Tactical analysis Internacional Cruzeiro 3-0 Copa do Brasil

SC Internacional – Cruzeiro: Unrelenting Internacional defense pounce on Cruzeiro’s mistakes (3-0; 4-0 on agg.)

For all of Cruzeiro’s seemingly incisive buildup play – dragging Internacional’s midfield and defense in all different directions –they came up empty-handed. Playing mostly from controlled possession play, it was Cruzeiro that began to make erroneous decisions, as opposed to their sitting opponents.

Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.

Almost a month ago, these two sides played the first leg of their Copa do Brasil semi-final, which ended in a 1-0 defeat for the home side Cruzeiro. The Porto Alegre rivals met  at the Beira Rio Stadium, to battle it out again. In that time, Cruzeiro have appointed a new manager – Rogério Ceni – who came in just three days following their first leg defeat, and nine days after their elimination from the Copa Libertadores. Since then, Cruzeiro have gone unbeaten in four league games and were hoping to spring a surprise in this encounter.

Internacional’s manager Odair Hellmann has had a much longer stay in comparison, and for this tie named an almost identical eleven to the one that beat Cruzeiro in the first leg. The only change came in the form of Andrés D’Alessandro, who replaced Rafael Sobís in the front line. Rogério, on the other hand, made four changes from that same tie – Sassá, Ariel Cabral, Léo and Luis Manuel Orejuela were all dropped from the side, as David and Marquinhos filled the vacant attacking roles, with Robinho dropping into deep midfield. And, further back, Jádson came in for Orejuela, and Fabrício Bruno overtook Léo in the center of defense, as part of a 4-2-3-1 setup.

Positive beginning proves to be a mirage for Cruzeiro

Within the opening ninety seconds, the visitors had their tails up after a well-organized wide routine managed to push themselves up the pitch. 

It was a common routine shown throughout the match: when the fullback received it wide, the inside attacker would make a run into depth ahead of him, drawing open the lane inside into the nominal number ten. This kind of exchange saw it come back Pedro Rocha’s way on the right flank before cleverly flicking it onto Jádson. 

The best part of the move was the use of Rocha’s third man run. Thiago Neves received it centrally from the flank, instantly drawing out an Internacional defender, before feeding it through the channel first-time for Rocha’s run against the grain. An excellent first touch to take it in his stride opened up a magnificent shooting opportunity that only found the goalkeeper’s hands.

What proceeded this was nigh-on unrivalled domination of the ball but very few openings. Cruzeiro were good at finding the spaces to exploit in and around their opposition’s midfield but were just not set up to beat their opponent’s defense. The Internacional players were so easy to manipulate positionally, but in that, they were also ready to pounce on any small errors. 

Cruzeiro not incisive enough

In the home side’s half was where they had more stable control against Internacional’s 4-1-4-0-1 shape, partly due to Paolo Guerrero being relieved of all defensive responsibilities and just kept pinned up to the center-backs. This meant that 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’. of Robinho and Henrique Pacheco Lima could recycle play with ease. And, every time they were pressed by one of the three opposing central-midfielders, the forwards inside would drop through the 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. to exploit the space left behind them. It was not quite so straightforward, though, as the fullbacks and center-backs nearby were impeccable at pressing up from behind and not giving their opponents an ounce of space.

One strategy Cruzeiro did try in order to use this man-to-man setup to their advantage was to use the up-back-and-through sequence. Typically starting with either center-back, they would feed it directly into the inside forwards, whose dropping movements towards the ball would draw out their opposite number. By then executing a first-time layoff into the holding midfielders, they had the chance to feed it over the top for the fullbacks’ runs from deep. Unfortunately, the execution of the final pass was never quite there, be it under or overhit.

When they were not subject to sloppy execution, Cruzeiro’s plans of attack were just not incisive enough. Even at base level, when the attackers were receiving between the midfield and defense, they always had their back to goal, so any openings that were ahead of them were never likely to be exploited against the intense pressure they were under. 

Example of a forward receiving inside with their back to goal, meaning they cannot access the runs in behind.

Example of a forward receiving inside with their back to goal, meaning they cannot access the runs in behind.

