In what should’ve been a fiery and contested match, Brazil swept away Argentina by three goals to nil, seriously damaging Argentina’s hopes to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Things actually started off rather comfortably for Argentina, as the Albiceleste held the majority of possession and faced few Brazil attacks in the opening 20 minutes.
But Argentina failed to take advantage of their dominance due to their extremely poor structure in possession. Lining up in a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2, there was little to no connection from midfield to attack due to the lack of movement into zone 14 and the half spaces. This was partly due to the stagnant positioning of Mascherano and Biglia, who offered next to no movement on and off the ball, but it must also be noted that playing Di Maria on the left and Perez on the right didn’t help either. With both players strongly favoring the foot closer to the touchline (especially Di Maria), they were not naturally inclined to provide in-field movements that would’ve provided penetration in the half spaces.
Messi and Higuaín tried to help with various movements of their own, but it did little to better Argentina’s offensive potency. Messi, who in many ways was supposed to be Argentina’s CAM, chose to pick up the ball 2 yards from his midfield instead of creating trouble in the pockets, thus failing to solve his side’s structural problems in possession.
Higuaín also dropped ridiculously deep, meaning that Argentina had absolutely zero focal point in attack.
Things got slightly better when Aguero came on for Pérez after half time to make things a 4-3-3/4-3-1-2, but Higuaín and Messi continued to make the same bone-headed movements again and again.
The few times Messi did venture forward was when he moved out onto the right, which simply clogged a flank already filled by Pérez and Zabelata (and Aguero in the second half).
Despite the scoreline, Brazil didn’t play spectacular football. They simply executed competent defense in the form of a high press (in Argentina’s defensive third) and a disciplined low block (in their own defensive third).
Gabriel Jesus was the pressing trigger (who was usually supported well by Coutinho), who’s main purpose was to pressure Argentina’s defensive line into passing the ball to a tightly marked wide man. It worked rather well due to Argentina’s paucity of options through the middle, but Brazil never overcommitted to press and was happy to let Argentina move into their half if the trap didn’t work.
When this happened, they quickly dropped everyone behind the ball before aggressively pressuring all of Argentina’s attackers in numbers. This proved to be an extremely potent way to stop Messi, as they forced the diminutive magician into an onslaught of defenders time and time again. Thus, even though Messi always had the skill to beat one player, he was never able to get past the next two men who swarmed him instantly. Additionally, Messi’s insistence in starting his dribbling runs from deep meant that his 5 completed dribbles were often far from goal and did little to truly progress Argentina’s attack.
Once Brazil inevitably won the ball back, they mainly counter-attacked through Neymar, who took on gargantuan ball carrying duties.
Coupled with Argentina’s terrible individual defending and poor defensive compactness, this strategy proved to be a potent chance creator that ripped the Albiceleste apart and ensured Brazil the victory.
Marcelo was surprisingly quiet the entire game, as he provided little attacking support for Neymar and mainly assumed a defensive role. This mid-way compromise ensured that he excelled in neither attack or defense, finishing the game with 1 tackle, 1 dribble, 2 key passes, and 2/4 completed crosses.
(All stats & charts taken from whoscored.com unless otherwise stated)