Portugal’s SC Braga have become regular nearly-men in recent years, finishing firmly in the top 5 position in the Primeira Liga for the better part of a decade, but never winning the title.
This season, under the guidance of Carlos Carvalhal, they nearly made it to the semi-finals of the Europa League, but ended up being knocked out in the dying moments of the game by Scottish side Rangers.
In this article, with the help of analyst Fernando Nuñez, we delve into the key aspects of their game, and look at the tactical play of a team that aspires to be the fourth biggest in Portugal.
So, over to Fernando…
In Portugal, without a doubt, the big three are Benfica, Porto FC and Sporting Lisbon. These are the big name clubs that compete year after year for the league title and are synonymous with European competition. And just below this, there is a group which, little by little, are making waves and challenging for the top spot. Amongst these clubs, SC Braga stand out. This is a team that has been finishing just below some of these footballing giants for several seasons.
Although they have, occasionally, played in the Champions League, it’s usually in the Europa League where they jostle for position, reaching the final rounds on several occasions. So, it’s easy to see the aspirations of Braga, hovering around the top spot, waiting for one of the big boys to slip up and take their place in Europe’s biggest celebration of football.
This is a team which has clear ideas when it comes to player selection. They value physicality and possess the ability to find players with great potential. But above all, they stand out for attracting coaches with marked offensive profiles.
Their typical formations are 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 with players pushing for width and a team of strikers with high mobility and versatility, playing comfortably between the wings and the centre.
On a defensive level, Braga are most comfortable when defending in a folded position, placing the midfield line right in the centre of the field and pushing up with the forward line.
But, on the flip side of the coin, this team also has no problem in defending close to their own area. When defending in this manner, two lines of defense are formed, one containing the defensive back line and, slightly ahead, another line containing up to three midfielders.
When it comes to defending crosses, they accumulate a lot of players inside the box, making shots extremely difficult due to their height and aerial prowess. The positioning is 2 pushing towards the ball, a line of four in the centre and two more hanging around the edge of the box.
Braga are not a team that apply excess pressure to their opponent, but when they do, they have a clear plan. Typically, it’s when the opponent receives the ball from behind or when the opponent passes backwards that Braga increase the pressure to cut off an opponent’s advance.
When starting the build up, Braga like to play short at the back with the defensive line spread wide to receive the ball. In addition, the midfield use there mobility to open up spaces, whilst one is positioned on the wings while the other drops back to pick up the ball. The forward line, meanwhile, positions themselves in the opposition’s half, two going wide and the other in the centre. From here, they try to combine with their teammates on the inside to get to a finishing position.
The key to the positioning of the forwards is the creation of space by combining with one of the full backs. One drops back into his own half to receive the long ball and avoid pressure from the opposing team.
This is a team which positions the full backs deep and wide. This means that that the three forwards play more on the inside than the outside, thus creating a 3-4-1-2 system which offers superiority on the inside and incorporates many players into the attack.
Up to three players enter the box in a position which covers a small area, one going to the front post, one to the back and one in the middle.
We should highlight the mobility of the attackers, who have complete freedom to appear anywhere in the attacking zone, which makes them difficult to mark. This creates great verticality in their movement, appearing in the opposition's half in just 3 passes because they often receive the ball between the lines, avoiding the pressure applied by the opponent.
Another aspect which should be highlighted is the amplitude that the wingers provide. As there are many players on the inside, the movement from the wings to the centre makes changes in orientation extremely dangerous.
When Braga manage to steal possession, they are extremely mobile in front of the ball and in the spaces offered by their opponent in order to receive deep passes. In addition, the player who receives the pass usually drives the ball forward whilst the two supporting players open wide in order to stretch the opposition more thinly and open even more space.
On the other hand, if we talk about defensive transitions, the key is that, after losing the ball, the closest player presses intensely, forcing the opposition to pass back, giving their teammates time to fall back, regroup and position themselves in order to start applying pressure.
They tend to position themselves in the middle of the field, which is where they feel most comfortable defending.
If the initial press is overcome, Braga fall back to their own half to reorganise and not cede any space behind them. The goal is to stop the transition and start defending as soon as possible.
As we can see Carlos Carvalho’s Braga are a team that has multiple defensive and offensive resources at their disposal. They know how to counter their opponent and the know how to hurt them. This is why they have managed to consolidate their position near the top of the Portuguese league. It has also allowed them to perform well in Europe without big budgets and big stars. This is a competitive team which is difficult to get the better of.
It’s quite unusual to see a team of this type which doesn’t have limitless budgets, so Braga could be seen as a guiding light for other clubs of this ilk who are seeking to establish themselves amongst the big clubs.
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