When they opted to go wide and look for crosses, they rarely created any good angles since the wingers for Internacional were excellent at tracking underlaps. The straight-on angles they had to cross from only resulted in one half-chance at the half hour mark, when a cross off the back of the defense fell Neves’ way, where he then laid it off for Rocha to get a shot off on the edge of the box. 

In the middle, they had absolutely no chance of creating anything clear cut. They were not doing anything to pin back the defenders and create some space for the attackers to drive into in the first place, nor were the forwards playing first-time passes to make the smallest of openings count. Every time it was: receive, take a couple of touches, adjust and play it back or slightly across. 

Internacional wield a finer weapon

In comparison to Cruzeiro, Internacional were pretty comfortable in attack. As Rodrigo Lindoso dropped into the backline to help spread the center-backs across the pitch, they had time to focus on the wide areas, and in particular the left flank. Often, they stretched their shape so that the attackers were quite distant from the defense, which made the clipped balls into the space between the lines all the more effective, as they then had a network of players to win second balls or counterpress After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. them.

Guerrero was a frequent and reliable target, used to connect play back out to the flank unpressured by Cruzeiro’s center-backs. These long balls bypassed the near-sided wide midfielder with ease, meaning they could instantly overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. the flanks.

Internacional’s stretched attacking setup, playing off of long balls down the left side.

Internacional’s stretched attacking setup, playing off of long balls down the left side.

The less intelligent side of their attacking play was simply how trigger happy they were. It became a shoot-on-sight kind of strategy that did not result in many close calls.

Cruzeiro mistakes prove costly

It did not take much for Internacional to get their all-important opening goal. 

In the fortieth minute, an inviting opening into the opposite halfspace encouraged Dedé to attempt a diagonal pass across into the seemingly-open attacker. His poorly placed pass, however, was latched onto by Edinílson, which set off a dangerous counterattack. Instantly, the midfielder had options right and left with the wingers tearing through the gaps between Cruzeiro’s fullbacks and center-backs. First, he found Nicolás López down the left, who then switched it to the opposite winger, D’Alessandro, before he continued by hitting it back across to the far-post where Guerrero waited and proceeded to knock it in with the easiest of headers.

It was a killer blow that appeared to take the wind out of the away side’s sails, even into the second half. They were now making even more mistakes, not just in the weighting and placement of their passes, but also in their decision-making. Blatantly open midfield options were being ignored to either play into congested areas, or into players who were being blocked by opposition players.

There were also problems in the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. with the timing of runs in behind. The forwards did make the runs inside, but they were not timed to match the moments the midfielders actually had a chance to play them in. They were always making them when the ball-holder was being pressed. That only meant there was a hole in the structure that occasionally led to turnovers in Internacional’s favor.

Internacional’s counterattacking threat grows 

Hellmann even had the confidence, after a while, to push López up a little to provide instant support for Guerrero just ahead of Cruzeiro’s right-back. Although this did enable Jádson to find some space on the flanks, it was rarely accessed, still, and when it was, it was poorly executed. 

In spite of this, their second goal came from an obscure situation, where Edinílson – pressed towards the corner flag – dug out a cross that managed to land at the feet of López, who then improvised a chip ball over the defender between him and Guerrero. The Peruvian forward then met the pass with a stunning chest control and volley into the far left, top corner to basically wrap things up with twenty minutes left.

It was not until the ninetieth minute when the hosts put Rogério’s side out of their misery. Following a Cruzeiro free kick that resulted in a free kick the hosts’ way, Marcelo Lomba launched a ball into the opposing half which was met by the untracked run of Edinílson. With the goalkeeper caught in no man’s land, the midfielder coolly lobbed him and made it three.


A promising start for Cruzeiro fizzled into nothing, as their smart midfield overloads were immaculately contained by Internacional’s impressive defenders. 

Having been eliminated from the Copa Libertadores just last week, this was exactly what Internacional needed to boost their morale. The final, now just a fortnight away, awaits, with Athletico Paranaense standing in their way.

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.

Peter (20), lives just outside of London. He’s been writing about tactics and such for over a year now, contributing to a couple of sites during that time. His main club is Arsenal but he’s also followed Real Betis quite heavily since Quique Setién took over last year. This form of writing has become a great passion of his and, although he’s unsure of what his end aim is, he’s enjoying being given new opportunities to continue doing so. [ View all posts ]


Be the first to comment on this article

Leave a Reply

Go to TOP