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. 

Brazil's traditional 4-3-3 meets a resilient Swiss rearguard with two holding midfielders.

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.

Our Sportscode output window displaying the Brazilian dominance of possession and attacking opportunities generated.

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.

The 'box shape' that Brazil employ to great effect.
Marcelo's high position allows Neymar the space to make an inside run.

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.

Brazil's zonal marking marking setup from a corner which failed for Switzerland's goal.

Star play­er

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.

Swiss central defender Manuel Akanji put in a storming performance both in defence and distribution.

Post-match review

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.