W ith a glittering array of attacking talent, it is no surprise that Brazil have got the neutrals all excited as they seek to win the elusive 6th World Cup title. It has been 20 years since they last won a World Cup - the longest drought they have had between wins is 24 years, 1970 was followed by 1994.
In spite of World Cup failure, in 2018, the CBF continued to trust Tite and allowed him to continue his job as coach of Brazil for the 2019 Copa América held at home. However, Brazilian preparation for the tournament at home was hampered by the injury of Neymar. Yet, despite this loss, Tite managed a rather distinctly average looking Brazil squad to their first Copa América title since 2007. It is worth noting that only 4 out of the 11 starting players that day are guaranteed first XI picks in 2022 - which is a testament to how much they have evolved since that triumph.
Gone are the days of Coutinho... Arthur, and the likes of Firmino and Jesus are no longer guaranteed starters. In came the new breed, Antony, Rodrygo, Vini Jr., Raphinha, and Bruno Guimarães. With the new blood injecting swagger into the rather Neymar-dependant Brazil of the previous generation, Brazil led the continent with the best campaign in the history of the South America WC Qualifications. Without losing a single match, the Seleção scored 40 goals while only conceding five. In fact, under Tite, for all fixtures over six years now, Brazil have only lost five matches from 76 played.
The Brazil set up is pretty much set in stone. Rather like Argentina the team is built to get the most out of their 10... the ageing yet still mesmeric, Neymar. The main formation which facilitates Neymar is the 4-4-2 (used 48% in past 12 months) or its variation the 4-2-3-1 (23%), each of which allows Neymar to occupy a free roaming role behind the number 9.
Intensity of Press/Shape
Leading the line Brazil have players like Richarlison or Jesus, livewire centre forwards who love to press intensely. Consequently Brazil have an average PPDA 9.72 which is impressive but if you delve closely the number is skewed by the fact that whenever Brazil have played at altitude away from home, they tend to drop off and counter. It will be interesting to see in the heat of Qatar, what type of Brazil turns up but if they do press, expect it to be done pretty intensely and effectively.
What makes it particularly effective is Fred and Casemiro complement each other perfectly from a pressing perspective - Fred latches on to any opposition deep lying playmakers looking to get it to feet and Casemiro sweeps up any long balls hit by the panicking goalkeeper who has been closed down by Richarlison. The long ball is also a trigger for the defence to step up and win the header.
If there is a weakness in the Brazilian backline it is at left back. Telles as we have seen for United is not a top class full back and Sandro is not the force he once was - so if there was one flank to attack this would be it (although they're not particularly blessed at right back either). Having said that, Brazil have avoided being exposed down the flanks generally speaking but is that down to a lack of players in the South American region who can hurt them with express pace out wide or just the fact the CM's do a great job of protecting their full backs?
Expect to see... a back 4 consisting of Alisson in goal, Thiago Silva and Marquinhos in front (with Militao acting as cover) and flanked by either Militao, Danilo and occasionally Alves at right back and either Telles or Sandro at left back.
It is no surprise that Brazil have had such a good defensive record under Tite who favours a rather pragmatic double pivot of Fred and Casemiro to govern the Zone 4. Rather like England this leads to a rather stagnant build up phase which could come unstuck against the European sides in this competition who seek to press aggressively. Brazil have a tendency to dominate possession against weaker sides and this gives their famed attacking line plenty of supply but when an opponent takes the game to them, it does turn into 50/50 type of games and often you see Brazil having to give up the initiative and focus on hurting opponents in transition.
On a positive note, what this Brazil squad has is options and one in particular stands out... Bruno Guimaraes. Very rarely do Brazil produce players of his ilk... it is usually Mauro Silva, Dunga, Gilberto Silva types. Flairy mids like Paulo Roberto Falcao, Didi or Gerson are few and far between. Whilst Bruno is perhaps not of the same level as these players, he is a player who seeks to control the tempo and operates as a regista. This could allow Brazil to push Neymar further up the pitch and not have to require him to help assist the build up. My only concern is whether Tite trusts him.
Another silkier midfield option is Lucas Paqueta is vital to the team for two reasons. Firstly, on the pitch he is on the same wavelength as Neymar. Good teams are made of little partnerships, and the link up between Neymar and Paqueta has been one of the best things about Brazil over the last couple of years. But also, his versatility makes him a coach’s dream. There have been matches where Paqueta has carried out three different functions in the course of 90 minutes. He can line up either as an orthodox attacking midfielder, or as a withdrawn left winger in place of Vinicius Junior, or as a deeper central midfielder instead of Fred. And he can also fill in at centre forward.
Expect… Fred and Casemiro to start and Fabinho or Pacqueta to be used as alternative options. I do not think Bruno G has forced his way into the reckoning just yet, but if he does - he could be pivotal.
In terms of depth, Brazil have the best set of wingers in the tournament bar none but on the flip side they have a very weak full back selection.
Raphinha is the established first choice for Brazil and whilst he has struggled to really get to grips with the move to Barcelona - for Brazil he's adapted like a duck to water and rather like Di Maria he is incredibly important to the way Brazil play. He is often the paciest and most direct member of the 11. As a consequence Brazil tend to use him as their out ball and look to switch it out to him to drag the side up the pitch.
