Just Like Watching Brazil?

8 06 2010

This is an article written for our friends at WolvesBlog to be featured on their site. If you are not a Wolves fan please do not read on!

Of all the chants directed at the home side at Molineux this past season, ”Just Like Watching Brazil” was not, as far as I am aware, one of them. Thirteen goals all season at home and only four since switching to a functional ‘4-5-1’ around the turn of the year, it was a case of getting the job done and accumulating points.

So it is something of a surprise to discover an ally in the most extraordinary of places… the Samba Kings themselves, Brazil. Respected pundits have been queueing up to describe and analyse their unusual system. Such was the level of debate, The Guardian’s tactics guru Jonathan Wilson wrote a fantastic piece last summer discussing precisely what type of 4-2-3-1 it was Brazil were playing at the Confederations Cup that year. The popular ‘nerd nirvana’ website Zonal Marking,  that features some of the most in-depth tactical analysis ever seen, noted that their unusual system was a ”formation [that] cannot be described accurately by mere numbers”. The article was followed up some time later by a fascinating breakdown of the formation, analysing how it shifted from one perceived formation to the next.

Notation aside, most seem to view it something like this:

Luis Fabiano is the sole spearhead of the attack. Robinho is operating in an advanced position on the left-wing but able to provide a goal threat cutting in on his right foot. There is no like-for-like player on the other flank where Ramires (or perhaps Elano) will be asked to tuck inside to help bolster the options in midfield. This enables the forward-thinking Maicon to power on into the wide open spaces down the right-flank. Centrally, there is disappointment in Brazil at the presence of both Felipe Melo & Gilberto Silva – two holding-midfielders with little creative spark who are entrusted to sit in front of the defence, snuffing out the threat from midfield runners and playing simple no-nonsense passes with an emphasis on ball retention. Gilberto, a former central defender in his youth, sometimes even drops into the back line, effectively forming a back three as the wide defenders almost become wing-backs.

At this point you may need to suspend your disbelief because, for some Wolves fans at least, this newfangled Brazil system will start to ring a few bells. One up front: Kevin Doyle. An advanced right-footed left-winger: Matt Jarvis. A tucked inside right-midfielder bolstering the midfield and allowing the full-back to advance: Kevin Foley & Ronald Zubar. Two out-and-out holding midfielders, one a converted centre-back capable of dropping back into defence: Karl Henry & Michael Mancienne.

To illustrate the point, look at the average position data for the visit of Manchester United to Molineux early this year:


Wolves, playing from left to right on this diagram, have Jarvis playing in almost as advanced a position as the centre-forward Doyle. Despite being described by most onlookers as a 4-5-1 there is certainly no sense in which you could argue Foley on the other flank is playing anything like the same role for the team. The average position data shows him operating in a very similar position to Adlene Guedioura, giving an additional presence in midfield. This is allowing Zubar, the right-back (shown at the bottom of this diagram), to operate in such an advanced position he is actually further forward than Henry, Wolves’ most defensive midfielder in this game with Mancienne left on the bench. In other words, this is much like how Ramires shuttles infield freeing Maicon while Gilberto Silva covers him with a defensive brief.

Now I am not saying David Jones is Kaka (although on the diagram that is Jones playing just off Doyle in a surprisingly advanced midfield role) and if you’re not laughing at me already, you would be if I told you Jody Craddock was Wolves’ very own Lucio. However, when the various World Cup pundits write ad nauseam about just how unique and distinctive Brazil’s assymetrical formation is, you might want to forgive Mick McCarthy a raised eyebrow or two. He is never likely to be a coach hailed for his forward-thinking tactical innovations. Indeed, this very formation was stumbled upon more by accident than through design. And yet even so, while the quality of play we may expect to see from Brazil this summer is a far cry from the fare on offer at Molineux, the key elements of both formations are clear to see. You heard it here first.. and probably last – ”it’s just like watching Brazil”!