Fluminense x Manchester City could be seen as just another unequal clash between South American and European clubs. Since the end of the limit on foreigners in football, symbolized by the victory of Belgian Jean-Marc Bosman on the European court in 1995, there have been 28 global disputes, 22 European victories, only six South American ones.
It would just be another likely defeat, if it weren’t for Fernando Diniz.
Perhaps not even Guardiola is exactly aware of this, but Fluminense x Manchester City has become a clash of antagonistic styles. Not the defensive one against the offensive one, but Pep’s positional one against Diniz’s positionless one.
Positional play is the concept in which players occupy quadrants and move within them, as if the field were divided into 12 parts. Uses principles of width, support and depth. Roughly speaking, the ball goes to the player, who does not move towards it.
At City, Foden, on the right, and Grealish (in the absence of Doku, injured), on the left, are Guardiola’s wingers. Its functions are to widen the field, to open the opponent’s defense, which normally concentrates the line of four defenders between the two lateral stripes of the penalty area.
The wider the space in which you play, the more difficult it is to mark. The more open the ends, the more complicated it is for the blinds.
The idea of support is the ability for players to reach out to each other, in theory within their quadrants. Depth is the game towards the goal, which involves the positioning of socks between the lines of midfielders and defenders — what is conventionally called between the lines — to make defensive action difficult.
To have all this, recovering the ball as quickly as possible is essential, and the organization to press in the attacking field, too. “We can only corner the opponent if all the lines come together and close together”, taught Rinus Michels, from the Netherlands in 1974. “When you have the ball, you must open up as much space as possible. When you lose it, reduce it to your rival not being able to play”, followed Johan Cruyff.
Guardiola is in the Michels and Cruyff family tree. It is the evolution of the positional style. Cruyff’s Barcelona faced Telê Santana’s São Paulo in the 1992 World Cup, with Guardiola as midfielder and tactical parameters very similar to those of the current City.
Diniz uses similar principles with totally different concepts. At Fluminense, the player goes to the ball, not the other way around. Of course, this is not immutable, because tactics are not static.
Diniz has Arias and Keno on the sides, to give width to the field. Opposite to Guardiola’s idea, the two approach each other and leave one of the sidelines empty. Meanwhile, Ganso plays between the midfield and defense lines, without staying exclusively there. His dynamism excels in getting out of the defense with short touches, he has an appreciation for passing and the patience to find unlikely spaces.
Also support and depth are a priority, but Diniz’s appositional system takes the player to the ball, not the ball to the player, as in Guardiola’s.
The goals are the same, invade the opponent’s area based on numerical superiority, duels between three attackers against two defenders, or four against three, or five against four, always at least one more forward than the number of defenders.
The ends are the same, the goals. The means to achieve them are inverse.
In the past, the World Cups had South Americans attacking and Europeans trying to win with strategy. More recently, America defends itself and attempts a counterattack. Result of the best signings on the planet by European teams.
Of Europe’s 22 world championships since 1995, 21 had players from South American teams winning for the old continent.
In Fluminense x Manchester City, the surprise could be the oppositional tactic against Pep Guardiola’s positional approach.
In attack, Manchester City plays in 3-2-5. The wingers move to widen the field and within their quadrants. Akanji defends as a left back and attacks as a midfielder. Bernardo and Julián Álvarez, when playing as midfielders, are positioned behind the midfielders and in front of the defenders, between the lines. Concepts of width, support and depth. A lot of pressure to recover the ball.
Fluminense has Arias and Keno as wingers, but they get closer, joining Ganso, sometimes even Marcelo, who moves from the left flank to the right midfielder. In the blink of an eye, Fluminense brings together five players on one side of the field. The tactical system is 4-2-3-1. In attack, when it needs to change games, it even turns into a 3-6-1 formation.