Tactical Review: Gulf in class sees Brazil topple Scotland

Brazil and Scotland met at The Emirates Stadium in London today, and we’ve got a tactical review of the game.

How they lined up

Brazil started with a variation of 4-1-2-3, which could also be described as a fluid 4-2-2-2 with the onus on the fullbacks to provide width. Lucas was the deepest lying midfielder and Elano and Ramires sat to the right and left respectively. Neymar played to the left of Liandro, Jadson to the right.

Scotland played very much a 4-5-1, with Adam the deepest midfielder meaning the formation could be described as 4-1-4-1. Brown and Whittaker were fairly narrow and worked closely with fullbacks Hutton and Crainey respectively to narrow the space in which the Brazilian wide players could exploit. Miller played as the lone striker.

Miller isolated as Brazil control possession

It was a rather lacklustre and scrappy affair for the opening quarter at The Emirates, but Brazil did manage to get a foothold in the game thereafter. Lucas and Ramires upped the tempo of the passing, seeking to involve the overlapping Alves and Santos at every opportunity, and in quick succession spurned two decent chances; firstly Jadson went close as McGregor fumbled, and then Liandro headed against the bar from a corner. The fluidity of the Brazilian system was notable from the outset, with the teenage Neymar coming central from a left starting position, Jadson likewise from the right, and Elano and Ramires bursting forward in a timely fashion.


Despite Morrison’s attempt to play off Kenny Miller, Brazil’s high line and possession game meant that Scotland played a very deep 4-5-1, with narrow wingers in Whittaker and Brown.  Brazil pressed the ball well in Scotland’s half of the pitch, meaning that there was a large gap between the midfield and forward bands. The Bursaspor forward thus cut a frustrated figure chasing long diagonals (Adam failed with four attempted diagonal passes in the first half) and on the rare occasion that he was able to retain possession, he was quickly out-numbered, with no sight of a blue shirt in support.

Elano and Ramires movement unsettles Scotland

Elano adopted a right (high) of centre position, working closely in tandem with the narrow Jadson and attack-minded Alves; it was interesting to see him time his runs well, particularly when Alves was in possession; Alves would drag Crainey and Whittaker out wide, and early on Elano had some success receiving the ball from here and targeting Liandro with out-swinging crosses from just outside of the area. Throughout the game, Elano and Jadson interchanged positions very well, meaning that Jadson would come very central to receive the ball allowing the ex-Man City man to push on in support of Liandro and Neymar.

Ramires started to the left of a central midfield three, slightly ahead of Lucas. What was noticeable however was his energy and willingness to support both the attack and the defence. In attacking scenarios, his burst of energy through the centre and to the left of the pitch had the effect of pulling the Scottish Hutton and Brown out of position (see figure 2), as both McArthur and Adam in midfield were powerless to halt his approaches. As well as providing the deft touches in the final third and hitting successful long balls out wide, Ramires was also able to help Lucas with defensive duties, intercepting the ball and tackling on numerous occasions, not allowing Scotland to gain any kind of momentum.

The movement of Neymar was also fantastic; starting from a wide left position he would drop deep to receive the ball, causing Brown and Hutton all sorts of problems with his direct running, seeking to commit defenders to the tackle. It was his perfectly timed run late in the first half from this area that allowed him far too much space in the Scotland penalty area to open the scoring. A fantastic quick three-touch passing movement down the left hand side allowed Santos to get in behind Hutton, finding Neymar who finished neatly in the far corner in a Thierry Henry-like manner.

(Image above right – Dashed line indicated movement off the ball; straight line indicates movement with ball)

Scotland improve pressing game but can’t find rhythm

Scotland adapted slightly at half time in response to Brazil’s high pressing game; Morrison moved closer to Miller, whilst Brown and Whittaker were seemingly asked to come inside more to monitor the thrusting central runs of both Ramires and Elano (having previously been asked to nullify the threat of Alves and Santos).  Villa youngster Bannan replaced McArthur, the latter player looking rather static and uncomfortable in the deep-lying midfield role. This had the effect of speeding up the passing in central midfield, as well as encouraging Scotland’s midfield to press the ball more fluently, as Bannan pushed high on Lucas.

