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Flamengo: The hopes of returning to glory days

Nathalia Tavares

Flamengo fans won't remember 2023 fondly. 

The changes in command, from Dorival Júnior to Vitor Pereira and then from Pereira to Jorge Sampaoli, the club’s board hoped recent success would carry on. However, it turned out to be the complete opposite.

Flamengo not only failed to play regularly at the highest level and win a trophy in 2023, but scandals involving players, members of the coaching staff and club directors saw the club turn into a circus. 

In the midst of so many mistakes, the club managed to make one critical decision which would get them back on track: the appointment of Tite. 

Mengão's current manager arrived last October. He made it clear from the start that he would not change the situation in the final weeks of the season, but that he would seek to lay the foundations for 2024. 

So far, the action plan seems to be going as well as expected.

A busy year transition

The team saw considerable action during the most recent off-season.

Legendary full-back and one of the faces of Fla’s recent success, Filipe Luis, retired.

Defender Rodrigo Caio left the club as his contract ran out last December, while midfielder Éverton Ribeiro and goalkeeper Santos switched alliances to Bahia and Fortaleza respectively.

In turn, midfielder Thiago Maia and defenders Pablo and Matheuzinho have completed loan switches for the season.

Tite called for reinforcements and, sooner or later, all of his requests were met.

Uruguayan midfielder Nicolás De La Cruz was the first impressive transfer to arrive at the Rio de Janeiro based club, followed by his compatriot (left-back) Matías Viña from Roma.

The last name requested by the manager was centre-back Léo Ortiz. Flamengo's negotiations for the player took months, but he eventually arrived at the club at the start of March - just in time for the Brasileirão.

With his wishes granted, Tite has the squad to implement his tactical plan with one of, if not, best squads in South America.

The Tite Effect

To use a word that Tite uses frequently, the “evolution” of the team under his command is evident, especially at the start of the season.

At the time of writing, Flamengo have played 25 games under their new manager since he arrived, including two pre-season friendlies played in the United States in late January. During this period, the team scored an impressive 45 goals while only conceding 12.

Tite's Flamengo has an average of 0.48 goals conceded per game, which at present is the lowest for a manager at the club in the last decade.

Fla’s 2024 season has already started, with the club having played 13 official games in 2024 (11 of them under Tite) and the manager has been experimenting with his preferred formations: 4-3-2-1, 4-1-4-1 and 4-4-2.

All of his formations are based on a compact backline that has an active role in the build-up. This is what the Brazilian manager calls a “sustained game” (jogo sustentado). 

The main idea behind the sustained game is to keep players close to one another so that they can maintain and work in possession. This translates to the pitch with the full-back on the side where the play starts moving closer to the two central defenders.

This movement creates an asymmetry that has two main consequences.

The first one is that it allows the full-back on the opposite side to move further up the pitch, where there tends to be space available to be occupied in order to receive and work with the ball. 

The second one is that it provides more freedom for wingers to drop a bit deeper to get the ball.

Flamengo Tite

As well as having defenders active on the ball, a key part is played by one of the midfielders that drops deeper than the others to “sustain” the possession. Pulgar, De La Cruz and Gerson all have the attributes needed to play as the deep-lying midfielder, and have been doing so tremendously so far.

And just like that, the asymmetry created by the sustained game can take various shapes. Another common scenario shows when the two full-backs hold their position to sustain possession.

Flamengo style of play

Except the one sustaining, the rest of the midfielders position themselves in a narrow space higher up the pitch with the centre forward joining them. In this scenario, the wingers sit wide to provide as much width as they can.

The movement of the opposing defence against this organisation creates space where the concentration of players is lower.

On one hand, the space can be exploited by the winger positioned close to the side or any of the players in the narrow space.

On the other, it helps create channels through which it is possible to make line-breaking passes and connect defence and attack quicker. Therefore, the short-pass zone created by the sustenance is combined with these channels, generating more possibilities for the team to work in possession.

The main men

In short, Tite’s system functions in a way somewhat similar to an orchestra, in which the whole team needs to maintain its organisation and its synchrony. When in full force, the defensive compactness is clear and the team is able to dominate the possession, turning the game to their favour.

So far, although different formations have been tested, the most common one has been 4-2-3-1 with Rossi starting in goal, and Matheus Cunha being the main alternative in the position.

Varela and Wesley were competing for a spot as the starting right-back, one that was ultimately won by the Uruguayan.

On the opposite side, Ayrton Lucas has kept his starting place while Viña returns to full physical fitness, but the expectation is that Tite will have two Uruguayans on both defensive flanks.

The successful partnership between Léo Pereira and Fabrício Bruno has been kept in central defence, but new signing Léo Ortiz will surely push for a spot in the starting line up.

The experienced David Luiz and 20-year-old Cleiton are the other options Tite has for the centre-back position.

With Gerson out recovering from a kidney operation, De La Cruz has established himself in midfield, playing alongside Pulgar in the double-pivot. 

