quinta-feira, 11 de abril de 2013

Grêmio 0 x 0 Fluminense - Libertadores

In the craziest group in the Copa Libertadores, Fluminense got a point at away at Porto Alegre and remain group leaders. Grêmio are now one point behind, and both only depend on themselves to go through the next round. Still, having played an entire period with an one-man advantage, the current Brazilian Champions could have hoped of getting a win and securing a spot in the playoffs. Luxemburgo deserves credit for Grêmio being able to compete even with a numerical disadvantage.

Warm up

This is the group where, up until the second round, the visitors had got 100% of the points, and every team had one and lost one game. With only this game and the next round to go, it remained very tight, and all four teams still had a chance a of classifying to the playoffs. Fluminense stood in second place, with 7 points and a smaller net goal average than Huachipato, group leader so far. Grêmio was third with six points. Caracas was bottom with the same six points. The other teams had already faced each other in this round. 

That meant that Fluminense could aspire a victory to seal their place in the playoffs. Grêmio, on the other hand, would have to need the result of the last game against Huachipato anyway, and, even tough three points wouldn't hurt, it wasn't going to change much to their motivations. Above that, the team from Rio had a series of injuries, and were without Fred, Deco, Thiago Neves and Wellington Nem, the attacking four that  won the Brazilian Championship last year. Grêmio were missing only Elano, so were more much more complete, even if the midfielder is a key player.

Abel Braga chose to go with a front four of Michael - of only 19 years old - in place of team captain Fred, Rhayner - the winger that just ended a 83 game streak without scoring - Sóbis, a regular sub last season and Wagner, who seems to have secured his place even when Deco returns. The rest of the team was as expected. Luxemburgo chose Marco Antônio to replace Elano and to remain with the pairing of Hernan Barcos and Eduardo Vargas upfront, with Kléber on the bench.

Fluminense sits deep, and Grêmio doesn't manage to penetrate.

With so many key players out, the Brazilians champions decided to wait on the home team, and play on the break. That meant that Grêmio dominated the ball possession, but could not do much with it. The home team plays in a 4-4-2 with the wide players and the second striker changing places very frequently, and coming inside to make for a narrow team, and almost in a classic brazilian 4-2-2-2. In this case, Zé Roberto and Marco Antônio were the wide midfielders. The first started on the right, than went middle and then left, exchanging continuosly with Vargas. Only Barcos holded his place upfront.

Fluminense plays in a 4-2-3-1 with the wingers in very disciplined roles against the wing backs. It is this kind of tactical job that makes Braga start with Rhayner, a player that before this weekend, had needed more than 2 years to score a goal - and even the goal that ended the bad streak, was very lucky. Here, it was specially obvious the way that Rhayner was assigned the job to track André Santos the whole length of the field. Which he did until he was replaced, in the second-half. 

Edinho was used to track Vargas, often becoming an third centre-back, and making sure that there was always an extra man in the defense. Bruno tracked Zé Roberto, even when the ex-Bayern Munich came inside, safe in the knowing that Rhayner would track André Santos. Jean picked up Souza and Wagner tracked Fernando, and vice-versa.

The game progressed in a very slow fashion. Very few goalscoring chances were created in the first half. As Fluminense defended well, Grêmio had a real hard time getting in the box. Soon enough, Zé Roberto and Marco Antônio started dropping deep to colect the ball from the "volantes". Fluminense stopped the games with fouls, and in that way Grêmio got their best chances: through set pieces from Fernando, the player that has been in an brazilian national team every year since 2007. The game seemed destined to be a uninteresting tie, but at the last minute of the first period, Cris was sent off after a foul in Rafael Sóbis.

Luxemburgo chooses to compete in the midfield, and Fluminense fails to score

For the second half, Luxemburgo replaced Marco Antônio by Bressan, a centre-back, in order to repair his defense. But the key change was Kléber in for Vargas. With an one-man disadvantage, a energetic player capable of playing two positions at once was needed. Even so, it would have made more sense to take out Barcos, and keep both Kléber and Vargas working the channels. Kléber played as a number 10, in the head of a diamond that had Fernando, Souza and Zé Roberto. Barcos remained upfront.

This allowed for Grêmio to keep competing for ball possession in the middle, having 4 players against 3 from Fluminense. Their weakness was clearly down the flanks, where Bruno and Carlinhos had all the space to charge into. The cariocas readily took charge of the game, inverting the roles from the first period. Now it was the away team who had the ball, and the home team who sat deep. But Grêmio defended well, with the midfield shuffling across the pitch when the ball was played to a fullback. The high work rate and physical presence of Kleber helped keep the ball upfront at times, and when Grêmio got the ball, the team became a 4-3-2 that could still do some damage. 

Later on, Luxemburgo replaced Barcos with Adriano, an defensive midfielder. Now the team was more of a 4-4-1, with Kléber being the 10 and the 9 at the same time. They stood off the centre-backs, and closed down as soon as the ball got to Edinho. Abel Braga replaced one young striker for another, Samuel, better in the air, and gave the fullbacks total freedom. Nothing really worked, as Grêmio fought hard for a point that put them at second places in the group.

Only in the end did the Flu coach put on Felipe, a classic playmaker, and Monzon, another fullback to allow Carlinhos to go play in the wing. With the space that Grêmio afforded, Felipe could have been used sooner. Fernando remained as a threat in set-pieces, but the game ended 0-0.

A point to each, but Fluminense should have made more of it.

Having played an whole period with one extra plauyer, Fluminense should have chased the three points that would have given them a place in the playoffs. Grêmio was happy with the point that gave than the possibility of tying the last game against Huachipato, and still go through the next round. Credit should go to Luxemburgo for making a strong team out of 10 men; but with 11, they did not created enough chances against a Fluminense full of subs. Both teams are now a tie away from the next round.

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