the other half of Flamengo’s double pivot – while left back Cortez tried to cut off the passing lane to Everton Ribeiro.

Flamengo’s structure in possession against Grêmio’s pressing block. Notice how Maicon and M. Henrique follow Arão and Gerson, respectively.

Grêmio’s pressing setup allowed them to sever the link between Flamengo’s back three and the rest of the team. Flamengo struggled to string long possessions in the opposition half, with the game turning into an exchange of long balls, vertical passes and individual duels. This meant that Grêmio’s box was mostly safe from threats, but they didn’t generate too many chances either. 

The key to Grêmio’s attacking phase has always lied in the mobility of their usual four attackers, with players like Everton, Tardelli, Luan, and Jean Pyerre constantly switching positions to disorder opponents. With Grêmio’s midfield trio structure and the relatively static Maicon and striker André in the center lanes, their attack had little mobility and positional exchange, with wingers Everton and Alisson forced to operate in the wide areas. Grêmio’s attack became predictable, mostly focused on the interplay between fullbacks and wingers. 

Despite making his attack more predictable, Renato’s pressing gambit almost worked. In the 18th minute, Maicon failed to score a huge chance that came about due to his pressing work.  

The Flamengo monster slowly wakes up and pushes Grêmio back

After the half hour mark, Flamengo started finding more and more ways to overcome the Grêmio press and create chances. Filipe Luis took a more active role in his team’s buildup phase, operating almost as a deep-lying playmaker. He moved closer to the middle and started leading passing sequences and even carrying the ball forward and dribbling past opponents. On the other side, Éverton Ribeiro tried to attract the marking from left back Cortez in order to generate space for Rafinha runs from behind. Meanwhile, the constant mobility and positional exchange of Bruno Henrique, Gabigol and De Arrascaeta proved hard to contain for the Grêmio defensive system.

To make things worse for Grêmio, they mostly struggled to win individual duels in midfield zones. They were being outmuscled in the air by Arão, Gerson, and Caio, while Filipe Luis, Ribeiro and De Arrascaeta dribbled past the Grêmio pressing lines. And as they kept losing these duels, Grêmio was increasingly pushed back into their own half of the pitch, with Flamengo racking up more and more passes. It looked like a matter of time before Grêmio’s defense would break. 

Funnily enough, though, Flamengo’s first goal came at the 42nd minute, but from a counterattack. With most of Grêmio stationed in the opposition half, Filipe Luis stole the ball close to the center circle and started a counterattack led by Bruno Henrique, who carried the ball about 30 meters and produced a killer through ball for Gabigol. His shot was stopped by keeper Paulo Victor, but Henrique, still running at full power, scored on the rebound.

An early goal collapses Grêmio in the second half

Grêmio finished the first half being dominated tactically, but their second half collapse had more to do with the mental side of the game. Whatever hopes Grêmio had for recovery were quickly snuffed out by an inspired Gabigol right at the 46th minute. During a corner kick, the striker eluded his mark by moving away from goal, and then half-turned and produced an outstanding shot into the corner of the goal. 2-0.

Grêmio were stunned. Flamengo kept pressing and forcing impossible passes and turnovers from Grêmio, Arão and Caio kept winning defensive duels, while the inspired Gabigol and Bruno Henrique dribbled and ran past their opponents. In the 52nd minute, Henrique received a low cross from Filipe Luis in the box and was brought down by Geromel, with Gabigol scoring the ensuing penalty. 

Renato had to make changes to have some chance at turning things around. In the 58th minute, he substituted Pepê for André, and five minutes later, Diego Tardelli for Maicon, going back the usual 4-2-4 structure, with four forward and more attacking mobility. Grêmio rushed forward in search for the goal. The interplay among their forwards found ways past the Flamengo midfield, only to be cleared by the defensive line. And thanks to the inspired Bruno Henrique and Gabigol, Flamengo posed a huge threat on the counter when their defenders recovered the ball.

The final nail in Grêmio’s coffin, however, came through set-pieces. As if their aerial dominance wasn’t clear before, in the 67th minute, Marí beat none other than Pedro Geromel in the air and scored the fourth goal from a corner kick. Four minutes later, Caio shook off Kannemann (and everyone else, really) by darting to the near post and flicking the ball to the other post with his head. Grêmio’s most consistent players, their two defensive towers – Kannemann and Geromel – had finally fallen, and at this point it was clear that the contest over. 


For Grêmio and Renato, this matched featured a very complicated trade-off. If they chose to optimize the team for pressing (three midfielders), their attack would suffer, but if they chose to optimize the team for attack (four forwards), their pressing would suffer, and Flamengo would dominate anyways. As usual, facing a superior team usually means there are no “optimal” tactical solutions. And of course, after such a defeat, Grêmio will now be faced with the question of what to do in order to remain a dominant force in South American football. 

Perhaps the difference between both teams was not as big as the scoreline suggests, but as the saying goes “winners make their own luck”. Flamengo’s attack is incredibly hard to contain, because their tactical structure and their talent give them many solutions against opponents even when their main plan of possession-and-pressing is not working. If you press their back three, Éverton Ribeiro and Filipe Luis will step forward to help overcome the press. If you push them back, the speed and skill of Bruno Henrique and Gabigol kills you on the counter. This spectacular offense might just lead Flamengo to a historic Série A – Libertadores double. 

Plots will be added to the article as soon as possible. 

José Pérez (31) writes and talks about anything football-related: players, tactics, analytics, the relationship between football and society. Whenever he is not working on high-power lasers, he tries to keep up with all big five European leagues, but focuses particularly on La Liga. Outside of Between the Posts, you can find him arguing with people and posting analyses on Twitter or answering questions on Quora. [ View all posts ]


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