Grêmio – São Paulo: Lethargic São Paulo Picked Apart By Grêmio (3-0)
An effective Grêmio press limited São Paulo in midfield and neutralized Dani Alves in buildup, making if difficult for the visitors to establish a foothold in the match. Meanwhile, the fluid play of Maicon and Everton allowed the home side to dominate in transition and cruise to an easy victory.
Tactical analysis and match report by K.T. Stockwell.
The end of the 2019 Série A season is fast approaching and São Paulo are clinging on to the final Copa Libertadores qualifying spot. However, with one win in their past five matches the pressure is mounting on manager Fernando Diniz to deliver a place in the continent’s premier club tournament.
The pressure was eased slightly by a hard-fought, mid-week win over Vasco da Gama. Unfortunately, the importance of the fixtures this late in the season meant the manager was unable to rotate a tired group of players. The only change Diniz made for the match against Grêmio came in midfield, as he swapped Tchê Tchê for Luan Santos – making the switch to a 4-1-4-1 formation in the process. This meant Luan Santos was fielded in-behind an advanced midfield four of Vitor Bueno, Igor Gomes, captain Dani Alves and Antony.
Meanwhile, Grêmio are in their own Libertadores battle, as they spar with Club Athletico Paranaense for the fourth and final automatic qualifying spot. However, the battle was made more complicated by a mid-week loss to their competitors, which was a major let down after manager, Renato Gaucho’s side had delivered a riveting upset of Palmeiras in the previous round of fixtures.
Fortunately for Gaucho, his willingness to rotate his squad throughout the season left him with more options for the fixture against São Paulo. Choosing to go with a 4-2-3-1 shape, Gaucho brought Maicon back into the eleven to play in 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’. alongside Michel. Meanwhile, at fullback he gave Léo Moura his place back on the right side, while the front four saw Everton feature centrally – flanked by Pepê and Alisson, while Luciano got the start up top in place of the suspended Diego Tardelli.
Grêmio control play but cannot break through
It was a slow start to the match for São Paulo, who struggled to establish their buildup, as Grêmio made a point of keying on Dani Alves and forcing the visitors to play through Luan Santos. The result was ineffective play through midfield and a lack of options for Luan Santos and the SPFC center-backs – the triumvirate continually turning the ball over to Maicon and Michel in the center of the park.
Defensively, São Paulo then shifted into a 4-1-4-1 low block but as has been the case in several matches this season, left the lone defensive midfielder, in this case Luan Santos, too isolated between the lines. What is more, perhaps tired from the midweek fixture, Dani Alves and Igor Gomes failed to put any pressure on Maicon and Michel, who were given plenty of time to pick a pass – frequently finding their wingers in the disserted São Paulo halfspaces. 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.
The lack of intensity on the ball meant that Maicon was free to take up higher positions and oscillate between the two flanks. This was compounded by the generally free role Everton was allowed to enjoy and the consequence was a number of concerning Grêmio overloads. When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. Fortunately for the visitors, Gaucho’s side was unable to play a final ball and despite a great deal of pressure were starved of genuine scoring opportunities.
Maicon and Everton’s free role in the Grêmio offensive set.
This dynamic played out for the bulk of the first half, as São Paulo were able to keep Grêmio at bay so long as the back four remained flat and held a deep enough position. Nonetheless, the by-product of their defensive posture was a supreme lack of offensive thrust – as the guests were barely able to advance the ball to midfield, let alone mount any sort of sincere attack.
The buildup play continued to plague São Paulo, the issues seeming to manifest themselves in Dani Alves’ positioning. The former Barcelona defender has been played in a number of different positions this season and most recently Diniz has leaned toward using him in advanced midfield roles. However, São Paulo tend to be more effective in developing play when Dani Alves is used at fullback and given license to come inside and create overloads. Consequently, Juanfran and Reinaldo failed to offer themselves as an option and it became increasingly difficult for SPFC to advance the ball in a meaningful way.
Conversely, as the half progressed Grêmio found more effective means in which to build play. The most efficient became having Alisson dropping down off the wing and into midfield, where he could play combinations with Maicon and Michel. This decision-making also gave Maicon greater license to get forward and required Dani Alves to follow his marker – putting extra pressure on his tried legs.
Grêmio buildup with Alisson dropping into midfield.
Grêmio break the dam
The second half began with Grêmio bringing even more pressure on the São Paulo midfield, which resulted in more turnovers and further opportunity for the home side to play in transition. This manoeuvre brought about the match’s first goal, as Grêmio recovered the ball in midfield, allowing Alisson to drop deep and collect possession, before expertly moving it between the São Paulo lines. The hosts were then able to play a series of touch passes, which would eventually once again find Alisson in the box where he was brought down and his side award a penalty. Luciano causally dispatched the spot kick and Gaucho’s side took a much-deserved lead after 56 minutes.
What followed was a superb six minutes of football from Grêmio, in which the home side would score two more goals. The first of which came off the boot of Alisson, who whipped in a free kick from a terrible angle – handcuffing São Paulo keeper, Tiago Volpi, who should have done better.
The third and final goal emanated once again from a deft midfield transition in which Grêmio exploited the space left between the São Paulo lines. This time the lovely passing move was finished off by Luciano – giving the striker his second of the night and the hosts a commanding lead.
At this point Grêmio were comfortable ceding the ball to the opposition and sitting back in a 4-4-2 low block, which was accentuated by the cohesive play of Maicon and Michel, who shifted sinuously between flanks and cut off any expectant São Paulo passing lanes.
This period did see SPFC find more joy in buildup, in part because they were under less pressure, but also due to the fact that Antony began to drift into midfield and help Dani Alves and Luan Santos progress the ball. Nevertheless, it was far too little, too late and São Paulo quickly resigned themselves to taking another affecting loss.
Diniz remains under increasing pressure to salvage the season and put São Paulo in a position to at least qualify for next year’s Libertadores tournament. The manager’s decision to put Dani Alves in a more free, central role does not seem to have solved the club’s offensive issues and with only two matches remaining it’s incumbent on him to find out what will.
The win gave Grêmio some breathing room in their battle with Athletico, who only managed a draw in their weekend fixture. The squad will be buoyed by the fact that they have winnable games coming up against an already relegated Cruzeiro and mid-table Goiás. What is more, Gaucho’s willingness to adjust his lineup, as well as the manner in which he has been able to spur on his front four should be lauded. The Porto Alegre side was able to take one significant step closer to the 2020 Copa Libertadores.
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