How Jorge Jesus turned Flamengo into a title contender

In lit­tle over three months of work, Portuguese man­ag­er Jorge Jesus can safe­ly say that he has won the hearts of the fans of the Brazilian team with the largest following.

How Jorge Jesus turned Flamengo into a title contender

In lit­tle over three months of work, Portuguese man­ag­er Jorge Jesus can safe­ly say that he has won the hearts of the fans of the Brazilian team with the largest following.

At the helm of a Flamengo that’s a semi-final­ist in the Copa Libertadores and lead­ing the Brazilian cham­pi­onship halfway through the com­pe­ti­tion, Mister”, as he likes to be called, has trans­formed the per­for­mance of the Rubro-Negro.

From a star-stud­ded cast qual­i­fied accord­ing to South American stan­dards to a team that start­ed deliv­er­ing the expect­ed per­for­mance right from the begin­ning of the season.

Below, we’ll be delv­ing into Jorge Jesus’ game strategy for the most pop­u­lar team in Brazil. The excel­lent imple­men­ta­tion of these ideas, added to the qual­i­ty of the squad, has made the fans dream of the cov­et­ed Copa Libertadores, a tour­na­ment they last won in 1981 when star play­er Zico was still there. Flamengo win­ning and enchant­i­ng with the Portuguese coach. He pro­duces emi­nent­ly watch­able foot­ball that’s in line with the club’s offen­sive DNA.

Jorge Jesus’ qual­i­ty as a coach is unques­tion­able. He did great work in Portugal and his time in Saudi Arabia got off to a good start. The ques­tion was the European man’s adap­ta­tion to play­ing in Brazil. There are a lot of dif­fer­ences. The pitch­es are dif­fer­ent, the weath­er con­di­tions pre­vent high inten­si­ty in lots of games, the Brazilian foot­ball cal­en­dar is insane and poor­ly planned, and the play­ers are treat­ed more pater­nal­is­ti­cal­ly by the clubs. The atmos­phere isn’t as strict and extreme­ly pro­fes­sion­al as in Europe, but Jesus has been able to change some real­i­ties quite quick­ly.

Starting with the behav­iour of the play­ers. The Flamengo fans are some of the most demand­ing in Brazil. In recent years, they’ve been com­plain­ing about the lack of com­mit­ment from some play­ers. Jorge Jesus has pub­licly praised how the red and blacks have been throw­ing them­selves into their every­day work. The inten­si­ty seen on the pitch dur­ing the games is also above aver­age for Brazilian foot­ball. These pil­lars, while some­what sub­jec­tive, are impor­tant for the per­for­mance seen so far.

Tactical Scheme

The team for­ma­tion varies a lot. Jorge Jesus became known for using 4 – 1-3 – 2, but he only used it in the first games in Brazil. The for­ma­tion most used by Flamengo is 4 – 4-2, with two play­ers more aligned towards the cen­tre, two wingers with the free­dom to move towards the cen­tre, and total mobil­i­ty of the front pair made up of Bruno Henrique and Gabigol. Sometimes, 4 – 2-3 – 1 is used, with Everton Ribeiro in a more cen­tral posi­tion and Bruno Henrique on the right. But what attracts atten­tion is the num­ber of times this is var­ied dur­ing the match­es. And how the play­ers quick­ly under­stood the pat­tern of move­ment accord­ing to each tac­ti­cal scheme.

Offensive Phase

The word that best defines Flamengo’s attack under Jorge Jesus is upright­ness. No mat­ter how much it dom­i­nates ball pos­ses­sion in its match­es, it’s not a team for long pos­ses­sion and con­stant pass­es. When it has the advan­tage on the field, it even takes on a more con­trol­ling nature, but its essence is the speed with which it builds its attacks. The gains in depth through the speed and move­ments of Gabigol and Bruno Henrique. The qual­i­ty of the coor­di­na­tion between Everton Ribeiro and Gérson, the ver­sa­til­i­ty of Willian Arão and the dead­li­ness of De Arrascaeta.

In this frame, the beginning of the Rubro-Negro attack. Willian Aaron infiltrating between the two defenders, Gérson a little further on, ready to receive and distribute.

At this time, it’s also impor­tant to empha­sise the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the defen­sive quar­tet. Rodrigo Caio and Pablo Mari are cen­tre backs who make excel­lent pass­es. The ball goes well from the first moment it’s kicked. Filipe Luís and Rafinha are coor­di­nat­ing wingers. Several times, they occu­py the flanks accord­ing to the ideas of Jorge Jesus, dic­tat­ing the rhythm of the team with all their expe­ri­ence and the high lev­el they’ve achieved in their careers.

We can also see that more projected full-backs – close to the midfield, ready to receive wide – are passing options for the team.

