Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Braga definitely in the title race

Starting lineups
Even though the Portuguese League isn't exactly one of the most watched leagues in the world, I believe there are good teams and aspects that are interesting enough to make it worth our while. Monday's match pit Braga (last year's runner-up in Europa League and just 3 points behind Porto and Benfica) against Guimarães, a team that had beaten the leaders Benfica just last week (Benfica's first league defeat this season). If you add to that the fact that the rivalry between these two teams is rather intense, all the right ingredients for a great match were there.

Most people that like football must have heard at least a dozen times that tactics don't win matches, since they're nothing more than drawings on paper. However, even though it is not my intention to dispute that every system and its dynamics are valid, there are tactical arrangements that lend (at least theoretically) a more rational occupation of space to the teams. This match offered a classic clash between Braga's 4x3x3 and Guimarães' 4x2x3x1, which soon became apparent would evolve into a 4x4x1x1, in practical terms.

  • 1. The tactical battle:
Guimarães' defensive shape was based on two banks of four. Partly due to the opponent's scouting and partly out of need (Mossoró, the usual starter, was only fit for the bench), Braga's coach gave Ruben Amorim the nod, inverting his usual triangle. Therefore, the home team were finding it very easy to create triangles on the wings between the fullback, the midfielder and the winger - namely on the right side - and, with that simple movement, bypass the opponent's two defensive lines, as seen below.

A simple movement between three players created a scoring opportunity 
As if that tactical detail wasn't enough, Guimarães' coach surprised everyone by allowing Hugo Viana indefinite time on the ball, an odd option especially if you take into account how their elimination at the hands of Besiktas offered solid proof on how marking Hugo Viana hurts the play of the rest of the team.

  • 2. The battle of goalkeepers
Any discussion around tactical arrangements, options or dynamics within the match is absolutely pointless when a team find themselves losing on the third minute due to a mistake by one of their players. When that same player (particularly in a position as sensitive as goalkeeper) repeats the same mistake after just 15 minutes, the team tend to show a lack of confidence and play fearfully. On the other hand, Braga's 'keeper Quim showed how much of a difference a wiser player can make, given that he too had the same tendency to leave goal rather extemporaneously.

  • 3. The defensive transition
One of the things Leonardo Jardim's Braga is excelling at the moment is the defensive transition - i.e., the moment immediately after losing the ball. Indeed, Braga's reaction to losing the ball is becoming more and more evolved, not only by being successful at averting the opponent's counterattacks, but also by getting the ball back further up front. In the example below, pay attention to how many Braga players are near the ball, which had been lost a few yards and seconds earlier. This moment, frequently disregarded by coaches, is often one of the key differences between average and mature teams.

Rapid reaction to losing the ball

Even though the final result was harsh (4-0, with a Guimarães players sent off before half-time), these three factors help showing that, even without the sending off, Braga would always be closer to winning the match and, by doing it, claiming their place in the title race.

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