Corinthians: Opposition Analysis Ahead of World Club Cup Final Against Chelsea

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Corithians face Chelsea in the final of the FIFA World Club Cup after beating Al-Ahly 1-0 in the semi final. How do they line up?


Offensive Organisations & Build-up:

The side plays in a 4231 formation. The fullbacks play wide in possession, with the centre backs not venturing wide or offering particular support to the play. Ralf and Paulinho play as a pair of defensive midfielders, with Paulinho the more attacking of the two. The two wide players are used as inverted wingers, with Danilo on the right and Emerson on the left. They do occasionally switch positions. Douglas plays as a number 10. Up front is Paolo Guerrero, who was top scorer at the Copa America 2011 for Peru.

They mostly use short build-up, with goalkeeper Cássio looking to go short to the two fullbacks, Alessandro on the right, and Fabio Santos on the left. The two central defenders will very rarely split wide. They do also occasionally receive the ball off the goalkeeper, but often with a closed stance (instead of on the half-turn). This could lead to problems if closed down quickly. The two fullbacks look to carry the ball forward and combine with their respective wide players. Diagonal passes in to the feet of Douglas or Guerrero are another option. If Ralf or Paulinho get the ball off the centre backs, they tend to look for the fullbacks. When no short options are on, Cássio will look to go long to Danilo, as he is a decent aerial option. The vast majority of the time Ralf and Paulinho receive the ball, it’s from the attacking players. They then look to switch the point of the attack using the fullbacks.

Chelsea Adjustment: Wide players need to change mentality to defending very quickly and need track the fullbacks. Joy for Torres is possible if he allows short passes to the centre backs, then looks to close down. Note that goalkeeper Cássio is left footed. Fullbacks getting tight to wide players can limit options for their fullbacks. With a double pivot, Chelsea’s number 10 can only pick up one of those players. Changing to a midfield triangle (and therefore to more of a 433 than 4231), could be effective. Ashley Cole may have his hands full in aerial duels against Danilo.



Defensive Organisation:

This is possibly the most impressive part of Corinthians’ game. They play with extremely compact lines, but still press whenever the chance arises. Both Ralf and Paulinho look to get tight to their direct opponents, and will happily track them around the pitch. This is also true for the rest of the side. Opposition players are very rarely given time on the ball to turn. One noticeable aspect is how they track runners. Any players making forward runs are usually tracked by their original man, and rarely “passed on”. The two fullbacks look to get narrow, and Douglas joins Guerrero to make a front 2 when pressing, making short build-up very difficult for the opposition.

Chelsea Adjustment: It’s crucial to have a good mix between players coming towards the ball, and making runs away from the ball. A major Chelsea trait under Di Matteo was having 3/4 players coming towards the ball – allowing opponents to get tight and not allow the turn. Showing short for a pass, then spinning in behind the marker, is a good idea. It’s also crucial for Luiz to make quick decisions if picked in central defence. Any hesitation could lead to losing possession in dangerous areas. This is also an issue for Ramires, who is not particularly good with his back to goal. It is better to play slightly longer passes in to Torres (or Moses if he starts wide – strong physique) or to use Mikel as the regular out-ball, due to his upper body strength when shielding the ball. Quick one-touch passing is the best bet to circumvent their high pressing, and some swapping of positions could lead to Paulinho or Ralf being pulled out of position. It’s absolutely crucial for players not to wait for a pass to reach them, as opponents will nip in to intercept. Pace on passes is imperative, something seen in Benitez’s Liverpool teams.

Set-pieces Defensive:

They usually go with no men on the posts, and a zonal marking system, with their bigger players marking zones, and smaller players look to impede the opposition’s big aerial threats. They look to break out very quickly on counter attacks after defending corners, even though only one man is left up-field. There is also a clear desire to push out and press after any clearances, as to ensure there is not a second delivery to deal with. This is to protect themselves as they have not got very much height.

Chelsea Adjustment: Quick recovery after sending men up for corners is crucial. With the pace of Cole and Ramires staying back, this should not be too much of an issue. The near post zone (often attended to by Alessandro) is an area where a Torres or Ivanović flick might bring joy, especially if runners attack space to either side of the goalkeeper for the second ball. As with facing any zonal marking setup, attacking the ball at pace and leaping early is advisable, as opposition defenders will be jumping from a standing position. Corinthians use zonal marking for a reason – they do not have many tall players. This is certainly an area to exploit, especially if all of Luiz, Cahill and Ivanović start the game.

