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Luxemburgo and the Brazilian Tactics

Known in Europe after his not-very-good work in Real Madrid, Vanderlei Luxemburgo is the current Palmeiras’ coach.It may not look very good for you guys, but he is the best Brazilian coach in activity. He has more than 20 titles in his career, and except from his passage in Real Madrid and the short passage on Palmeiras in 2002, he has managed to win a title in every club he works since 1993*.

I can’t tell you why he wasn’t able to do a nice work in Real Madrid. Maybe he wasn’t 100% prepared, some say he was not able to deal with the players. I think that he didn’t have an easy task, and maybe with some more freedom as a manager (Arrigo Sacchi was the Technical Director at that time), he would have done a better job.

In the current passage of Luxemburgo in Palmeiras he won the Campeonato Paulista¹, the first Palmeiras title in eight years**. Now Palmeiras is the 6th, but just 4 points away from the 1st.

After this long introduction, I’ll try to explain what is the point of this post: analyzing the Palmeiras’ tactics, I’ll try to show differences about the way Brazilian and European coaches organize their teams. Luxemburgo will help me here because Palmeiras team is tactically very well placed. Being my first post, I will try to make it as good as possible, but not all posts and subjectives will carefully written (and interesting – assuming this is interesting =) ) as this one.

Palmeiras’ formation is a derived of a classic Brazilian formation, 4-2-2-2:

As you might notice, there are no side-midfielders (SM) on the field, but two attacking-midfielders (AM). The difference about this is that the players have actually different roles; while SMs usually attacks by the side of the field, trying a cross by-line or a play heading the box, the AMs play in the center, trying to build a play with the strikers. That doesn’t means that the AM’s never play by the side, but in Palmeiras (and in almost every Brazilian team) this role belongs to the side defender (SD).

Side defenders attack in European teams too, but Brazilian teams have to find a way to defend their selves when a side defender attacks. To do this, the Brazilian coaches place two defensive midfielders (DM) that have the role to occupy the SD’s backs (as we call here in Brazil). That means that, when the SD goes to attack, the DM in his side stays on defensive field to prevent the opposite side to find a free place to attack where the side defender should defend. More than that, when a SD attacks, the other SD, on the opposite side of the field stays on defensive field. If the play goes to the other side, the other SD attacks, and the first SD comes back to defense.

When attacking, the SD has the help of the AM in his side, and with the defensive midfielder in his back, there’s actually a triangle of players who can play, and some options on the middle.

(same to the left side, but mirrored)

The difference with a classic 4-4-2 is that the SM is always by the side, leaving the center to the Center Midfielders (CM), with the SD on his back, and helping the SM attacks seldom, and with no option on center playing or defense on the SD backs, since the CM should choose one of these.

I’m not saying that the Brazilian way is a better way. Having a SM helps the teams to pass the ball to one side to other, trying to create a play, which can’t be fast without the SM, since there would not be a player in the other side of the field, not at the same time that there’s a SD attacking on one side.

As I said, Palmeiras’ tactics are derived from the classic 4-2-2-2; with all first team players available, Palmeiras plays with a 4-1-2-1-2:

Some Brazilian professionals and press think this is one of the best formation, but you need players that fill the positions well. The defensive midfielder must be a ball-winner defensive player; both center midfielders (CM) have to be good passers, support attackers, but defend, too. The attacking midfielder is the team’s brain, must be creative.

As you may notice, these tactics privilege the attacking midfielders, the best position my country can produce in football roles. Almost every good player started as a attacking midfielder, and, due the fact that European teams doesn’t play with these kind of formations, they start playing in other positions. The same happens with Brazilian side-defenders, which are far better attackers than defenders².

Comparing the 4-1-2-1-2 tactics with the 4-4-2, we have almost the same pattern as the 4-2-2-2, but here with a defensive midfielder that combats the opposite attacking midfielder, and covers the SD’s backs, while the CM’s attack alternated, depending what side the team is attacking. But, the attacking midfielder may become too busy, trying to create most the team’s plays alone. That’s why the CM’s must know how to play, there are important attacking and defending. I’m not going to say that they must be like Gerrard, a great box-to-box, but they can’t be just another defender midfielders placed more offensively.

As in most of the 4-1-2-1-2, Palmeiras have a most defensive CM (Leo Lima) and a most offensive CM (Diego Souza). That makes the team less defensive, but more creative.

Palmeiras’ tactics, very well planned by Luxemburgo, shows the basic movement when attacking and defending (right side, same as the left side, but mirrored):

Of course this movement doesn’t happen all the time, but that’s what he planned.

As said before, the main difference about the “Brazilian” tactics and the 4-4-2, which looks for us here pretty European, is that the Brazilian tactics makes the game more centralized, while the European formation try to spread the plays by the sides of the field. I can’t say which is better, since they depend of the kind of player you have. Kaká wouldn’t play well if he was placed as a CM in a four-player line in the midfielder, and C. Ronaldo might not be the best player in the world if he was placed as an attacking midfielder. More than that, a formation can’t be just good or bad, to compare you must have something to compare to, and talking about tactics and formation, each one privilege an aspect, and the job is to privilege the aspects you think that will fit best with you players and against the team you are playing against.

I just tried to point my point of view of the differences of the formations mentioned above. Any comment, doubt or critics will be welcome (critics less welcome than the other =) ). Sorry again about my English. It isn’t easy to write in English, and this is also a training for me.


* Here’s the english wikipedia link, but I would suggest the brazilian version.

** I’ve wrote a post about how I thought Luxemburgo was decisive in the title. In Portuguese, but I may translate it someday to this blog.


¹ the Campeonato Paulista is a traditional regional championship. In Brazil, the season starts in February, and until May the teams plays the Regional championships in their estates. The national championship, Serie A, stars in late May.

² I am able to give lots of examples: Ronaldinho, Kaká, Diego and Andersonare only few players that started they career as attacking midfielders; Mancine and Taddei are examples of former side defenders that are far better attackers than defenders.

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  1. hurtafly

    5 August, 2008 at 17:08

    Your English is excellent for a second laguage. You do make mistakes but everything can be understood easily.

    I found the comment about most players starting as attacking midfielders, before adapting to other positions, very interesting. This is possibly why Brazil are often the best attacking team in the world. Although not at the moment unfortunately.

  2. palmeiras

    5 August, 2008 at 17:34


    Brazil still have some good attacking-midfielders. The problem is the strikers. =/

  3. Deak

    8 April, 2009 at 15:30

    Nice explanation of a fairly uncommon tactic here in Europe. Personally I think 4-2-2-2 the most balanced formation in all football. By the way, what did you use for your screenshots of your tactics? They look cool.

  4. Renato Siviero dos Santos

    8 April, 2009 at 17:03

    Thanks Deak!

    I used Fifa Manager 08 for the screenshots. =)

  5. Deak

    9 April, 2009 at 21:40

    Haha, well the screenshots look good anyway! 🙂

  6. Bobby

    10 May, 2009 at 14:30

    Can you please post a download link of that Fifa manager tactic? I’d like to use in my game ? ^^

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