UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyse Braga's 1-0 first leg win against Rangers.
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Braga are the only team holding an advantage entering this week's UEFA Europa League quarter-final second-leg matches.
With their 1-0 home win over Rangers last Thursday, they took a step towards the semi-finals as well as extending their unbeaten home run in this season's competition – a satisfying victory which owed much to their excellent play between the lines, according to UEFA's Technical Observer Panel.As it happened: Braga 1-0 Rangers
1-0: Abel Ruiz (40)
Ruiz's third goal of this campaign came from a move typical of Braga's first-leg approach. The right-sided central defender Fabiano carried the ball into Rangers' half and fed right wing-back Yan Couto who in turn supplied Iuri Medeiros, advancing between the lines in the inside-right channel. The Braga attacker's cute, first-time flick left Leon Balogun wrongfooted and unable to clear, and the ball ran on to Ruiz who took a touch then drove a low shot inside the near post.
Carlos Carvalhal's men lined up in 3-4-2-1 formation in possession with the trio of centre-backs – Fabiano (70), David Carmo (16) and Vitor Tormena (3) – supported by two defensive midfielders of whom Al Musrati (8) stayed as the pivot while André Horta (10) had more freedom to roam, shifting at times to the left to create numerical superiority and making an impact with his passing ability – be it long passes, switches of play, or combinations.
Further upfield, the width came from wing-backs Yan Couto (2) and Rodrigo Gomes (57) while the front three looked for balls between the lines and in the space behind the visitors’ defensive line.
Out of possession, there were times when Braga pressed in a 4-4-2 with left-back Gomes pushing up into the midfield. From the end of the first half and through the second half, their defensive formation was largely a 5-4-1 with Gomes focused more on defending against Rangers right-back James Tavernier as he pushed forward. In that 5-4-1 they tried to stay compact and limit space to Rangers.
Rangers' attacking formation was a 4-2-3-1 in which captain Tavernier (2) played a much more significant attacking role than the full-back on the opposite side, Calvin Bassey (3). The Glasgow side had two defensive midfielders in John Lundstram (4) and Ryan Jack (8), and both Lundstram and Scott Arfield (37), the winger operating as an inside-forward on the right, would step inside as Tavernier moved up the right flank. On the left flank, Ryan Kent (14) was positioned wide and open as a left winger.
Out of possession Rangers' formation morphed into a 4-3-3 in the first period but manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst changed his defensive set-up after the break with Lundstram falling back to make a line of five in a 5-3-2 – a ploy designed to stop Braga's three attackers from taking balls between the lines and turning. Up front, Kent supported centre-forward Fashion Sakala (30) from the left.
Braga's approach involved building up from the back – starting with a goalkeeper, Matheus, who made excellent decisions with his passing – and from there they profited from excellent movement between the lines and the video above shows several examples.
The first clip is an early example of how right wing-back Couto and attacker Medeiros combined to good effect. In a situation like this, just as with the move for the goal, Rangers left-back Bassey is drawn to Couto and Iuri Medeiros is able to exploit space behind him – in this instance with an in-to-out run. There were similar combinations on the other side from the left-sided Rodrigo Gomes and Ricardo Horta and with these one-twos and give-and-gos, Braga were able to find a way through.
Iuri Medeiros features in Clip 2 also, which highlights again Braga's ability to get players between the lines and in spaces between their opponents. Iuri Medeiros caught the eye of the UEFA observer for his skill and creativity and combination play with his team-mates. He made 17 passes in the attacking third – more than any other player – and here he is able to receive the ball, turn and look to create danger. The same player is involved again in Clip 3 when he receives a pass from Couto and produces a terrific assist.
When attacking like this, Braga's formation was rather a 3-2-5 with the wing-backs bringing the attacking width. Couto on the right was particularly impressive for his attacking approach, showing excellent stamina and a great understanding with Medeiros.
From a defensive perspective, Couto also co-operated well with Fabiano, the right-sided centre-back who caught the eye for his speed and aggression in duels. In the build-up, he took responsibility for distributing the ball – as in the lead-up to the goal – and with Couto he helped Braga cope with the threat of Rangers' most dangerous player on the night, Kent.
It was Kent whom the UEFA observer singled out as the visitors' creative threat, with his quick feet, movement behind the defence and 1v1 ability. Indeed his total of four take-ons was more than any other player on the pitch. Sakala, the centre-forward alongside him, created some problems with his movement in the first period too but in the second half Rangers' threat was limited largely to set pieces – notably a Connor Goldson header off target – as they failed to score for the first time in five Europa League away fixtures.
Carlos Carvalhal, Braga coach: "I'm happy with the result and very proud of my team but we deserved a bit more from the match. We played really well in the first half, then after the break Rangers respected us a lot more and it was more difficult to play."
Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, Rangers coach: "We should have tried more to break some lines instead of playing long balls quickly. Sometimes it was just a case of needing to keep patient and keep the ball – we did much better at that in the second half.
When we open up, we try to make the pitch really big – but you also know that when you have transitions, they have players who can hurt you a lot. That's why we built up a little bit differently, and we wanted to make sure our defence was better organised. It's a one-goal difference; next week we play at home, with the ground behind us."