Copa America 2019: Neymar's absence could be blessing in disguise for Brazil with Tite's younger core ready to fill void
Despite the loss of their talisman, the hosts go into the tournament as favourites to win it along with Lionel Messi-led Argentina, and are on a 10-match unbeaten run since losing to Belgium in the 2018 Russia World Cup.
The Copa America hasn’t yet begun but South America’s biggest football event has already lost out on what would have been a major theme – Neymar. The football star will not be part of the Brazilian side hosting the tournament after an ankle injury in the build-up to the event ruled him out.
Despite the loss of their talisman, the hosts go into the tournament as favourites to win it along with Lionel Messi-led Argentina, and are on a 10-match unbeaten run since losing to Belgium in the 2018 Russia World Cup. Apart from the home advantage, they are fortunate to be in one of the easier groups with Bolivia, Peru, and Venezuela.
Coach Tite’s Brazil aren’t always the most exciting side these days, but with the Samba-loving crowd behind them, and a young, hungry set of players looking to make a mark in the international arena, the Selecao should be quite optimistic going into the tournament.
A blessing in disguise
It will be very hard for Tite to replace a player of Neymar’s capabilities but Brazil can look at the PSG player’s absence as a blessing in disguise. The former Barcelona star’s past few months have been clouded with allegations and horrible-decision making. A tax probe, instances of disgraceful play-acting, a suspension for a social media rant, and a rape allegation are only the highlights of a chaotic year for Neymar and the Brazilian side might be better off without the negativity the star brings to the dressing room.
Brazil have included only 14 of the squad that went to the World Cup in Russia a year ago in what is being described by many as a transition to a younger core for the Selecao. Everton's Richarlison, David Neres of Ajax, and central midfielders Arthur of Barcelona and Luca Paqueta of AC Milan are among the young recruits who will look to make an impact in the tournament.
Willian has been called to the side as the replacement for the injured Neymar, despite a lacklustre season with Chelsea, which shows Tite’s trust in the experienced winger. Vinicius Jr should consider himself unlucky to miss out after a breakthrough season with Real Madrid but Richarlison’s adaptability and Neres’ trickery probably brings more to the table for the Brazilian coach.
Brazil will be expected to line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with two midfielders forming a double-pivot in the central midfield. The hosts are loaded in that department but Arthur and Casemiro are likely to form the combination with Napoli’s Allan and Manchester City’s Fernandinho offering great back-up options.
Richarlison looks set for a position in the wings while Neres and Willian will be expected to compete for the spot left vacant by Neymar. The chief playmaker’s role will be given to Barcelona star Philippe Coutinho who is expected to flourish in the Copa after a dull season for the Catalunya giants where he was most often played as a left-winger. While his form has been questionable, Coutinho brings game-changing qualities to this Brazilian side, and will be personally hoping to show the world he is still the attacker who bamboozled defenders in Premier League in the Liverpool shirt.
Thiago Silva on Philippe Coutinho: "In the two friendlies that we have played, he has been the best player on the pitch. Not just because of his passing and goal scoring ability but also his defensive work-rate." pic.twitter.com/k3fqSbpY3e
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) June 13, 2019
Gabriel Jesus’ form improved drastically towards the end of the Premier League season which gives Tite a headache when it comes to choosing his striker. Firmino has been the first-choice centre-forward for Brazil since the World Cup but the Liverpool player is more known for his linking-up abilities and work-rate, unlike Jesus, who is much more of an orthodox forward.
Firmino in a team with Neymar and Richarlison, two wide men who liked to occupy central positions and score a lot of goals, made sense, but with Neymar absent, it will be interesting to see how Tite lines up. Jesus has impressed for the national team in the last few outings so one shouldn’t be surprised if he gets the nod.
Brazil might ditch 4-2-3-1 for a slightly more attacking 4-1-4-1 to accommodate Firmino. Casemiro or Fernandinho can anchor the midfield, while Allan can partner Coutinho in a more advanced central role. The Napoli midfielder’s dynamism and the willingness to run means Firmino can drop into the midfield and allow Richarlison to double up as a secondary striker cutting in from the wings.
A change in philosophy
One thing that has noticeably changed in this Brazilian team is how full-backs have been asked to stay closer to the central defensive pair. Traditionally, Brazil have always played with attack-minded full-backs like Cafu and Roberto Carlos but both Filipe Luis and Dani Alves have now been told to not venture forward in what is undoubtedly an effort to tighten the defence. Thiago Silva will be expected to partner Marquinhos in central defence, though they have a great backup in Miranda and Eder Militao, while Alisson Becker looks all set to continue his reign as Brazil’s first-choice keeper despite Ederson’s brilliance for Manchester City this season.
Brazil go in the tournament as hot favourites but strangely enough, it is the defence that holds the key. The defensive unit, including the central midfielders, is undoubtedly the best in the tournament and should set up the foundation for the attackers to go do their thing.
Brazil last won the Copa America in 2007 with a team in transition after the likes of Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo and Dida retired. Robinho, aged 23 then, and Gilberto Silva in the midfield, were the only internationally recognisable name in the squad list in the tournament where coach Dunga's men produced good, attacking football. The current Brazil squad certainly possess more quality in all departments and will be expected to shine in a cup a tournament that will be eyed by many as the beginning of preparations for the 2022 World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Alisson, Cássio, Ederson
Defenders: Thiago Silva, Miranda, Éder Militao, Filipe Luís, Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Alex Sandro, Fagner
Midfielders: Casemiro, Arthur, Philippe Coutinho, Allan, Fernandinho, Lucas Paquetá
Forwards: David Neres, Gabriel Jesus, Willian, Everton, Roberto Firmino, Richarlison
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