Palmeiras – Santos: Compact and Organized Palmeiras Defense Breaks Santos and Catches Them Out of Shape (4-0)

Palmeiras stuck to their compact and well-structured defense to break down Santos’s vertical passing play, catching them out of shape on fast breaks forward. The result leaves Palmeiras top of the table, having scored the most and conceded the least.

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.

The clash of styles between these two teams could hardly be bigger. Luiz Felipe Scolari is leading one of the title favorites in Brazil and his Palmeiras is built on a strong and solid 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. in their 4-2-3-1 formation. An experienced 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’. of captain Bruno Henrique and Felipe Melo stops teams playing through them, forcing the opposition out wide where Palmeiras can press and win possession back. Scolari made no changes to his team, following a 2-0 victory away to Atlético Mineiro last weekend.

Jorge Sampaoli has started his first managerial job in Brazil with great success so far, having won sixteen games in 27 matches going into this fixture. A vigorous and aggressive pressing style has been the hallmark of every Sampaoli team, a style that excited every football fan who watched Chile in the 2014 World Cup. The same tournament almost saw Sampaoli’s Chile knock out Scolari’s Brazil on home soil, only to lose out on penalties. Having experimented with 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 systems so far this season, Sampaoli went for a 3-5-2 formation, matching the numbers in the middle third, as well as keeping the width.

Santos break into vertical passing

After a scrappy start to the game, Santos would eventually get into their ball-orientated game, which is pretty much expected with a Jorge Sampaoli team. In their 3-5-2 shape, Santos exchanged passes comfortably across the both defensive and middle thirds. Although they did not have a ridiculous pass count, Santos comfortably had more possession and against a Palmeiras team who preferred to only press when needed, we saw some nice passing sequences from Santos.

Santos’s positions in passing moves

Santos’s positions in passing moves.

Santos stretched the pitch as wide as possible and against a compact Palmeiras defense, they had positional superiority when on the ball. Alison played as the pivot, linking the defense to the midfield. The role of the wing-backs was remarkably different, Felipe Jonatan rarely made runs forward, being a passing option for both Gustavo Henrique and Diego Pituca when Santos where keeping the ball. Carlos Sánchez was much further forward, roaming between the lines and was often in 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 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 role of Lucas Veríssimo was also very intriguing. Veríssimo often made overlapping runs forward from the center-back position and was involved in a lot of Santos’s passing moves in the middle. Using vertical passes and having the numbers in the middle, Santos had control of the possession, however when approaching in the final third, they were met with a well-organized but flexible Palmeiras defense.

Palmeiras defensive shapes kills Santos threat

In the first four matches of the season, Palmeiras had only conceded one goal going into this match and their defensive organization and rotation was very impressive. Palmeiras altered their shape multiple times when off the ball and it all involved the midfield. The first was sticking to their 4-5-1 medium block structure, which would see Raphael Veiga man-mark Alison in the Santos buildup. This developed a compact and strong midfield three, with the double pivot of Bruno Henrique and Felipe Melo providing a solid defensive block. A defensive block is the compact group of defenders that defends a particular zone, either their own half in a medium defensive block, or the zone around their own box in a deep defensive block.

This shape could also rotate into a 4-1-4-1 shape with Felipe Melo sitting behind Henrique and Veiga. This gave Santos no room in Zone 14 Zone 14 is a coaching term that refers to the part of the pitch just in front of the opponent’s box. Completing passes in this area of the pitch is a sign of territorial dominance and is usually associated with a good performance. to create chances and they were forced to go wide, use the halfspace and whip balls back into the penalty area, which Palmeiras often defended with ease. Scolari’s team where brilliant at covering passing lanes and only pressing when needed to. With such numbers in the middle thirds, we saw a lot of crunching tackles and duels between both teams. In the first half alone, we saw a total of 63 duels being contested between both teams, as well as 23 fouls.

Palmeiras’s 4-5-1 defensive shape

Palmeiras’s 4-5-1 defensive shape.

Palmeiras could also switch into a 4-4-2 system when Santos had a goal kick. Deyverson and Veiga pushed high up the field on both center-backs, which stopped Santos passing the ball out from the back as much and being forced to go long.

With a compact, narrow and structured defense, Palmeiras overloaded and killed off all of Santos’s attacks. Sampaoli’s team were often having to strike from distance to test Weverton, but overall, fell short to Palmeiras’s imperious defending.

Palmeiras produce better chances

Having dealt with Santos’s passing and possession, Palmeiras exploited the Santos defense, winning free-kicks in pivotal areas and calculated fast breaks forward. Scolari’s teams often used long balls forward to catch Santos out of shape, and with Dudu and Zé Rafael on the counter and staying narrow, Palmeiras were capable of building chances efficiently and effectively.

They were very good at winning the ball back in important areas of the pitch, breaking Santos’s play and catching them out of their defensive setup in doing so. Palmeiras’s third and fourth goals showcased this perfectly. Following a long ball forward, Dudu, Zé Rafael and Deyverson all flooded the right channel towards the ball. This led to a sloppy pass going straight to Veiga who broke forward with options ahead. His shot was deflected, but it was a well-organized move and caught Santos off guard.

The fourth goal was an excellent counterattacking move, a clearance from a Santos corner led to a three-versus-two scenario in Palmeiras’s favor. Dudu’s run led to Hyoran, who had come on as a substitute, to lose his marker and finish off a fabulous result for Scolari’s team and a dreadful first defeat of the season for Sampaoli.


The fast start to the season has derailed a few teams in the Brasileiro, most notably Grêmio who have just two points from their opening four games. For Palmeiras, they could not have started stronger with big wins against Atlético Mineiro, Internacional and now Santos under their belts. Having won the Serie A last season, Luiz Felipe Scolari could not have got his team off to a better start, having scored more goals than anyone, and having the least goals conceded in the league. The result also means that Palmeiras are undefeated in 28 consecutive fixtures in the Brazilian championship! The fixture list comes thick and fast but building this sort of momentum early is crucial for any team gunning for the title.

For Santos, a defeat this heavy has the potential to have long-lasting effects, but they still have good passing sequences throughout. It will be interesting to see how Jorge Sampaoli’s aggressive pressing style performs in Brazil. This was a vast clash of styles, they could not break into rampantly pressing against a team who does not play the ball out from the back or participate in long passing moves. The next few fixtures will determine where Santos will be aiming for in the league standings.

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots.

Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]


Be the first to comment on this article

Leave a Reply

Go to TOP