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On the tenth day of World Cup, South Africa gave to me: Brazil’s 4-2-3-1: What makes it different?

June 24, 2010

Germany at this year’s World Cup are playing the archetypal 4-2-3-1. They are playing a quick, short passing game with players very much keeping to their desired roles, not looking to keep hold of the ball for too long. This works because they have great technical players who know how the system works. Both Miroslav Klose and Mesut Özil drop deep sometimes, making space for the supporting players to run into their space. The wide players, Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski both make diagonal runs in-between the centre-backs and full-backs often and look to help defend. They are a very balanced side. I have stated that Germany’s representation of the ‘doble pivot’ is one of the most balanced I have seen. So what makes Brazil’s 4-2-3-1 different?

Examining the actual formation of the Brazil against Ivory Coast shows that it can easily be interpreted as a 4-2-3-1 with Elano, Kaka and Robinho behind Luis Fabiano.

Compared to Germany’s 4-2-3-1, there are notable differences:

Germany versus Ghana

The most subtle difference is that of the role of the two central midfielders in the two teams. For Germany, Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger, they are looking to always move into the space provided by the movement of Mesut Özil and Miroslav Klose.

Sami Khedira heatmap

Schweinsteiger heatmap

Khedira and Schweinsteiger have both shown they have a great understanding and there is never a time where one is forward without the other midfielder dropping back. With Podolski and Müller working hard on the wings, teams have found it hard to counter-attack. As well as this, Germany pressure in midfield and work together to win the ball back, making it hard for their opposition to move the ball comfortably, something that England may find hard to play against this weekend.

Their midfield is always about supporting the attack and looking for space to help keep possession. Compared to Germany, the Brazilian duo of Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo have very different roles.

Whilst the German central midfield look to actively support the attack, both Gilberto and Melo look to sit, hardly passing the half-way line.

Felipe Melo heatmap

Gilberto heatmap

These two defensive midfielders, so adept at shielding the back-four are there to accommodate the more attacking instincts of Brazil’s attacking three, Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano. In Germany’s 4-2-3-1, both Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski have defensive duties, looking to halt the runs of the oppositions’ full-backs and closing down the space in midfield. Robinho, who plays a more advanced role on the left compared to Elano, does not look to help defending but is given a free role, drifting from the left.

Robinho’s role is very interesting. Because he’s allowed to drift, defensive midfielders and full-backs do not have the opportunity to organise themselves when it comes to marking Robinho. Compared to the rigid German system, the opposition know exactly the positioning and areas that their two widemen will occupy. For Robinho however, this lack of conventional positioning that has him sometimes occupying a traditional wide left position or the central areas, causes gaps and spaces to appear for either Bastos to move into. The other option is that if Robinho has brought out one of two defensive midfielders, it means Kaka’s central position will be followed by the defensive midfielder’s partner. This space allows Maicon and Elano to overpower the right-side.

It was confusion like this that resulted in their second goal against North Korea. Robinho shifted the defence and midfield to the left with full-backs and central midfields all drifting towards him. The shift left brought space for Elano to run behind the defence and with everyone moving across draw out the defence for a great through-ball to be played for the Brazilian right-midfielder to run onto.

Robinho here has moved inside and has been picked up by the central midfielder, Kaka is also being picked up by the other central midfielder. This has allowed Maicon and Elano to run onto.

The ball makes it to Maicon, Elano has moved inside to help isolate the full-back. Kaka and Robinho are following in from deep after the quick move to the right has allowed them to move forward in front of the Ivory Coast midfielders.

After a dummy from Kaka to get Robinho on the ball in the penalty area, Kaka gets the ball back and has a shot on goal.

Brazil’s 4-2-3-1 shows the value of having a player who understands how his positioning can bring an opposition out of position and out of their defensive duties to create space for people on the other side of the pitch. It’s just one little change from a conventional 4-2-3-1 illustrated by Germany which completely changes the typical 4-2-3-1 system and it offers something new for teams who are used to playing against a conventional ‘doble pivot’ formation.

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