Internacional – Grêmio: Grêmio Adopts A Direct Approach To Even Out the Tables In The Porto Alegre Derby (1-1)
Internacional and Grêmio drew in a Porto Alegre derby that was heavily influenced by their tight schedules, with both sides using mostly reserve elevens. Internacional dominated the first half, nullifying Grêmio’s chance creation mechanisms while threatening them with direct attacks. In the second half, Grêmio tried to improve by using a more direct approach themselves.
Tactical analysis and match report by José Perez.
Things seem to be going in the right direction for the two Porto Alegre giants these days. In the league, Grêmio are finally recovering from their poor start by stringing three consecutive victories together. This good streak put them only two points away from the top six and the coveted Copa Libertadores spots, one of which is occupied by city rivals Internacional.
Meanwhile, both Inter and Grêmio made it to the Copa do Brasil semifinals after knocking out Palmeiras and Bahia in their latest midweek games. This coming midweek sees the calendar madness continue for both sides, as both Inter and Grêmio play the first leg of the Copa Libertadores Round of Sixteen. Due to larger prize money, both teams see the cups as having greater priority over the league, and this was reflected in their squad selection for the derby, which featured mostly their reserve squads.
With a total of eight personnel changes from their midweek game, Internacional lined up in a clear 4-3-3 shape in possession, different from the 4-4-2 normally used with the starting eleven. The goal of keeper Danilo Fernandes was defended by center-backs Emerson Santos and Víctor Cuesta, with Natanael and the young Heitor da Fonseca (18 years old) as left and right backs, respectively. Midfield featured a trio of Rodrigo Lindoso in the holding role accompanied by Edenílson and Nonato. Up front, veteran striker Rafael Sobis was flanked by Wellington Silva and Guilherme Parede.
Grêmio, on the other hand, replaced the entire eleven who played midweek while keeping the usual 4-2-3-1 shape. Keeper Júlio César was defended by center-backs Paulo Miranda and David Braz, with Juninho Capixaba and the super-veteran Léo Moura (40 years old!) as left and right backs, respectively. Midfield featured a double pivot EXPLAINER of Thaciano and Rômulo. Up front Luan played the number ten role, flanked by Pepê on the left wing and Rafael Galhardo on the right, with Diego Tardelli as the striker. Tardelli finally got to start a game after weeks of scuffles with the Grêmio board.
Grêmio struggles against Inter’s tight 4-5-1 shape
Unlike most teams in Brazil, Grêmio have a preference for more elaborate buildup phases with short passes. Independently of who starts, all four attackers of their system have significant freedom to move throughout the width of the pitch. They constantly exchange positions with the other forwards and drop deep as needed to provide a passing outlet.
In this game, Grêmio often started their buildups on the right, with veteran right back Leo Moura acting as a playmaker fullback. Moura would attempt through balls that would break Inter’s midfield lines and find his fellow Grêmio attackers moving behind them. If the ball reached one of the Grêmio forwards, he would try to quickly lay off the ball to the closest teammate, trying to create a quick passing combination that would help the team progress through midfield areas and into the final third. Forwards Tardelli, Luan and Pepê were smart and effective at these movements in between Inter’s lines.
Grêmio’s 4-2-4 shape in possession against Internacional’s 4-1-4-1 defensive medium block. EXPLAINER Notice the deeper position of Leo Moura, who acts as a playmaker right back, as well as the movements of Grêmio’s front four.
However, this degree of freedom often meant that Grêmio’s attack often did not occupy the football pitch optimally. When Tardelli and Luan dropped deep, Grêmio often had no one compensating their movements and occupying the box to get into shooting positions. This was aggravated by the conservative behavior of Grêmio’s fullbacks and double pivot, who tend to be careful about moving forward to attack in order to prevent counterattacks. All in all, this played to the advantage of Inter’s defense, who were often in numerical superiority against Grêmio’s attackers.
With their best ball movers—Matheus Henrique and Jean Pyerre—on the bench, Grêmio were also fairly predictable in the final third. They rarely moved the ball quickly from side to side, which could have disorganized the Inter defense more easily. To make things more complicated, Inter’s central midfielders—Nonato and Edenílson—have high defensive workrates and can cover a lot of ground quickly. Once Grêmio beat Inter’s midfield line, both midfielders would quickly run from the center of the pitch to the wings, so as to support their fullbacks and wingers when defending.
