How Switzerland Stifled the Brazilian Attacking Machine
How Switzerland Stifled the Brazilian Attacking Machine
After scoring an early goal, it looked as though Brazil would swagger their way through this encounter with relative ease — however, Switzerland had other ideas as they pulled back a second half goal to earn a 1 – 1 draw. Our guest analyst takes a look at what was a real game of two halves.
How did the teams set up?
Brazil set up with their familiar attacking 4 – 3-3 formation, Casemiro and Paulinho doing the dirty work to allow Neymar, Jesus, Willian and Coutinho to flourish.
Switzerland set up with a 4 – 4-1 – 1 formation when they controlled the ball, but lived mainly in a 4 – 5-1 as their defensive shape.
Blerim Dzemalli dropped from an attacking support role into central midfield as the Swiss aimed to flood the centre of the park with numbers to disrupt Brazilian build-up play.
Out of possession Brazil got into a deep compact shape and actually invited Switzerland onto them, they were happy enough being patient without the ball and waiting for Switzerland to make a mistake.
Brazil weren’t concerned with committing bodies high up the pitch to stop Switzerland playing out, and as a result, both centre halves for Switzerland received more passes from their goal keeper than any other player in the match.
How did Brazil impose their shape on the Swiss?
In possession Brazil adopted a ‘box shape’ in the middle of the pitch. This shape is something that has been synonymous with Brazil teams of yesteryear. The two centre backs make up the back of the box, with Casemiro and Paulinho making up the other corners of the box.
This shape is very hard to penetrate if a team is comfortable in possession, which Brazil clearly are.
Our Sportscode output window shows Brazil completed 85 more passes in total than Switzerland and held the ball for 54.4% of the match. Also the Selecao held a strong advantage in both average length of time per possession and average passes completed per possession.
The strength of this box shape is that both Marcelo and Danilo are fullbacks only in name, barely leaving the Swiss half of the pitch during the first period of play and playing like traditional wingers. This allows both wide midfielders for Brazil to play a little more narrow, almost in a “fake ten” role.
This was effective for Brazil in spells of the game, more so in the first half as it allowed their most skillful players like Neymar & Willian to get on the ball in areas that are hard to defend for Switzerland.
In defending this shape, Switzerland fullbacks Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez are concerned with the high position of Marcelo and Danilo and the Swiss central midfielders are left to defend the Neymar and Willian cutting inside.
How does Brazil play against a team that sits back?
Switzerland set up deep and narrow. When Brazil caused them problems, they did it in two ways.
Firstly by playing a fast tempo with lots of off ball movement, using one or two touches of the ball.
One touch or fast tempo football is tough to defend against no matter how deep and compact a team is.
Neymar led all players in attacking duels (19) and took two or fewer touches on seven occasions during the match.
How did the Swiss deal with Brazil’s attacking force?
Dzemaili dropped in alongside his central midfielders to make a midfield three alongside Xhaka and Behrami. Of all of Neymar’s 19 attacking duels, 16 were contested with Dzemaili and Behrami.
They also made sure to defend with a relatively deep line, not allowing the space in behind that Gabriel Jesus thrives upon. Jesus was restricted to zero shots in the match.
Due to the way Brazil set up in their box formation, Switzerland had massive opportunities to hurt Brazil by playing behind the high fullbacks on Transition. This opportunity was not utilised enough.
Obviously one reason is because Switzerland were pinned back due to Brazils attack in numbers, however, one way it could have been better utilised is if Switzerland striker Hans Seferovic made runs from in to out. Far too many of Seferovic touches were in central areas as opposed to the spaces vacated by Marcelo & Danilo.
Set plays: Switzerland marked from corners with a man mark system, along with a free man to go and attack the ball. Brazil elected to keep two out on the ball, in order to drag an extra Swiss player out of the box.
Switzerland had a height advantage over Brazil and balls into the Swiss box did not cause too many problems for Switzerland. Centre backs Schar and Akjani lost only one of the seven aerial duels they contested between them in the match.
Brazil elected to mark with a zonal system at corners, most probably due to the height advantage they were giving Switzerland. Steven Zubar’s equalising goal for Switzerland fittingly came from a corner.
The big issue with zonal marking is that it is difficult to know exactly who is accountable for attacking the ball; for the goal Miranda is the closest to the header for Brazil, however he is confused as to which space to occupy, allowing Zubar to get a free run at the ball.
This was always going to be an opportunity for Switzerland with their height advantage against this marking system. Nobody in the Brazilian side takes responsibility for the runner, which leads to the goal.
Manuel Akanji was colossal in the centre of a tough Swiss rearguard. Out of eight defensive duels, he lost only one, and aerially he won all three of the challenges that came his way.
Akanji also excelled with the ball at his feet with a 93% pass completion rate and a game high 75 touches of the ball for his team.
As it was, Brazil did not show enough on the night to beat a well organised Switzerland team. Switzerland fouled Neymar a match high nine times and this approach may now be replicated as the tournament continues.
On the balance of play Brazil deserved to win. They had 21 shots to Switzerland’s six, but Tite’s side could not find a cutting edge against a resilient Swiss eleven who celebrated a precious point.
Brazil will always create chances and more will surely come against Costa Rica, but they must convert these opportunities to get their tournament rolling.
Switzerland can take heart from coming back from a goal down against one of the tournament favourites, and should be able to play with more freedom in their next game against Serbia.