Part 1 of this series discussed the style and importance of Fernando Diniz’s unique approach to football whilst Part 2 began to analyse the key aspects of Fluminense’s game model in build-up. This third part will continue to look at how they create advantages to progress the ball from the back against teams that press high.
A number of the aspects highlighted in Part 2 can be summarised in the situation below against Sporting Cristal in the Copa Libertadores:
1. Andre (RCM) has dropped to collect the ball directly from the goalkeeper’s feet to start the play.
2. There are more or less 9 Fluminense players located in their own defensive third, creating a 9v6 overload against the high press.
3. This is created because both the striker and #10 have both dropped deep and both FBs have tucked inside, overloading the centre with every player positioned within the width of the penalty area.
4. The only players ahead of the defensive third are the two wingers, who are also positioned very narrow in the centre of the pitch.These unique structures and roles facilitate Fluminense’s first objective of provoking the press, whilst also creating an overload which makes it difficult for the opposition to match. The freedom afforded to Ganso (AM) and Cano (ST) to drop towards the ball is key to this as their presence occupies more opposition players and creates a dilemma between marking these extra players in midfield and thus not pressing Fluminense’s CBs, or committing more players from the defensive line higher to join in with the press.
As we saw in Part 2, Fluminense are not afraid to try and play through the pressure by utilising local advantages but equally they are happy to try and attack the space behind the press should the opposition ‘overcommit’.
Winger on the ‘Wrong’ Side
In this case, the latter situation occurs whereby Sporting Cristal commit a couple of extra players to the press so that the first line can jump to the ball, and in particular the RB jumps high to mark Marcelo (LB).
With this in mind, it is exactly this gap left behind the advanced RB that Fluminense targeted to progress play here, with a chipped pass over the press by Melo. The player who receives the pass on the left wing is actually Fluminense’s RW (Arias), who has come all the way over to the opposite wing to act as the free man.In the first screenshot, Sporting Cristal’s LB is seen following Arias as he comes central, but by the second screenshot he is already on the other wing where the LB is unwilling to follow. Instead, the LB tries to pass on the responsibility to the spare midfielder (who can be seen starting to drop back in the screenshot) but by then it is too late as the pass is already being played.
It is exactly this sort of defensive disorganisation that Diniz is trying to provoke with his positional freedom, and in particular this tactic of moving both wingers to the same side of the pitch is a fundamental way of achieving this for Fluminense.
Since most zonal defences are based on controlling the space vertically in front of the player (i.e. a defender might be instructed to jump forward to mark a player who arrives in his allocated positional zone), horizontal movements across multiple zones inherently occupies the attention of multiple defenders and creates doubt within their division of responsibilities, with each defender unsure of whether to follow or pass on.
When the winger reaches the opposite wing, he will often be arriving simultaneously with two or three teammates who have been rotating nearer the ball, creating an overload between the lines. This further creates doubt for the defender responsible for that zone as multiple players can work together to pin and/or attract, and create an advantage regardless of the decision the defender eventually makes (to step up or to stay back).
For instance, in the video below, Arias [RW] drops deep to get on the ball, but his space further up is replaced by Keno [LW] who has come all the way over to the right wing. Keno is able to find a pocket of space to receive thanks to Samuel [RB] pinning the defender back. The pass doesn’t arrive in the end but Arias continues to affect play, moving deep again to drag a defender out with him. This leaves Keno open behind him, all the way over on the right touchline, and after Samuel moves inside to receive and play a pass around the corner, Keno is able to receive with enough time and space to try and play a pass through onto goal.
This all stemmed from the freedom for the LW to drift to the right side, which then made it possible for the two wingers to work together, along with other nearby players like the RB here, to manipulate defenders (Samuel pinning and Arias attracting) and create advantages.
This is how Fluminense’s game model enables them to take a fundamental football principle – like occupying/attacking spaces in front and behind an opponent – and maximise its utility by not restricting which players can create such an advantage based on who is meant to be occupying certain spaces at a certain time according to traditional positional constraints.
