Tactical analysis and match report Palmeiras Gremio 1-2 Copa Libertadores

Palmeiras – Grêmio: Grêmio Comes From Behind To Advance To Copa Libertadores Semi-Final Against A Disappointing Palmeiras (1-2)

Everything seemed to be going in the right direction for Palmeiras as Luiz Adriano scored the first goal after fourteen minutes. However, Grêmio learned from the mistakes they made in the first leg and adjusted their play accordingly. They were able to score two goals in the first half to take the lead in the tie on the away goals rule. Palmeiras’ attacking game was flawed and they were not able to score the goal they needed.

Tactical analysis and match report by Jonas G.

One week after Palmeiras won the first leg, both teams met a third time within ten days with the Copa Libertadores semi-final at stake. Unlike Grêmio, Palmeiras did not have to play a league match on the weekend. However, this can hardly be seen as an advantage as Grêmio manager Renato Gaúcho fielded a completely different eleven in the league, something not at all uncommon in Brazilian football, where league, cup and intercontinental competitions are all played in a short dense season.

Both lineups were identical to the first match apart from Thiago Santos, who replaced the suspended Felipe Melo for the home side. 

Grêmio adjusts their tactics to control the match

Grêmio had seventy per cent possession in the first leg, but struggled to create any goal scoring opportunities. They seemed to have learned from their mistakes as they adjusted their tactics to benefit from Palmeiras’ defensive approach. 

The home side defended in a 4-4-2 shape that transformed into a 6-2-2 because wingers Willian and Dudu followed the movements of Grêmio’s fullbacks. This left fullbacks Marcos Rocha and Diogo Barbosa free to follow the movements of Alisson and Everton closely. 

This was exactly how Palmeiras defended in the first leg, and it clearly did not come as a surprise for Renato Gaúcho and his team. Fullbacks Bruno Cortêz and Léo Gomes acted like wingers and therefore pulled Dudu and Willian with them. Grêmio could exploit the free spaces on the wings with one of the central midfielders moving wide. 

With Grêmio focusing on the outside channels to start the attack, Bruno Henrique and Thiago Santos had to shift from the center to the wings. They were in a two-against-three numerical inferiority against the central midfielders with Jean Pyerre dropping deep. Because Palmeiras’ strikers did not support their midfielders in the defense, Grêmio could exploit the now open spaces on the far side. 

However, with Jean Pyerre dropping out of the number ten space as well as Alisson and Everton being followed closely by their respective opponents, Grêmio struggled to advance the ball into dangerous areas. They eventually showed how to exploit Palmeiras’ defense for their second goal, though. 

Everton left his position and dropped deep to escape his opponent and create a three-against-one against Thiago Santos. He received the ball behind their backs, was able to turn and dribble towards the goal. With a bit of luck, the ball landed on Alisson’s foot and he just had to score the decisive goal. 

After Grêmio started the attack on the left wing, Santos and Henrique had to shift to this side. Grêmio could use the numerical superiority to shift the ball to the far side.

After Grêmio started the attack on the left wing, Santos and Henrique had to shift to this side. Grêmio could use the numerical superiority to shift the ball to the far side.

Grêmio’s defense improved

Not only the possession spells looked better than in the first leg, the defense was improved, too. The guests set up in a 4-4-2 formation using a 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. They basically used a zonal marking scheme with some positions using man marking. The strikers denied any passes into the center, forcing the buildup to the sides. This was pretty easy as Bruno Henrique and Thiago Santos showed a lack of tactical awareness in these situations. Both central midfielders occupied the same zone, which was easy to defend. 

The hosts therefore had to start their attacks through their fullbacks. Rocha and Barbosa looked to start combinations, with the wingers dropping deep and Thiago Santos making runs into deep. These movement did not look well-coordinated at all, which led to a lot of turnovers and long balls.

With all these positional struggles, it hardly came as a surprise that Luiz Adriano’s goal came from a corner. The most promising attacking situations arose from set-pieces, mainly throw-ins. Barbosa and especially Rocha are able to throw the ball into the box.  

Palmeiras struggles with poor positional play

In a 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. Grêmio switched from their zonal marking into a man marking scheme, especially on the wings. Palmeiras most promising situations originated from good rotational movements on the wings – mainly the left wing – to escape their opponents. They had problems to create suitable staggerings and occupy the right spaces, though. Therefore, they struggled to advance the ball into the box. 

Because the hosts had to score another goal in the second half, they had 69 per cent possession, but were not able to threaten Grêmio’s defense. This was down to different problems. First of all, their positional play, the occupation of different spaces on the pitch, was poor. Bruno Henrique constantly positioned himself between the center-backs and was absent as a possible passing option inside Grêmio’s formation. Such deep positioning was not needed against a low block. 

In addition to that, Rocha did not advance on the right wing into a higher position to support the attack, despite Dudu moving into the halfspace. 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. Therefore, Palmeiras lacked width and the right side was very quiet in the second half. 

With time running out, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team played through the center more often and neglected the promising wing combinations. There could be seen a lot of passes in between the lines, but the striker had to protect the ball against the center-back without any support from his teammates to lay the ball off. If the striker was supported by other players, the positioning in the spaces was not clean. Quick combination play was therefore not possible.

Gómez advances with the ball. Thiago Santos unnecessarily reduces his space.

Gómez advances with the ball. Thiago Santos unnecessarily reduces his space. The positioning of Bruno Henrique and Rocha is useless. 

Everton as the decisive player

Although Grêmio did not concede a lot of chances, defending in a low block for the majority of the time always comes with some risks. It is therefore important to recover from defending by having own possession spells. To reach that, the team needs to recover the ball and hold on to it. Everton was very important in doing so. He could use his skills to protect the ball against one or two defenders, escape the counterpressing with his dribbling and carry the ball forward or draw fouls. 


Having lost only one game this season, everything was set for a Copa Libertadores semi-final for Palmeiras. Although their performance in the first leg was not convincing, they were the better side. In contrast to Palmeiras, Grêmio learned from their mistakes made in the first leg and adjusted their tactics. 

Despite falling behind, they were able to come back, equalise the tie and win on the away goals rule. After scoring and contributing heavily to another goal in the first half, Everton put on a performance that deserved a man of the match award. Not only did Grêmio improve their attacking setup, they also improved defensively. 

Palmeiras disappointed throughout the match and can only be blamed for this loss. The attacking game has many flaws Scolari has to work on, especially the positional structure creates a lot of problems. In addition to that, Grêmio showed how to exploit the destructive defensive formation, which can be used as a blueprint by the next opponents.

Palmeiras’s season now fully hangs on winning the Brasileiro, where they face the difficult challenge of traveling to Flamengo’s Maracanã stadium this weekend. A loss there would blow the Brazilian title race wide open, with all three of Santos, Palmeiras and Flamengo in the mix. And even São Paulo, Corinthians and Atlético Mineiro can hope to get involved. The pressure is on for Scolari.

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