The defensive support of Inter’s central midfielders was vital in preventing Grêmio’s chance creation. It made sure that Grêmio’s own fullbacks and wingers would always find themselves in a two-versus-three situation against Inter’s fullback-midfielder-winger triangle.
Inter’s defensive style proved to be wildly successful during the first half: Grêmio only managed to produce three shots, two of them outside the box. Grêmio could not even cross into the box, with only three crosses in the entire half.
A direct Internacional causes damage
Inter only had forty per cent possession during the first half, but they were far more effective and threatening than Grêmio. Unlike Grêmio, Inter prefers directness and quicker possessions. Grêmio would often try to press timidly in a medium block and a 4-4-2 shape. To overcome this, one of the Inter midfielders would drop deep to form a three-man line with the center-backs.
Internacional’s direct buildup with three at the back, with Lindoso dropping in between center-backs. They are facing the 4-4-2 defensive block of Grêmio.
Meanwhile, the other two midfielders as well as the fullbacks would rush forward and join the attack, awaiting the long ball from the back three. This aggressive behavior from fullbacks and midfielders aimed to help Inter win aerial duels and second balls against Grêmio’s defense. This direct buildup phase was often led by left center-back Victor Cuesta, who would decide whether to send the ball or to carry the ball into midfield depending on the situation.
Inter’s forwards often struggled to win the physical duels against the Grêmio defenders, but at least veteran striker Rafael Sobis was inspired in his actions on the ball. Sobis was particularly busy moving in between Grêmio’s lines, holding up the ball and productively laying it off to the wingers and central midfielders running into the box. Inter’s best chance of the first half came through this mechanism, as Sobis expertly controlled the ball and produced a good through ball to Edenílson. In their attempts to stop a combination between Sobis and Wellington, Grêmio conceded an indirect free kick in the 22nd minute that led to an own goal.
After Inter’s goal, Grêmio sent their midfielders forward to press more aggressively in search for the goal that would draw the game. The last fifteen minutes of the first half became an unproductive exchange of attacking transitions between both sides, with big spaces left behind the midfield lines of both teams as they tried to press and receive long balls. No shots came from this stage of the game.
Grêmio increases directness during the second half
Understanding that perhaps the slower buildup and shorter passing were not working well enough, Grêmio tried to be more direct and vertical. The team started focusing their game more heavily on the wings than before. Instead of patiently looking for men in between the lines, Grêmio’s buildup started leaning more heavily on sending long diagonal balls to their fullbacks, especially to Juninho Capixaba.
While Grêmio’s increased directness helped to push Inter back and prevent counterattacks, they still struggled to create chances, with only one shot generated in the first fifteen minutes of the second half. In the sixtieth minute, Rafael Galhardo was replaced by Everton, in an attempt to improve the one-versus-one capabilities of Grêmio’s forward line.
Through persistence and individual talent, Grêmio’s goal finally came through in the 71st minute. A good combination between Tardelli and Everton brought fullback Capixaba in a one-versus-one situation from which he produced an excellent cross into the box that Luan headed into the net despite the marking of two Inter defenders.
Inter reacted to this goal by committing more men forward, and once again pressing more aggressively, all the way to Grêmio’s back line. Grêmio reacted with a more defensive substitution – Diego Tardelli for midfielder Darlan Pereira – while Inter substituted a midfielder (Nonato) for a forward (Pedro Lucas). With Grêmio being pushed back into a deeper block, Inter finally controlled possession, but the best they could do was produce crosses into the box, which were mostly cleared by the focused Grêmio defense.
Internacional are a well-drilled defense, and only a few sparks of individual talent were able to get past them and score. However, their directness in attack can sometimes make them too predictable and cause them to struggle in situations in which they have to take the initiative, such as the final minutes of this game.
Grêmio’s performance in this match was a mix of the pros and cons of their own possession-based attacking style. Their short passing combinations can be useful for midfield progression and to unlock defenses, but sometimes more direct approaches are needed, or at the very least a variation of style. Fortunately, coach Renato and his men managed to react well enough during the second half and make those changes.
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