Pra Frentre Brasil!
Dunga was faced with, just as any Brazilian coach since the 80s has been, the dilemma of how to balance our midfield to offer enough offense without throwing out our defense. Generally speaking Brazil (and many Brazilian teams) employs two defensive midfielders and two offensive midfielders. In 1994 we had Rai as a spearhead and Zinho as a left-midfielder. Eventually Rai was dropped and Mazinho, less of an offensive midfielder came in. On paper this was about as square of a midfield as you could get, but the hard-work qualities of Mazinho, Zinho and the d-mids might shed some light on why it worked (well enough).
No matter how square the midfield looks on paper, versatility and movement are the keys to making a better Brazilian box. In the lead-ups to 1998 and 2006 we had horribly divided midfields – where the defensive mids and offensive mids were very limited in their ability to help each other. In the World Cups themselves other problems surfaced – Romario was injured, the central defense was old (1998), full-backs were old and the forward partnership was immobile (2006). These problems were significant but exacerbated by our midfield’s inability to adjust their play.
Our successes in 4-4-2 have come with hard-working or versatile midfields (relative to the 1998 and 2006 failures) and curiously our 2002 team sheds some light on what works for Brazil. Scolari famously broke the mold and employed a 3-5-2 (in truth Brazil had used a 5-3-2 in 1990 and Sao Paulo among other clubs have played 3-5-2s in the Brazilian league). So what’s his 3-5-2 doing in a post that began as I thought about our box midfield?
Cafu, Lucio, Roque Jr., Roberto Carlos;
Edmilson, Gilberto Silva (Emerson);
Kleberson (Juninho Paulista), Rivaldo;
Ronaldo, Ronaldinho Gaucho
A rose by any other name?
The 2002 players could have lined-up as a 4-4-2 under other circumstances. In a sense Scolari cheated by taking a versatile central-defender/defensive-midfielder and putting him in a three-man defense and using a 3-5-2 as a starting point. This allowed Scolari’s team to create spaces and numbers that would require a lot more work and time together had his starting point been the Brazilian 4-4-2
This more versatile system won us the World Cup but we’ve since reverted to 4-4-2, searching as always for the right combination in midfield. As Dunga’s tenure began and he demonstrated the same trouble in breaking down defensive opponents that I and other fans have suffered through for over a decade, I criticized and hoped he’d find versatility in midfield. I do not want two purely defensive midfielders and two purely offensive midfielders. Though Dunga’s team has still found trouble in qualifiers against defensive sides, he has evolved a system that while nominally a 4-4-2 is much more dedicated to a versatile midfield than it is to a box midfield. Many bigsoccer readers will recognize the image below form zonalmarking.net:
It’s a 3-5-2 and it is a perfectly normal set up for these players thanks in part to the versatility of Ramires or Elano in the position of “segundo armador” or second offensive midfielder. Had Dunga stuck with a Kaka/Ronaldinho midfield duo he could try to force players into this shape at times but it’s doubtful that it would ever work. The experiments with Anderson (who is unlikely to make it), Elano and Ramires allowed Dunga to find space for his team to play in, just as Scolari’s 3-5-2 once did.
Zonal Marking, mentioned above, has done some fantastic work looking at Dunga’s Brazil and they deserve plenty of readership for it so ehre are the links to their Brazil analyses:
To me, this fluidity that they describe and that I see Dunga applying to his team is something of beauty. Added to the technique of individual players it has made for some of the great moments I praised in “I found some jogo bonito”. Understanding these things are part of the beauty of soccer to me – and if you ask me about 1970 I’ll gladly tell you about how fluid they were and how they weren’t simply about highlight reels, but rather that they employed an extremely effective offensive strategy, suited to their players.
Dunga has begun to do what I hoped I’d see other coaches do since I first started obsessing about our tactics back in 1993. He has more to do, to be sure – but most of the gaps I perceive involve finding suitable back-ups. It has taken him time though to reach the Ramires option on the right side and perhaps a more experienced coach would have found equal options earlier. Perhaps another coach though would have played the stale box midfield. Going into the World Cup we have a better team than we did 4 years ago, that much is certain and what ifs are no longer worth mulling over (and once the squad is announced that’ll be true for player call-up what ifs). Dunga deserves praise for moving us in the right direction, a direction Scolari hinted at but that we only adopted briefly. Who knows what we’ll look like in 2014, but I can safely say that Dunga has moved us forward and his work should be used as some sort of base for the next cycle.
Entry filed under: Brazil.