Scotland were too slow in possession however and were unable to find any momentum going forward. Adam and Morrison in particular were wasteful on the ball meaning that Brazil found it all too easy to deconstruct the passing in the centre of the field and elicit quick counter-attacks. Early on, Neymar’s movement from deep once again paid off as Adam was relinquished of possession and the youngster clipped the cross bar with a long-range effort. With 15 minutes to go, it was Adam who clumsily brought down Neymar in the area, who then converted the penalty to effectively seal the game.

Levein, having already introduced Commons for Whittaker in a straight swap on the left hand side (perhaps seeking to capitalise in behind Alves) replaced the luckless Adam with Snodgrass. The Leeds man went right and Brown came inside. Sao Paulo youngster Lucas replaced Jadson and immediately impressed with a slalom-like run past three opponents, releasing Jonas beautifully who fired over from close range. By this late stage in the game, Lucas largely adopted a free role off the front two, always making himself available to receive the ball from deep.

In Summary

The silky Neymar will come away with the plaudits, but Ramires was supreme giving a masterclass in central midfield. His dynamism across the pitch and acceleration from deep in particular was a major reason for Brazil’s success. It was his movement which allowed the creative talents of Alves, Elano and Neymar in particular to get on the ball and seek to open up the Scottish defence. Scotland can’t be faulted for their application, but even without injuries to key players going into the game, they were always going to struggle against arguably the second best side in the world at present. They were simply harassed when on the ball, and not allowed to gain any kind of momentum in the game. Brazil’s technique is matched by their physical fitness and more importantly, their endeavor and collective will to win, which was all too evident today.


Author Details

Nik Storey
Nik Storey

Tactics enthusiast, player and referee ...

7 thoughts on “Tactical Review: Gulf in class sees Brazil topple Scotland

  1. Ramires is really looking like developing into a very good player after a shaky start at Chelsea and today’s excellent performance just showed how good a player he is becoming.

    1. Yeh he was very good, very assured. Only 24 so got a long time to develop. I wouldn’t say the end of Mikel or rate him higher than Essien at this stage, in all honesty he didn’t look like he could cope just a few months ago but is now looking better. Essien is a fantastic player and if Ramires emulates him I think many Chelsea fans will be happy, still a way to go though.

      1. I agreed that Ramires looked impressive against Scotland and he is really starting to prove his worth both at Chelsea and for Brazil, where he has become a regular feature.

        After enduiring and uneasy ‘bedding in’ period in England, I now rate Ramires as one of the best midfielders in the league.

        As much as I was taken back by Ramires’ presence in midfield, I was more impressed with Neymar and his movement in attack.

        I’ve not seen him play before (except for his best bits on various youtube clips) and he does look like a special player with a great future.

        It will be interesting where he (Neymar) ends up in the summer.

  2. Hi Ad

    Yes I agree about Neymar; Some fantastic composure for someone so young – he reminds me of a young Robinho but with a seemingly greater understanding of the positional aspect of the game. Worked the left-central area expertly, and came deep at the right time. Showed great poise when on the ball too, not over-elaborate, seeking to bring in other teammates at the right moment. The finish too, Henry’esque, anticipating the defender’s slight movement to the right and cooly slotting home! Hope Fergie is on to him :)

    1. Seconded. I hope Fergie is keeping tabs on him too. Although I can’t see him at Old Trafford as Manchester United have an array of talent in attack already, both currently at the club and out on loan.

      I do hope I am wrong and Neymar is one of the ‘targets’ that Ferguson mentioned in a recent press conference. It would be great to see the Brazilian’s creativity, skill and composure coming in from the left.

      Great reference to Henry. Any player given that sort of comparison is destined for a long and rewarding career at the top.

      You never know, Santos might do business in the form of a straight swap – Neymar for Bebe…… errr…..or maybe not!

  3. starting from a wide left position he would drop deep to receive the ball, causing Brown and Hutton all sorts of problems with his direct running, seeking to commit defenders to the tackle

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