The first coach to use this system in Brazil was Tite, who was hired in order to attempt to save Palmeiras from relegation. The new 3:6:1 formation, inspired by the French team‘s World Cup play, is much more solid defensively, correcting a weak point in Palmeiras‘ string of losses prior to Tite’s arrival. Tite implemented the new formation in order to strengthen the team’s formation, providing more offensive and defensive consistency. After 20 games the team realized 48.3 % of possible attainable points. Tite, however, quit the job after a public disagreement with the Soccer Director.
The use of a 3-6-1 system in Brazil
The team progressed significantly after the coach’s arrival and improved its performance in the 2006 Brazilian Championship.Created through the combination of players’ characteristics, the 3-6-1 used by Tite places the main accents on the diagonal movements of outside midfielders and the overlapping of central midfielders. “The system does not depend on how many forwards you have, but on how many players you can include in the attack and also at the speed at which your team can make this transition.” Even with only one forward in the starting lineup, Tite organized his system in order to create the illusion of up to seven players occupying the offensive field. “We train with triangulations on both sides of the field. When we start an offensive move from a wing, the midfielders on the other side have to be able to run into the open space towards the box. With this move, we have at least six players attacking, which increases our offensive power.”
During the 2006 Brazilian season, this system was used by at least half of the participating clubs. The only common characteristic employed by all the teams was the number of players in each field zone. The Brazilian 3-6-1 has a lot of variations. For example, it can include the presence of one defensive midfielder acting as a defender or of three holding midfielders protecting the defense. “This depends on which variation the team adapts to best. We train this formation during our sessions and apply this system because we had a positive performance. But, for instance, I cannot accept the idea of a 3-6-1 with three genuine defensive midfielders. In my way of thinking, this would create an excessive defensive formation within the team, with limited option to start offensive plays.”
Tite’s interpretation of the 3-6-1 formation only has one holding midfielder in front of the defenders. In addition, one midfielder is responsible for starting the plays on the sides with the outside midfielders and to give the ball to the two offensive midfielders. The forward does not have the role of an authentic striker, so he moves around the wings instead of being stuck in the box.Tite’s explanation is due to the fact that most of his midfielders and forwards move a lot. “Our offensive players are fast, with constant positional changes. This is the essential idea, but we are able to make changes. If the opponent has less offensive power, we can release one midfielder of his defensive role and make him play closer to the forward or even be an attacking winger.”
“In order for this formation to work, you need to have players with great speed and quick reaction.”
In order to be able to organize the team with numerous tactical variations, Tite highlighted the importance of successive repetition at training sessions. “We worked firmly on simulations of game movements with and without opponents in order to be prepared for every possible situation.” Unlike other Brazilian clubs, Palmeiras did not have scrimmage games in its training sessions. The team’s activities were divided in physical preparation, tactics and recreation. Tite’s justification for this condition is his planning and the cohesion of his work. “I try to have an honest conversation with each player and establish a routine that explains each of the exercises applied in the training session. Everyone understands the concept of our work, and this is important. My players already know during the week what I am going to talk about before the weekend game.”
During the sessions, the most practiced exercises are the options for initiating plays on the sides. Tite set up practices focusing on the defensive balance and the possible movements that the team has for each type of marking. “We practice passes between our defenders from one side to the other side. On each side, we train everything that might happen in a game and it changes according to players’ styles. On the right, our outside midfielder, Paulo Baier, is more of a playmaker than a quick player, so we train short passes and penetration at speed of our inside midfielder, Wendel, who is a faster player. On the left side, Michael works as a winger and prefers to play on the side of the field and reach the end line. In this situation, there is less space for the midfielders to go to the left wing, so it increases plays with the forward.”
The systematization of building up from the back is trained with and without opponents. When there is no opponent, the players with possession have more freedom to pass the ball. With the presence of an opponent, the team also trains its reserves and the possible pressure made by the other team.
Formation related to culture
With his new formation employed at Palmeiras, Tite initiated what became a tendency by other clubs: the use of 3-6-1. He explained this situation stating that the culture of Brazilian players makes them feel more comfortable using the system. “In Europe, many teams play with a line of 4 authentic defenders, while in Brazil we usually play with 2 outside defenders who predominantly have offensive roles within the 4 man defensive line. “We don’t typically cover diagonally with the fullbacks, and if we do it, almost everyone will say that the team is not well positioned and the cover is askew. Our culture allows for longer fields and the use of sidelines. It’s a different mentality and the way you set up the defense changes.” In Brazil, cover is often provided by the defensive midfielders, while the outside backs are in charge of protecting the sides and supporting the attack.
As an example of alternatives he could have used with Palmeiras, Tite mentioned two Italians clubs. “Juventus always play with two lines of four players and two forwards. AC Milan also does that, and sometimes uses defenders who are not so attacking-minded on the wide positions.” The only Brazilian club which experimented with this line-up this season was Sao Paulo. Tite, however, believes that Sao Paulo’s formation would not apply to other Brazilian teams. “In order for this formation to work, you need to have players with great speed and quick reaction. Also, you cannot arrange your defense like that if your defenders do not know how to mark well.” The situation in Palmeiras was completely different. “Our focus is not to have defenders with an excessively rigid role, but rather incorporate them in the attack. We train it exhaustively, with penetration from the central defenders and overlapping of the outside midfielders.”