Paulinho - a regular for Brazil and a rumoured target for Chelsea.

Paulinho – a regular for Brazil and a rumoured target for Chelsea.


Set-pieces Attacking:

Corinthians tend to have 5 players in the box. The two centre backs, Paulinho, Guerrero and Danilo. The two fullbacks stay back, with Ralf covering the middle third for any breaks. Despite scoring from a set-piece (a second ball crossed back in) against Al-Ahly, set-pieces are not a major threat for them. Almost all corners are taken by Douglas (left footed) meaning in-swingers from the right side and out-swingers from the left side. Short corners are also a regular ploy, and this may be the case even more against a side that is particularly tall. These short corners usually see Douglas look to get himself free by playing a one-two with a support player, and then pick out Guerrero’s runs in the box.

It’s also important to note that Alessandro can deliver long throws from the right hand side. As with goalkicks, Danilo is the main target, with Guerrero looking to anticipate any second balls.

Chelsea adjustment: For short corners, always have two men ready to confront Douglas and the support player. Be aware of Guerrero’s runs if a second delivery comes in after the original corner is cleared.

Attacking Transitions (winning possession):

With the wide players back tracking opponents, a lot of the attacking transitions are focused around using Emerson to break past the opposition right back. Otherwise, there is no particularly aggressive attitude to playing fast on attacking transitions when winning the ball in their own half. This may have to do which such a narrow defensive shape, and a lack of width on the right side.

Chelsea adjustment: Crucial for the right back, whether Ivanović or Azpilicueta to retreat immediately to a position goalside of Emerson. It’s important to avoid giving the ball away in deep areas in the first place.

Defensive Transitions (losing possession):

This is similar to how they play in defensive organisation. Players will look to press the ball, with all players besides Guerrero recovering back at fast as possible. They are excellent at pressing at the right angles, and with the wide player on the opposite side tucking in very narrow. This allows the easiest out-ball to be towards the fullback on the opposite side. The back four will push tight on to the forward, but will not generally look to squeeze the play by pushing their defensive line high up the pitch.

Chelsea adjustment: As the Corinthians wide players will drop very deep to track the Chelsea fullbacks, this is one of the best ways to play on attacking transitions as will force them back and allow more space for one of the central defenders, and the spare deep central midfielder (if playing a double pivot) to make passes in to attacking positions. Also, because the Corinthians fullbacks are so involved in the play, having Torres look to exploit the channels behind the fullbacks is an option. Both Chicão and Wallace/Paulo André are hesitant to cover in the wide positions. This also means that the Chelsea wide players need to break immediately in behind the Corinthians fullbacks on transitions. This is a role which would suit either Moses or Ramires.

Chelsea's Brazilian trio of Oscar, Ramires and Luiz will relish facing a Brazilian side.

Chelsea’s Brazilian trio of Oscar, Ramires and Luiz will relish facing a Brazilian side.


Corinthians are an organised side, who defend very well as a team from open play. Their attacking game is based around their third band linking up and creating chances for Guerrero, and the interplay between the fullbacks and the wide players in front of them. If Chelsea can move the ball quickly to get around the Corinthians press, opportunities are sure to arrive. With the high pressure of the midfield players, Hazard, Oscar and Mata should be able to draw a number of fouls and corners. These will represent excellent opportunities to score with a significant height advantage. Diligent work from the Chelsea wide players will be required.


2-0 Chelsea win.


About Grant James

Grant James is a professional football analyst and coach who holds a UEFA B Licence, FA Youth Module 2, CAF B License, the Prozone Level 3 in Performance Analysis and has a one-year diploma in Sports Coaching Science from ETA. All views are his own.

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4 Responses to Corinthians: Opposition Analysis Ahead of World Club Cup Final Against Chelsea

  1. Corinthians December 16, 2012 at 2:28 PM #


    • Freddie M January 7, 2013 at 3:03 PM #

      Sim, o Corinthians! Sim, Sim, Sim!

  2. Freddie Mercury January 7, 2013 at 3:02 PM #


    2-0 Chelsea win

    Isso é engraçado. Chelsea são tão ruins. Ele me faz sorrir quando perdem. Pagos em excesso, os jogadores overrated. É engraçado vê-los falhar.


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