After winning the double with Portuguese manager Jorge Jesus in 2019, Brazilian giant Flamengo is struggling in the current campaign and now faces another change on the sideline. After Domènec Torrent’s dismissal, Brazilian legend Rogerio Ceni is given the task of bringing the Mengão back to their glory.

In the unforgiving world of Brazilian football, the calls of ‘FORA TORRENT!’ at Flamengo were never far away. Despite sitting third in the Brasileirao while progressing to the last eight of the Copa do Brasil and the last 16 of the Copa Libertadores at the time, a 4-0 defeat to Atlético Mineiro, one week on from conceding another four against São Paulo, was deemed the final straw.

The concern was that it would be, as it ultimately proved to be, an impossible task for Domènec Torrent, the Pep Guardiola disciple given the unenviable task of picking up the baton left by Jorge Jesus.

The Portuguese coach completed a historic league and Copa Libertadores double in 2019  which opened the door to a new way of thinking in Brazil, as the insular way of recycling familiar faces saw clubs look further afield for coaching inspiration. Jesus’ swift return to Portugal with Benfica in August presented Torrent with both an opportunity and a headache.

With the continent gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, Brazil’s unrelenting calendar trundled on, leaving the new coach with little time to work on the training ground as matches came thick and fast.

With no let up in fixtures, a swift exit from the Copa do Brasil, and a Copa Libertadores last 16 against Racing Club coming up, this is now a problem for new man Rogerio Ceni. But what went wrong and what will Flamengo’s latest coach be looking to do?

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Flamengo v River – 2019 Libertadores final. The 4-2-3-1 of Jorge Jesus (left). Flamengo v At. Mineiro – 2020 Brasileirão. A 4-1-4-1 of Dom Torrent (right).

Now it is worth noting in the two examples that Jorge Jesus’ side are actually far deeper in this image than they were ordinarily due to River Plate’s effective press, and there were certainly mitigating circumstances for Torrent. So it’s unfair to use the defeat to Atlético Mineiro as an overview of the Spaniard’s ideology.

In Torrent’s defense, the 4-2-3-1 most commonly used by Jorge Jesus would likely have been the 58-year-old’s preferred system as well and was used often during his 26-match tenure. However, the impact of COVID outbreaks and injuries reduced the amount of time Torrent had with any first-choice eleven.

The key difference was in defense. As Jorge Jesus’ side lifted the Brasileirão title in 2019, they conceded 37 goals in the 38-game season. To date, the Mengão are only seven shy of that total with 17 still to play – only bottom club Goiás have conceded more.

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Torrent, like Jorge Jesus before him, likes to play with a high defensive line aiming to win back possession quickly and high up the pitch. The key difference was perhaps not in ideology but in personnel – the sale of Pablo Mari to Arsenal after the triumphant 2019 season leaving Torrent with a far greater task.

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Arsenal may not have seen much of Mari, but his ability to carry this out was so critical to Jorge Jesus and innovation not seen often in Brazil football. The center back alternatives now: Gustavo Henrique, Leo Pereira and Rodrigo Caio primarily, have all struggled.

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More comfortable with the more traditional Brazilian style of sitting deep, Flamengo have been exposed with balls in behind and an inability to step out and nip attacks in the bud quickly.

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Arguably the sale of Mari may have made Jorge Jesus’ exit an easier decision with the Portuguese coach aware of these limitations. It proved too much of a task for Torrent, and now Rogerio Ceni must quickly find a solution before the Copa Libertadores knockout stages begin next week.

Defending in such a way also helps a more effective transition from defense into attack, and yet on the surface, there wasn’t much difference between Jesus and Torrent’s sides.

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Both coaches looked to play out from the back and transition from defense into attack and the statistics are comparable between 2019 (top) and 2020 (bottom). The noticeable difference is perhaps the number of counterattacks, and it was noted during Torrent’s tenure that Flamengo were no longer quite so direct in possession as they were under Jesus, instead of adopting something a little more like Pep Guardiola’s tiki-taka style.

In Torrent’s defense his team selection was often hampered and out of the 26 matches in charge, last season’s leading scorer Gabriel Barbosa (34 goals in the 2019 Brasileirao and Copa Libertadores) played in only around half as did last season’s leading provider Giorgian De Arrascaeta (14 assists in the 2019 Brasileirao and Copa Libertadores).

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The attacking pair linked to devastating effect over the past 18 months, and while Rogerio Ceni has arrived with the promise to be ‘as attacking as possible,’ the 47-year-old will need his best players available for that to be done effectively.

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Aside from providing the clinical final touch, the forward known as Gabigol gave so much more to Jesus’ Flamengo side. Drifting wide and particularly deep to link play, it not only made him difficult to mark but created room in behind, where Bruno Henrique was so dangerous.

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Torrent didn’t get nearly enough games with the pair together as it was together on the counter that they were so deadly in 2019.

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With Gabriel Barbosa last year’s Libertadores leading scorer and Bruno Henrique awarded the best player with five goals and five assists, the Mengão looked capable of scoring against any defense.

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Torrent learned first hand just how unforgiving Brazilian football is and his replacement Rogerio Ceni will be awarded little sympathy. An exit from the Copa do Brasil leaves plenty riding on the Libertadores and the former Fortaleza manager must recapture the levels of 2019 to avoid a similar fate.

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