Wold Cup 2018: Brazil's potential tactical dilemma
‘We witnessed a collective implosion of Brazil. They fell apart emotionally, completely.’
– Oliver Kahn, after Germany, beat Brazil 7-1 in the semi-final of the FIFA World Cup 2014.
Emotions, adrenaline rush, and surprise knockouts have always characterized football world cups in its rich 88-year and 20-edition (prior to Russia 2018) history. But there has always been one other unmistakable constant: Brazil.
The heartbreak from four years back still strikes a chord of fear for a nation so integrated with its footballing richness and outcomes. Soon after the debacle, however, came the controversial appointment of Dunga who has been criticized by many for his ‘safe tactics’. Eventually, under his leadership, Brazil crashed out of the Copa America and struggled in the South American world cup qualifiers.
There was to be a new entry in the nation’s footballing record books again. Dunga was replaced by Tite(the popular choice for the job) and in the blink of an eye Brazilian football underwent the change it needed for a while. Qualification for the World Cup in Russia became a formality for the high scoring team under Tite as they ended up winning the group.
Now, Brazil played a brand of football that looked solid yet attractive. Quietly, game after game, the foundations were laid for this side to evolve to be the favorites they are considered now. After all, when it comes to the nation and this tournament, the favorites tag is just the beginning of widespread expectations.
The tactics behind the success:
The centre-forward problem
The overarching problem that faced Brazilian football since the last few years is the absence of a proper center forward. Neymar has been used in that position before and has contributed handsomely but he is seen more as a play-maker/wide forward by the most of Europe.
Tite however, was prepared to take a gamble on the young Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City and this decision reaped instant dividends. With his goal scoring abilities and strong build-up play, Brazil now have a great finisher in their ranks. The problem position for the manager could now act as a pivot to his overall attacking strategy.
The quality in midfield
Brazil have benefited massively from their personnel, mainly due to their ability to operate in multiple roles. This gives manager Tite the good headache of having to choose his best men based on the tactics for a given opponent.
Phillipe Coutinho has been used as a wide forward on the right(friendly against Argentina June 2016), and has recently operated on the left which is his much preferred position. As he can also operate as a part of the midfield three, as evidenced by his blistering form during his final months with Liverpool, Tite can shuffle the front three at his will.
When he took the job, one of his cards, as it proved in the longer run, was recalling Paulinho into the national team fold. Since coming back, Paulinho has been a constant threat in the attacking sense and has shared a great workload for the side, giving a great scoring return as well. Even if Brazil lose Renato Augusto to injury, Fernandinho can fill in the position with ease and provide even more shield to the back four.
The emergence of Roberto Firmino
The national team will be heavily boosted by the red-hot form of Roberto Firmino who brings a very different quality to the side. Not the traditional centre-forward, Firmino has proved with Liverpool, he can ease into the role and also bring his versatility in creating attacks as well by linking up with the front three and the runners from midfield.
Should Tite decide to start Firmino? Maybe not, judging by the starting lineups in the recent games. But he did entertain the idea of even adapting to a strike partnership between Jesus and Firmino if the situation arises. Only time can tell how that works out for the national team.
What about Neymar?
There is no denying that Neymar is by far, Brazil’s best player and one of the best in the world. Tite however has a difficult job in somehow trying to stop him from doing too much by himself, especially in crunch games. He can deploy Neymar to the left of the front three where he can be devastating with his pace and trickery with the ball.
He loves to cut inside and drill shots into the top corners or play neat one touch football around the box. As was his position at PSG, Neymar can be a hugely influential play-maker and we can only marvel at how unplayable the front four can get if their games all click at the same time.
Will Brazil win the World Cup?
Under their new manager, Brazil have maintained a high but compact defensive line using it to launch attacks. They have proper quality and backup in most positions and have displayed superb interplay from midfield to attack reminding us of the famous ‘Joga-Bonito’.
This team is fast, skillful and most importantly have come out of their shells when Neymar hasn’t featured. This time, he is with them and if they can find a way to use their experiences and desires at the business end of the tournament, cup number six might just return to it’s most traveled destination after 16 years.