Whatever the tac­ti­cal scheme adopt­ed, Flamengo uses a goal kick play with three play­ers aligned ini­tial­ly. Willian Arão infil­trates the cen­tre backs and frees up Rafinha and Filipe Luís. They occu­py the flanks of the field of attack, mak­ing room for the team to move the ball and get through the oppos­ing defence. Gérson, play­ing very well at Flamengo, is the one who gives the touch of cen­tralised qual­i­ty. He dis­trib­utes the plays. Everton Ribeiro and De Arrascaeta float around the cen­tre, attack­ing” their opponent’s last line of defence. They wreak hav­oc on the last third of the pitch with Bruno Henrique and Gabigol.

It is possible to observe the four most advanced players of the team. Jorge Jesus gives them complete freedom. They seek to unbalance the rival defensive line by attacking spaces or creating triangles.

Game by game, Flamengo has become more intel­li­gent in its occu­pa­tion of spaces near the oppos­ing goal. During the first few games, there was often a cer­tain imbal­ance because of this extreme free­dom Jorge Jesus was giv­ing to his more advanced play­ers. At times, there was a lack of breadth, the pres­ence among the oppos­ing lines or depth, but this has been slow­ly dis­ap­pear­ing. What we see now is a Flamengo that is mobile, fast, force­ful and tak­ing advan­tage of the dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics of its front­men. Gabigol already has 30 goals this sea­son, for example.

Defensive Phase

As for defen­sive organ­i­sa­tion, Flamengo uses zon­al mark­ing in the sec­tor and some pur­suits. But they’re not long. It’s unusu­al to see one of the wingers of the Rubro-Negro mov­ing far from their area of oper­a­tion to fol­low an oppos­ing play­er. The pur­suits take place in pre­de­ter­mined areas so as not to dis­or­gan­ise the team’s posi­tion­ing. In the first games with Jesus, the defence had a lot of holes, but since mid-August, there has been a con­sid­er­able improve­ment in the num­ber of clear chances gen­er­at­ed by the oppos­ing team and, con­se­quent­ly, a fall in the aver­age num­ber of goals con­ced­ed.

The beginning of the pressure begins immediately. Active participation of the two most advanced men. Body orientation forcing the opponent to play sideways.
This coordination is important to block the nearest pass lines. The left-winger raises the pressure mark. The other attacker closes the central pass space.
Compaction is critical for this movement to work. The entire midfield line is already within the rival field, marking intensely.

Part of this sce­nario comes major­ly from the under­stand­ing of com­press­ing and mark­ing hard­er in the field of attack. These con­cepts still need much explo­ration in Brazilian foot­ball, and Jorge Jesus will cer­tain­ly add a lot to this. Flamengo posi­tions itself with very close lines between the defence and mid­field, it approach­es its adver­sary very inten­sive­ly when the time comes to attacks, and counts on the active par­tic­i­pa­tion of the strik­ers. After all, if they don’t put pres­sure on, the play­er with the ball is free to make a long for­ward pass. The arrivals of Rafinha and Filipe Luís were deci­sive for the good oper­a­tion of the cov­er­age on the last defen­sive line. Diego Alves also realised that you have to play a bit fur­ther ahead to give the nec­es­sary cov­er and for things to come together.


Flamengo has scored a lot of goals from counter-attacks under Jorge Jesus. Not that this has been the case from the begin­ning of the match­es. On the con­trary, they take the ini­tia­tive in attack­ing, but they’re lethal when they have room to run. Gabigol and Bruno Henrique are two play­ers who are cut out for this kind of play. De Arrascaeta has an excel­lent per­cep­tion of the last metres of the pitch. Everton Ribeiro isn’t fast, but he guides the ball mas­ter­ful­ly and pro­vides very capa­ble assists. Rafinha and Filipe Luís get the ball mov­ing. Gérson and Arão are dynam­ic. Apart from this entire range of tech­ni­cal options, there is col­lec­tive organ­i­sa­tion and coor­di­na­tion of move­ments to make the most of the room available.

For defen­sive tran­si­tions, the idea the Mister” has is to pro­vide imme­di­ate inten­si­ty to get the ball back. The lose, put pres­sure on” tactic is increas­ing­ly being exe­cut­ed in a more coor­di­nat­ed man­ner by the team. Gérson and Willian Arão are the back­bone of the team at the moment. As they play very offen­sive­ly, they’re almost always near the ball and they begin putting this pres­sure on. Flamengo has con­ced­ed very few goals to rival counter attacks.

How far can Flamengo go?

This ques­tion is asked every day by the club’s huge fol­low­ing. Football is a com­plete­ly unpre­dictable sport. Very often, big teams start off very well, but then some­thing makes their per­for­mance wane. There are a lot of vari­ables that influ­ence and yearn­ing after a major title are irre­spon­si­ble. However, the fact remains that, at the moment, Flamengo is play­ing the best foot­ball it’s played in many years. The most enthu­si­as­tic are mak­ing com­par­isons with the club’s gold­en gen­er­a­tion in the 1980s. Exaggeration aside, the red and blacks have nev­er been so close to win­ning the cov­et­ed titles.