How to fix Brazil: 'Dirty movement', Endrick as a No 9 and a midfield rejig

“Dirty movement”.

That’s the colourful expression Dorival Junior used to describe what his Brazil team is missing right now.

It was an unusual choice of words to reflect what the Brazil coach viewed as a failure to stretch Costa Rica’s defence in their goalless draw on Monday.

“We need a ‘dirty movement’, someone attacking the last line, looking to get in behind the opposition. That will make life easier for whoever has the ball at his feet. That was our biggest issue,” Dorival said. “There was a lack of deep runs. Those kind of movements drag the defensive line back towards the goalkeeper and open up space for us to build up in deeper areas.”

A genuine No 9 would be helpful in that respect, rather than a forward who spent much of the game against Costa Rica playing more like a No 10 or, at one stage, a left-back. Rodrygo was roaming from the first minute, dropping into midfield and doing anything but occupying Costa Rica’s three-man central defence, let alone dragging that trio closer to their own penalty area — and nobody should have been surprised by that.

“With my characteristics, it doesn’t suit me very well,” Rodrygo said last season when asked about playing as a striker for Real Madrid. “I like to touch the ball a lot and I can’t play as much as a No 9.”

The first few minutes proved to be a sign of things to come. With 27 seconds on the clock, the Brazil left-back, Guilherme Arana, had the ball at his feet and Rodrygo took up a position akin to a No 8, level with Lucas Paqueta.


As Brazil moved the ball around at the back, a line of five emerged across the middle, with seven Costa Rica players goal-side of them.


With three minutes gone, Arana has the ball again. A conservative three-man midfield, in which Paqueta is the only player who breaks forward (we’ll come onto that later), is about to be joined by Rodrygo.

Dirty movement? Rodrygo is squeaky clean.


Eventually, Rodrygo advances and Vinicius Junior, surrounded by a posse of Costa Rica players (the story of a disappointing night for him), swings a wayward lofted ball towards his Real Madrid team-mate.


Of course, the sort of movement Dorival is talking about doesn’t hinge solely on the central attacker. The wide forwards — Vinicius Jr and Raphinha in the first half against Costa Rica — have a role to play, too.

Raphinha’s movement was generally good. The clip below features one of the simplest but most effective ways for a wide attacker to lose their defender. As Danilo carries the ball forward, Raphinha comes short, bringing his marker with him, before spinning in behind. The Brazil right-back clips a ball over the top and Raphinha is away.


But rewatch the GIF and look at Rodrygo’s position when that passage of play starts — he’s on the halfway line, level with Paqueta again, and that means he has far too much ground to make up to join the attack.

In theory, Raphinha should be able to guide a ball into the penalty area, into his path, as shown in the fifth image in the GIF. Instead, the Barcelona winger is forced to check back and a promising Brazil attack ends with nothing more than a corner.

Rodrygo’s pursuit of the ball took him to some strange places in Los Angeles on Monday night, none more so than when he ended up by the corner flag in the Brazil half attempting a switch of play.


The absence of a focal point in attack, illustrated by the graphics below, meant Brazil’s attacking play was often slow and prosaic against Costa Rica.

brazil front three touches

In the GIF below, Arana has the ball again and could, in theory, slide a pass into the feet of a striker to link with Paqueta (image 1). But Rodrygo has wandered, this time into more of a holding midfield role, meaning Arana has little option but to go back.

Brazil rebuild the attack, Danilo switches play to Vinicius Jr and the winger runs down the outside before sending over a cross that is easily gathered by the Costa Rica goalkeeper.


Ah, the subject of crosses. Brazil delivered 29 of them against Costa Rica — almost as many as in Dorival’s other four games in charge combined (31). Against a deeper block, it’s natural that a team will cross more, but most of Brazil’s centres against Costa Rica were at best hopeful and at worst aimless (see the GIF below). Only five of their 29 crosses were successful.


Wide deliveries aren’t futile for Brazil. Their late winner against Mexico, in one of their pre-Copa America warm-up games, came from an inswinging Vinicius Jr cross from the left. Indeed, the identity of the goalscorer that evening serves as a reminder that there is a potential solution to the search for a bona fide No 9 and, to paraphrase Dorival, a filthy runner. His name is Endrick and he’s 17 years old.

“If he wants to stick with the formation he has now, he has to do it properly and play a centre-forward,” Walter Casagrande, the former national team striker, said on Brazilian TV. “What’s the point in Arana and Raphinha stretching the play out wide and putting crosses in if there’s no one in the box to put the ball in the net? The team needs someone who knows that space. That’s Endrick, but Dorival doesn’t pick him.”

Dorival also picks two holding midfielders and that is another subject of debate when it comes to Brazil’s tactics.

Do Brazil really need Joao Gomes alongside Bruno Guimaraes?

“It was playing those two that allowed us to recover the ball and start attacking again when we were in the final third,” Dorival said on the eve of Brazil’s second Copa America group game, against Paraguay.

He has a point. In fact, their best moments against Costa Rica came from transitions rather than controlled possession, which probably says something about the strengths and weaknesses of this Brazil team.

The Vinicius Jr penalty that never was (a clear foul in the eyes of many) came about after a combination of Raphinha and Guimaraes won the ball in the Costa Rica half, while the shot Rodrygo whipped inches over the bar in first-half stoppage time was the result of Gomes quickly regaining possession following Arana’s loose pass.


Even Paqueta’s ferocious shot that hit the post was a product of Guimaraes stealing the ball on the edge of the Costa Rica area (see below).


That said, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Guimaraes doesn’t need an accomplice, especially against defensive opponents. Gomes is an excellent ball-winner — only Fulham’s Joao Palhinha made more tackles than the Wolves midfielder in the Premier League last season — but he offers little from a creative perspective.

In fact, on the graphic below, Gomes’ ‘passer value’, which essentially measures how likely passes are to result in the team scoring, ranks him lower than any of the other outfield players.

Brazil passing network

The passing network above also shows the imbalance and disconnect on Brazil’s left flank, where Vinicius Jr is isolated.

On the right, Paqueta occupies the half-space (as shown in the image below where he produces an exquisite flick) and often makes runs in between the left centre-back and left-back, or wing-back in the case of Costa Rica, linking well with Raphinha in the process.


It feels as though there’s a strong case to be made for a No 8 filling a similar role on the other side of the pitch — Fulham’s Andreas Pereira could be an option — to give support to Vinicius Jr and make the most of whatever “dirty movement” there may be for Brazil.


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