This positional freedom is not restricted to wingers moving to the wrong side and it is common for many players to end up in ‘unfamiliar’ areas of the pitch. For instance, Ganso, the #10, can often be found at CB or FB in particular moments of play.
However, it’s not enough simply for more advanced players to drop to support; in order to progress play, deeper players must then run forward to provide options to break the press. This requires intelligent movement and coordination across the team to provide balance, such that dropping movements from the likes of Ganso are often complemented by movements from deeper players to move forward into the space he’s vacated, creating this ‘Total Football’ style of play.
These rotations are often fluid and use the ball as the main reference point for the players to orientate themselves, but at times Fluminense may borrow more positional principles such as width and depth to provide a structure that can stretch the opponent’s press, but still rotate and interchange unpredictably within that structure.The build-up shape above initially looks relatively normal, with 2 CBs split either side of the GK and a pivot dropping in. But in reality, you’ll see that the RB and RCB are actually Ganso (#10) and Lima (LCM) respectively, having dropped into those areas during a transitional moment and then stayed there to enable the team to restart the attack.
Having been displaced from their ‘positions’, Samuel (RB) and Nino (RCB) have moved into more advanced positions and play a key role in progressing this attack. Samuel (RB) drops into a central midfield position to close the distance to the ‘back four’ and in doing so, attracts the attention of Athletico Paranaense’s CM who jumps to mark him.In turn, this frees up space for the ‘right winger’ behind, who is actually Nino (RCB), to receive freely from a longer pass from Andre. Just like the previous situation, Fluminense are able to create conditions where they occupy spaces in front (RB dropping in) and behind (RCB high) an opponent but do so in a way that gives freedom to the players themselves to interpret and implement such situations, rather than relying on an overarching structure.
This is testament to Diniz’s training that the players can be this tactically flexible by understanding the core principles of the game, achieving their ends through different means depending on the situation. Of course, positional ideas like width, depth spacing can be seen in moments of their play but equally there are many other situations where these are completely neglected to prioritise local interactions and advantages – for instance, players crowded in a small area or lined up in a straight line – which may not make sense positionally but stimulate the players’ creativity and freedom psychologically. In turn, this creates the possibility for new, emergent solutions to problems posed by the opposition, rather than relying on the structure to provide the answers.
After Breaking The Press
Once Fluminense have managed to break the press – whether by going over or through the opposition – they immediately look to break with speed and get in behind the opposition defence quickly.
The ‘ideal’ goal for Fluminense to score – i.e. the objective of their build-up – is to attract the opposition high before finding and using the space behind to attack in a ‘counter-attack-like’ situation where they find the opposition’s central defenders exposed in 50 metres of space.
Since they usually bring so many players deep for the initial build-up, this next phase requires multiple runners breaking quickly to support the one or two players who are already up the pitch. Unsurprisingly, the player that ends up breaking can be anyone, and it’s not uncommon to see CBs or FBs bursting forward if the situation is right.
This brings us back to the situation highlighted in Part 2 when Fluminense were constructing the attack against Cruzeiro. Instead of simply using the central options created by the CMs dropping in, Felipe Melo decides to play a chipped outside-of-the-foot pass to Marcelo to start the attack. This eventually leads to Fluminense breaking the press and ultimately scoring what must be considered the perfect goal for their game model.
They created the deep overloads to overwhelm the initial press, they used flair and creativity to escape the wide area having baited the opposition to press the FB, and then they exploited the resulting central space to break up the pitch quickly and overload the opposition’s defence in a transition-like situation.
When the different aspects of Fluminense’s build-up come together, this is the sort of goal that Fluminense can score, going from one end of the pitch to the other in a matter of seconds but doing so in a way that is both aesthetically pleasing and inherently dependent on the freedom and creativity of their players.
To be continued…