Paulinho (Brazil vs. Mexico)

Brazil 2-0 Mexico

Wednesday 19th June, Match Two, Group A, Confederations Cup, Estádio Castelão


Brazil Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari named an unchanged line up from his side’s opening game victory against Japan, with Paulinho retained his place in midfield.

Starting Position

Paulinho (18), Luiz Gustavo (17), Oscar (11), Gerardo Torrado (6), Carlos Salcido (3), Giovani dos Santos (10)
Paulinho (18), Luiz Gustavo (17), Oscar (11), Gerardo Torrado (6), Carlos Salcido (3), Giovani dos Santos (10)

The system used by Scolari was the same as against Mexico – 4-2-3-1, with Paulinho in central midfield alongside Luiz Gustavo. Oscar was positioned just ahead and occasionally dropped deeper. As Mexico pressed forward in the second half, Hernanes was brought on to replaced Oscar. He sat alongside Paulinho, with Gustavo holding deeper in a 4-1-2-3, of sorts.

Getting forward

With Gustavo sitting, Paulinho had freedom to push forward and support the attack. He did so at every opportunity. Even when he was slightly more restrained as Mexico pushed for an equaliser, he was still a regular in the final third. Whenever Brazil had possession out wide, he always looked to support Fred in the penalty area. With Gerardo Torrado and Carlos Salcido sitting deep, Paulinho could stay high up the pitch without being pushed back. Both in and out of possession he was a threat to Mexico. His movement off the ball was difficult to pick up, while his ability to drive Brazil forward ensured they could break quickly. On one occasion in the second half, he carried the ball from box-to-box, eventually creating a chance for Neymar. As Brazil’s grasp on the tie loosened, Paulinho perhaps could have done this more often  – he only attempted three dribbles, and relieved some of the growing pressure on his team.

In possession

When Brazil built from the back, Paulinho and Gustavo were often bypassed. Occasionally, one would drop deep and carry the ball into midfield, but it was often David Luiz who played out of defence. Of the two midfielders, Gustavo dropped more frequently, but both he and Paulinho usually pushed up to the half-way line when Luiz or Thiago Silva had possession. This created space for them to carry the ball forward and ensured only Javier Hernández could press high up. When in possession, Paulinho was often safe with his passing. He kept the ball moving and looked to bring the more creative players – Oscar, Neymar and the full-backs, into the game. On a few occasions he was more expansive, switching the ball into wide areas, but when Brazil had possession his main concern was getting into the final third and supporting the attack. He actually saw quite a lot of the ball, particularly as Brazil tried to close out the game in the second half. Only Daniel Alves and Marcelo made more passes for the Seleção.


Brazil controlled the opening exchanges of the contest, playing with a high tempo that Mexico struggled to cope with. As well as their quick transitions in possession, they pressed high up without the ball. Paulinho was key to this. As mentioned above, he was allowed to stay in an advanced positioned, with Torrado and Salcido sitting deep. This allowed him to close both in the final third and block Mexico building out the back. He did this well – most notably in the first half.

First half tracking back

Paulinho’s forward runs often left space in behind, but Mexico were rarely able to exploit it. They lacked the personnel, but also struggled to break quickly, particularly in the first half. Giovani dos Santos was the only player who regularly got beyond Paulinho, but he was covered by Gustavo. On the few occasions Salcido or Torrado pushed forward, Paulinho was often a little slow in recovering to support Gustavo. A better team might have exploited that.

Mexico change

Having had his side set up quite negatively for the first 58 minutes, Mexico Coach José Manuel de la Torre looked to be more expansive, replacing Jorge Torres Nilo with Héctor Herrera. Salcido moved to left full-back, while Torrado remained as a holder. Herrera had licence to push forward ahead of him. This forced Paulinho to be more restricted, as he looked to limit Herrera’s influence. Giovani dos Santos also moved closer to Hernández, occupying Gustavo and ensuring that Paulinho had to track Herrera. The Pachuca midfielder’s influence was fairly limited – he only made 17 passes, but his positioning didn’t allow Paulinho to press high up. The Brazilian still broke forward, but not as frequently as in the first half. Had de la Torre been braver with his initial selection, perhaps picking Herrera from the start, Paulinho may not have been so influential in the opening period.

Hernanes on – most restrained

Paulinho (18), Luiz Gustavo (17), Hernanes (8), Gerardo Torrado (6), Héctor Herrera (16)
Paulinho (18), Luiz Gustavo (17), Hernanes (8), Gerardo Torrado (6), Héctor Herrera (16)

As Mexico’s confidence grew in the early parts of the second half, they enjoyed more possession and pushed Brazil back. Scolari responded to this by replacing the ineffective Oscar with Hernanes and adjusting his midfield shape. Gustavo, who had already been holding, remained deep, dropping to become a third central defender when Mexico had the ball wide. Paulinho was more restrained, with Hernanes positioned alongside him. This made the midfield more compact, but also allowed them to keep possession better. As mentioned above, Brazil looked to get the ball forward quickly and didn’t build attacks through the team. This was initially effective, but in the second half Mexico were able to overturn possession too easily and break forward. Hernanes made 16 passes at an accuracy of 88% in 28 minutes – one more than Oscar managed in 62 minutes, and allowed Brazil to ease the growing pressure by keeping possession. This forced Paulinho to do more on the ball than he had in the first half and he kept it reasonably well.


2 thoughts on “Paulinho (Brazil vs. Mexico)

  1. Some very interesting analysis and observations here. Must admit I’ve been a fan of Paulinho watching him for Corinthians but the way he has played at the highest level recently and the level he reached at the Confeds has surprised me. He’s been outstanding.

    Very pleased to discover this blog, keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Jonathan, appreciated the comments.

      I tend to agree on Paulinho. I’m not sure he is suited to every system though and needs the right type of midfielder alongside him. I also wonder whether he is a bit limited in possession.

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