Grêmio – Flamengo: Grêmio Fall As Flamengo Firms Up Title Hopes (0-1)

Grêmio were the better team on the day against a heavily rotated Flamengo side, but a first half penalty was all the visitors needed to steal the victory and take another significant step toward capturing the Série A title. 

Tactical analysis and match report by K.T. Stockwell.

Besides playing some exhilarating football from time to time, Flamengo continue to find ways to collect points this season. That ability to wrestle a result from a match was on full display in their mid-week fixture against rivals, Vasco da Gama. The two Rio de Janeiro clubs traded one goal after the other in a 4-4 thriller – the draw continuing Flamengo’s unbeaten run and helping to maintain their lead over Palmeiras in table. 

Nonetheless, the feisty mid-week tie, coupled with an upcoming Copa Libertadores Final, forced Flamengo manager Jorge Jesus, into fielding a heavily rotated squad on Sunday against Grêmio. Jesus stuck with his standard 4-2-3-1 formation, but made wholesale changes to the defense, as Renê, the rarely used Rhodolfo, Thuler and Rodinei replaced the four who featured mid-week. Furthermore, the manager gave the night off to defensive midfielders, Willian Arão and Gerson – swapping them for Diego and Robert Piris. The only holdover in the attacking midfield line was the much hyped youngster, Reinier, who was joined by Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Lucas Silva, while Gabriel Barbosa kept his place up top. 

Meanwhile, Grêmio continue to fight for the fourth and final automatic 2020 Libertadores place. Manager, Renato Gaúchoi, has his side playing some of their best football of the season, as Grêmio managed to string together five straight wins – keeping their heads above water near the top of the table. 

Portaluppi has shown a willingness to rotate his squad this season; in tradition with this, he made several changes for Sunday’s match against Flamengo. Mirroring Jesus’ 4-2-3-1 formation, Grêmio’s only holdover at the back was David Braz, who coupled with Pedro Geromel at center-back. Fullbacks Léo Moura and Bruno Cortêz flanked the tandem, while at the base of midfield Michel and Maicon were preferred. Ahead of the holding duo, Gaucho stuck with the triumvirate of Alisson, Everton and Luciano, as striker, Diego Tardelli picked up his twentieth start of the season. 

Grêmio flummox Flamengo backline

To start the match it was clear that the Flamengo backline, with Thuler and Rhodolfo at its center, was uncomfortable. The Grêmio offense wasted little time trying to expose this fragility, as the host’s front four were keen to make angled runs in behind the defense as soon as the Michel and Maicon were in control of the ball. The defensive midfielders hit simple balls over the top and Thuler and Rhodolfo frequently scrambled in order to recover their positions. 

At the same time, Grêmio had a great deal of success testing the Flamengo fullbacks, either by hitting quick balls down the flank into the feet of their wingers, Alisson and Luciano, who were then able to play combinations with Everton, who oscillated between the wings. Similarly, Luciano regularly dropped deep along the left flank, dragging his fullback and leaving space for Everton in which to run. 

Luciano dragging Rodinei deep to open up space for Everton on the flank.

This movement proved difficult for Flamengo to handle, specifically the runs by Everton, who was able to lose his marker Diego, with regularity. What made matters worse was the fact that the Flamengo wingers, Reinier and Silva, rarely came back to provide support defensively. The result was Grêmio being given a great deal of space on the flanks with only the fullbacks to beat. 

Despite all this, Grêmio did little with their attacking moves, in many cases foregoing a promising cross, preferring more complicated dribbling moves which often fizzled out. This inability to pick a final pass let the scattered Flamengo backline off the hook throughout the first half. 

Conversely, Flamengo were exacting when given an opportunity on the break, as Gabriel ran riot on the counter – drifting around the midfield until he found a comfortable pocket of space in which to receive a pass. These types of long balls from the back became commonplace, as Gabriel had enough pace and guile to beat the lone, Grêmio holding midfielder and begin the offensive phase. 

That being said, it was very much against the run of play when Gabriel burst wide and into the box – his attempted cross hitting the arm of a sliding Léo Moura and earning his side a penalty. The striker converted the spot kick in the 37th minute and despite being largely outplayed, Flamengo had the lead. 

Grêmio continued to pour on the pressure as the half neared an end – Flamengo still struggling to find their shape and looking particularly lost in central midfield. Neither Diego, nor Piris were able to get comfortable and their cover shadows When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. were abhorrent, as a multitude of Grêmio through balls broke both lines of the Flamengo low block. 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.

Flamengo pack the backline

Up a goal away from home, Flamengo were not keen to take any chances to start the second half. Instead, Jesus had his side adopt a stubborn 5-3-2 medium block, 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. ceding possession to their hosts. The adjustment saw Piris regularly drop into central defense, while the wingers stuck more closely to the Grêmio fullbacks and if need be, were happy to tuck into the backline. 

The changes proved difficult for Grêmio to negotiate and for a time they were relegated to knocking the ball around midfield, as they struggled to find an opening. However, in the fifty-fourth minute, Éverton Ribeiro came on for Silva and began to drift centrally. At this point, Everton saw an opening on the left flank and began to terrorize Rodinei, who was once again forced to move out and close down the tricky forward. 

Ribeiro’s more central position isolates Rodinei on the wing.

At the same time, Alisson was having similar luck on the opposite flank, as he was able to run circles around Diego, who struggled to find his positioning and could not keep pace with the much younger 26-year-old. In order to steady to ship, Diego was removed in the sixty-fifth minute and replaced by Vinicius.

Meanwhile, Flamengo were still having sporadic success on the counter – once again a function of Gabriel’s incredible ability to make physically demanding, marauding runs from midfield. Unfortunately, for the visitors, Gabriel was booked in the seventy-fourth minute, then again immediately afterward for dissent and subsequently sent off. 

Reinier took over for Gabriel as the main outlet, but was unable to have the same impact going forward. And yet, strangely, little changed for Flamengo, who resigned themselves to defending deep much earlier in the half. 

Grêmio continued to find pockets of space between the lines, but were constantly let down by their final ball. The host’s lack of offensive success is evidenced by the fact that they summoned 78 percent possession in the second half and only mustered two shots on target. 

In the end, more than a stifling Flamengo defense, it was Grêmio’s lack of composure that let them down. The chances were there to win the match, but time and again Renato’s side simply could not capitalize. 


Given that they controlled the vast majority of play, this will be a difficult loss for Grêmio to stomach. To make matters worse, the club chasing them in fifth position, Athlético Paranaense, picked up another win over the weekend – now having gone eight matches without a loss. The results narrow Grêmio’s hold on fourth place to three points, ahead of next round’s pivotal match against second-placed Palmeiras. 

As for Flamengo, a win on the road with a heavily rotated squad is nothing to scoff at – even if they struggled to play up to their regular standard. Furthermore, the win takes them one step closer to clinching the Serie A title – as they now only need three points to claim the championship. What is more, Jesus was able to rest a number of his key players in anticipation of the Copa Libertadores final this weekend in Lima, Peru.   

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