In terms of alternatives to Raphinha, Brazil have Antony - who some would argue has a higher ceiling as a player. Whilst he is more assured in possession, Antony is not as physical or as dynamic... and more in need of an overlapping full back in order to function. With Brazil's lack of an overlapping full back in his prime down that side - it means Raphinha is considered the better fit with a Danilo or Militao behind him - he is better at beating a man from a standing start or dragging the side up the pitch in transitional situations.
Down the left, Brazil have a wealth of options. First choice is Vinicius Jr who has dominated European football over the past year and a brilliant two-way footballer who has won over Tite. He provides such dynamism that it means the likes of Telles and Sandro do not need to over exert themselves in attack and can count on him to provide protection defensively too. Tactically perfect.
As back-ups, Brazil have a rising Premier League star in Martinelli - who similar to Vini seems to run for days and can give any full back across Europe twisted blood whilst also being humble enough to help out his full back. A further alternative is Rodrygo who can operate on either flank or up front and possesses a similar skillset to Vinicius, as well as having a proven impact in the business end of the Champions League. His link up with Neymar has been impressive whenever he has featured but his overall lack of minutes suggests he is likely to remain a bench option.
In terms of left back options, Brazil are struggling here. Compared to Marcelo and Roberto Carlos, it is clear the pool has taken a nosedive in terms of quality. United reject Alex Telles is first choice and Alex Sandro is now over 30 and not the rampaging two way force he once was. They are fortunate in that they have wingers in front who can carry them but you do not want these guys facing an Ousmane Dembele or a Bukayo Saka.
Expect... Raphinha to start on the right wing and for Danilo or Militao to play behind him and for Vini to start on the left wing ahead of Telles.
Neymar, from his dribbles and carries, has transitioned from a left side player that comes central to a N10 player that gradually goes wider to around the half space as he progresses the ball. When Neymar drops in and around the halfway he’s productive creatively speaking, just like he is in the final third but the problem here is that without a regista in the Brazilian midfield Neymar HAS to drop deep, which offensively, means he is exerting energy away from the final third and potentially leaving his striker isolated - without hurting the opposition.
One player who could add a secondary source of central creativity as well as allow Neymar to stay closer to the striker is the Newcastle midfield maestro, Bruno Guimaraes. Bruno boasts being in the top 7% of carriers/dribblers, which suggests he could more than do the travelling that Neymar is currently but to a greater degree. Bruno can play higher too but with Neymar there, this should be out of the question as 2 n10s isn’t a valid part of the set up for the Selecao.
With Firmino absent, other sources of creativity include Pedro who may be a hefty target man but is very silky and can hit wonderful lofted through balls and execute delicate lay offs. Jesus has also shown at Arsenal that he can play the false 9 role very well and bring wide threats into play and find passes through the eye of the needle whilst on the run. Antony is also a player who can come off the flank and almost operate as a 10.
Expect… Neymar to be the main creative threat but this Brazil squad does have decent creative depth but from unexpected sources..
Richarlison seems to have gotten the nod ahead of his rival from the red side north London, Gabriel Jesus. This might leave some Premier League followers scratching their heads but in Brazil, it is not even a debate. The last competitive goal that Gabriel Jesus scored for Brazil came almost three and a half years ago. In twenty matches, starting most of them, he has been on target once - in stoppage time of a friendly that was already won.
Richarlison, meanwhile, has seven goals in the last six games, a run of form which has changed the way that Brazil set up their side. A few months ago it was likely that Brazil would go to the World Cup without a centre forward, with two wingers and Neymar as a false nine. Richarlison has forced a change. The coaching staff now agree that the team functions better with a focal point, who has prodigious work rate, a rebellious eye for goal and occupies the opposition backline, thus giving Neymar the space to do his thing.
In terms of alternative options to the London duo, Brazil have Pedro who has scored 29 goals in 59 appearances for Flamengo. He's a hybrid of Mitrovic and Firmino - in terms of profile, a hefty unit with a delicate touch. I think he could be a surprise package this World Cup, and if Brazil are chasing a game - he would be a good option against a low block as he can get on end of crosses and hold off big centre backs.
Expect… Richarlison to lead the line, Jesus to be his main back up and Pedro to feature whenever Brazil find themselves in difficulty and are throwing the kitchen sink.
Apart from full back it is hard to find a weakness with this Brazil side. Even if Thiago Silva is too old, they have two younger CB's who are the best in Europe. They have a hall of famer CDM and enough variety in the midfield options to change things up if the build up phase becomes stagnant. This team has runners all around Neymar of real high quality. This is not a Argentina situation where it is only Di Maria you can rely on, Brazil has 4 Di Maria's at a bare minimum.
Not only do Brazil have a wealth of talent, they have a great team spirit, they have proven fighters who can tough it out in ugly games, they have match winners across the side - the only weakness IMO is the fitness of certain players within the spine... Silva, Casemiro and Neymar. All of them are not in their prime - so that can be concerning as the tournament wears on, but it will take a special side to expose this slight weakness.
Verdict: Anything less than a final is unacceptable.