With a 1-1 draw against Colombia in Barranquilla, Brazil fail to register three points in a competitive match for the first time under Tite. Having already secured first place in their qualification group, the match technically lacked meaning for the Seleção, but with only ten months before the World Cup, every player is fighting for a place in the squad. The Canary & Blue team provide thoughts on the performance:
Question Marks in Midfield and Central Defense: Tite’s arrival as manager of Brazil has coincided with a period of relative stability. Brazil have won nine of their ten matches under the former Corinthians boss, including massive victories against Argentina and Uruguay, and have boasted some impressive attacking performances. Despite their recent dominance, Tite is still tinkering with two critical areas of the side: central defense and central midfield. Ironically, these happen to be two of the most important cogs in a title-winning side. In central midfield his preference appears to be a midfield three of Casemiro, Paulinho, and Roberto Augusto with Coutinho and Neymar providing attacking outlets through the center. Questions remain about the fluidity of such a midfield, and whether Monaco star Fabinho could replace one of Paulinho or Augusto to create a more dynamic combination.
Paulinho has characterized his move to Barcelona as a dream, but given Tite’s policy of selecting players based on their club form, he will need to stake a place in the starting XI at the Catalan club to continue to ensure his place in the Seleção. Additionally, while Tite has shown a fondness for Fernandinho, his performance this evening was lackluster, and his partnership with Paulinho and Augusto left a gaping hole in the middle of the park where Casemiro would usually play. Although Tite currently has all of his first choices available for selection, the club season is long and arduous. He needs to be considering all of his options. Hopefully he will bring some fresh faces in October.
Central defense contains similar question marks. Tite does not seem to have a preferred pairing, though Marquinhos and Miranda have partnered in a few of his bigger matches. In this writer’s opinion, Thiago Silva is still Brazil’s best center back, and his exclusion from the side is a reflection more on his captaincy in 2014 than his recent performances for club and country. David Luiz also remains on the outside looking in, despite his great form for Premier League title-holders Chelsea. As Tite continues to prepare for Russia, deciding on the appropriate defensive pairing will be essential. It’s worth remembering that the Luiz-Silva partnership was not exposed against Germany during 2014, as Thiago Silva was suspended during that match. Additionally, before his suspension, Brazil had conceded only four goals in five matches, and Luiz and Silva accounted for key goals in wins against Colombia and Chile during the knock-out stages. If Tite can look past the politics of bringing back the pairing, perhaps they could redeem themselves this summer.
How does Tite Respond? Tite’s first fifteen months at the helm of the Seleção have been the stuff of dreams. Before tonight’s match against Colombia, they had won nine straight matches. They were the first country to qualify for this summer’s World Cup. They are reviving the joga bonito style that had been suppressed during Dunga’s time at the helm. This match against Colombia was technically a friendly for the Seleção, and a draw in Barranquilla is a fair result, but much will be interpreted, and questions will still be asked of the manager. As noted above, Tite still has tactical questions that require answers, and the runway to Russia is getting shorter and shorter. These last remaining decisions may be the difference between contending for the World Cup trophy and hoisting it. Tite is an incredibly thoughtful manager, and Brazil fans will trust him to find the right combination in time for the Seleção’s group matches this summer.
Neymar is Brazil’s Get out of Jail Free Card: For all the talk about tactics and formations, Neymar remains Tite’s trump card. Neymar looked dangerous throughout the match against Colombia, cutting inside and wreaking havoc on the defenders as he found pockets of space. Neymar looks to be enjoying his football, and is already dominating Ligue 1 with PSG. Contrary to the opinions of fans, footballers don’t always get exactly what they want, but this year Neymar certainly has. He has landed a mega-money move to PSG to be the face of the club, and is leading an organized, talented Brazilian squad into Russia as co-favorites. At 25 years old, it’s a legacy year for Neymar, and surely he realizes it. Winning the treble for PSG is certainly on the cards, as is leading Brazil to victory at this summer’s World Cup. If he remains focused, we could be watching the ascent of Neymar to the greatest player in the world.
Willian Stakes his Place… With both club and country, Willian remains in a fight for playing time. At Chelsea, Hazard and Pedro steal the headlines. With Brazil, he competes with Neymar and Coutinho. But tonight against Colombia, Willian received the start and reminded fans of his class, hitting a screamer into the top right-hand corner that would prove to be Brazil’s only goal. Willian will be a great squad player for Brazil, and gives the Seleção the depth they require to contend for the title. His versatility and creativity make him a wonderful change of pace during a hotly contested match. It’s just a shame there isn’t currently a place for him to start.
… But Coutinho is Still Critical: If rumors are to be believed, Philippe Coutinho remains devastated that Barcelona and Liverpool were not able to reach an agreement over his transfer to Spain. Brazil fans will now join Liverpool fans in hoping that the midfield maestro returns to Merseyside with the right attitude. Tite’s unwillingness to start Coutinho for the Colombia and Ecuador matches reveals that his talk about the need for his players to start at club level is not simply talk; it’s a philosophy. Brazil need Coutinho. Both matches revealed his criticality to the side. Both his creativity and his linkage with Neymar are an essential component of Tite’s preferred tactical set-up. If Tite does indeed stick to his policy regarding club performance, Coutinho will need to shake off his disappointment and return to Anfield with something to prove. For Brazil to advance in this summer’s World Cup, Coutinho will need to start. He knows this, and knows what an opportunity he has to lead the Seleção to their sixth star. Expect him to have a big season under Klopp.
If you liked this article, be sure to look out for Canary and Blue, the Football Purists’ new podcast that covers the Brazilian National Team. The podcast will cover the past, present, and future of the Seleção, providing analysis, oral histories of Brazil’s greatest moments, and discussions of the country’s greatest ever players. Ahead of the podcast’s release this October, follow us at @CanaryandBlueFP.