Defensive midfielder Igor Jesus, a product of Ninho do Urubu, Flamengo’s Academy, who captained the under-20s last season, was fully integrated into the first team in the new year and has been impressive when given minutes. Allan is also aiming to impress Tite as he’s back after recovering from a few injuries and illnesses.

The advanced line of midfielders is usually made up of Everton Cebolinha and Luiz Araújo in the flanks and De Arrascaeta playing in a more centralised role.

The highly versatile Victor Hugo has been an option coming off the bench to play as a box-to-box midfielder, having increasingly more freedom to attack. 

While Matheus Gonçalves, who had a good loan spell at Bragantino last season, has been mostly deployed by Tite coming off the bench as an attacking midfielder, although he can also play as right winger. Both are Garotos do Ninho, having come through the club's youth ranks.

Fla has another versatile option in Bruno Henrique. The 33-year-old plays mostly on the wings, but can also operate as a second striker or even centre-forward.

Pedro has been the preferred choice to start in command of the attack. That is due to Pedro's great ability to hold defenders as well as to move around to receive the ball and help with distribution, operating as a pivot both inside and outside the area.

Tite was using Gabigol as an option from the bench, but with his two-year suspension due to failing an anti-doping test, Tite will need to reconsider a forward option in his place, and one perhaps from the academy.

New Flamengo kids on the block

Flamengo has one of the best academies in South America. Otávio, Vini Júnior, Lucas Paquetá, João Gomes and Matheus França are recent examples of players who were developed in the club’s Academy.

However, even with all these stars coming through the youth ranks, there was still a title missing for Ninho do Urubu's trophy room to be completed: the U20 Copa Libertadores.

But not anymore, as 17-year-old attacking midfielder Lorran played a big part in helping Garotos do Ninho achieve the unprecedented continental title. Flamengo's number 10 in the tournament, he overcame injury in record time and made it to the starting XI for the final game against Boca Juniors.

He went on to assist the goal that drew Fla level and then score the goal that completed the comeback, and ultimately won the title. 

Lorran is the youngest ever goalscorer for Flamengo and is one of the great emerging talents in world football.

He can play anywhere along the front-line, although his main attributes make him a perfect fit to play as an inside forward. 

The youngster combines his physical strength and his body balance pretty well, with his pace, footwork and ball control abilities standing out. Lorran uses all that in his favour to beat defenders, excelling in 1v1 situations.

He is also a very creative player, not only creating shooting opportunities for his teammates but also for himself. He’s got excellent ball control and technique, and shows ability and confidence to participate in the build-up, especially in the final third.

At academy football level, he looks taller, faster and stronger than a lot of his opponents. In his appearances in the first team, he’s managed to work well against weaker opposition. 

So, seeing how his physical strengths and athleticism will translate into the senior game, against higher level opposition, as the disparity narrows, will be interesting.

Another aspect that will be interesting to monitor as he breaks through to the first team is the progress in his defensive game, as there’s room for improvement in both consistency and efficiency in the defensive phase. And Tite is one of the best available to help Lorran in this regard.

In short, the 17-year-old has a favourable environment for him to break into the first team, develop and make an impact on the team when assigned responsibility.

The Copa América factor

Despite the request from several clubs to suspend Brasileirão during the Copa América period, the Brazilian FA decided to stick with their initial plan and won’t do so.

Because of that, Flamengo are set to miss key players who will almost certainly be called up to their national teams for a period that could reach up to nine league games in an important moment of the Brazilian football season.

A huge part of the season, then, will have to do with the way Tite and his players overcome the considerable number of absences while ensuring competitiveness and regularity for the team. 

Having a deep and quality squad, which combines youth and experience well, will certainly be in their favour to have success in this task.

A look at the season ahead

The first few games of the new season have shown Tite is taking Flamengo in the right direction. But it's still just the beginning. 

In the next few weeks, the Brazilian football season will be shaping up to their most well known format as both the Copa Libertadores and Brasileirão start. 

For Flamengo, the next few weeks will also be key as they'll get to know their opponents on the team's debut in the current Copa do Brasil campaign in the third round.

The start of Mengão's campaign in the continental competition will already set the tone for the season. In Group E together with Millionarios, Bolivar and Palestino, the Brazilian club will play twice at altitudes of over 2500 metres.

In between the first rounds of the Libertadores’ group stage, Fla will also play against Nova Iguaçu to decide the title of the Rio de Janeiro State Championship and will kick-start their Brasileirão campaign with a trip to Goiânia to face recently promoted Atlético Goianiense in their first league game.

Therefore, Flamengo's schedule will be filled and will give the team a little more direction as the games are confirmed, and they find out who will be on their way this season, which will last until the 38th round of the Brasileirão, which is set to be played on December 8th.

It's clear for all to see that 2023 was not a good year for Fla, but they look a completely different animal this time round.

The team will have another full season ahead as they will take part in all possible competitions, while also having to overcome possible absences during the Copa América period.

Tite's "process", as he likes to describe his work, is far from done, but it already points in the right direction, which could take Flamengo back to its glory days.


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