Foxborough, Massachusetts, the United States of America. Brazil are playing Peru in a must-win game to qualify to the next round of the Copa América Centenario. Up steps Raúl Ruidíaz 15 minutes before time and out go Brazil after a disastrous campaign. To add to matters, this wasn’t the most vintage Brazil side, having struggled in the CONMEBOL qualifiers as well. The team needed change desperately as it was clear that they were still recovering from Mineirazo. The horrors of their capitulation against Germany two years prior in their own backyard left the team in disarray – and it was clear that this team needed a new direction. Step forward, Tite.
Tite, Brazil World Cup Favourites
Nearly two summers after their calamitous Copa América campaign, Brazil go into the World Cup as firm favourites. This isn’t something new. Right from the era of Pelé to Zico, Ronaldo and now Neymar, ‘favourites’ is a tag that has always stuck. It’s just the situation that puts them in pole position now. Two years ago, this team looked out of shape, out of leadership and didn’t display characteristics of a united team. Now, they go to Russia as firm favourites, possibly ahead of the defending champions after an impeccable qualifying campaign and some revitalised names on their side.
Tite’s solved every problem that hindered this side. He has broken traditional Brazilian futbol norms with his pragmatism and has given this team new hope. On the basis of their name, that tag as ‘favourites’ would have been a mere formality two years ago. But now, after the efforts and shrewdness of the ex-Corinthians manager, he has given that tag meaning and can back it up. When he arrived, he had a threefold of questions facing him which he has answered perfectly.
- The first asked how he could solve the problem of Neymar-dependencia
- The second asked how he could fix a leaky, inconsistent back-line.
- The third asked how he could fix the problem of a lack of leadership.
First, the problem of Neymar-dependencia, a term devised after the team’s over-reliance on their talisman. After the World Cup mauling by Germany, many pinpointed the fact that the team missed Neymar, and that his availability would’ve made a difference to the side. To put an end to that stigma, Tite has tested out several new methods. The most prominent one comes from the re-introduction of natural wingers Willian and Douglas Costa to the national set-up. Both have performed well at club level in recent months and are replicating their performances for the national team as well.
Tite has gone away from Brazil’s 4-2-3-1 set-up and brought back the 4-3-3 with a flat midfield. This allows the wingers more opportunities to express themselves. Of course, having Neymar, one of the best in the world would reintegrate him into the team, but his lack of availability can be accommodated for with the options presented at Tite’s disposal. Philippe Coutinho also picks up the role on occasion, but the Barcelona man is often placed elsewhere on the pitch.
This also coincides with improvements at centre-forward. Not since Ronaldo’s departure in 2006 have Brazil had a forward that effective and flamboyant. That was until Gabriel Jesus stepped up on the scene. With his arrival, Neymar plays in the areas that he is best rather than having to do the job of two, and that has made him more efficient with the team. In the 19 matches since Tite took over, Brazil have scored 42 times, averaging over 2.2 goals a game and attacking with intent.
Even in the most recent batch of international fixtures, Brazil missed Neymar due to his foot injuries. Against Russia, Costa and Willian were disposed on the wings with Coutinho playing in midfield, and Brazil were fluid. They won 3-0 and were untouchable against a meagre Russian side. In the match against World Champions Germany, it was Coutinho and Willian that played on either wing as Gabriel Jesus scored the winner to give the team an emotional boost and end Germany’s incredible winning run that started all the way back since losing to France at Euro 2016.
It can be expected that this team rotation will be how Brazil will set up at the World Cup. Against sides that sit back and absorb pressure, such as Russia, Tite may go all-out in attack and play Coutinho in midfield to enhance creativity, while against sides that aren’t shy of showing what they have in their arsenal, a flat midfield such as the one that played against Germany (Fernandinho, Paulinho and Casemiro), may be used. Coutinho’s role is important here. It creates a much-welcomed problem for Tite given that he solves the issue of creativity from midfield and provides an additional option in the front three.
The second issue of a lack of defensive stability made Tite analyse the options available to them. At the Copa América in 2016, he faced a goalkeeping problem, but two years on, he goes to Russia with the best goalkeeping options available to him out of any of the other 31 nations. Alisson and Ederson are exceptional ball-playing goalkeepers, but it is the former that is preferred. Both are excelling at their clubs and suit the system perfectly, giving Brazil confidence and composure right from the back.
The biggest concern was the centre-half issues. Since his arrival, Tite recalled Thiago Silva to the roster, accompanying him with Miranda and the two have worked flawlessly. They have moved away from the combustible David Luiz and Silva’s club team-mate Marquinhos has also made an impact. Brazil now have a settled centre-half partnership. Oftentimes, this is the cornerstone to success for any side and in addition to that, they have the bonus of an able deputy who can do the job skillfully.
ORGANISATION AND COMPACTNESS
Against Germany, they showed their fluency and unity as a back-line. Together with the rigid midfield, their compact shape isolated a rapid German attack and minimised the threat facing their goal. The team’s organisation since Tite took charge has been exceptional. The midfield three and back four have proven to be committed to the task, and the experiment against Germany worked out perfectly, showing why they’ve conceded just five in 19 since Tite came. The work-rate is commendable, and there’s no doubt that with the two strategies – one to deploy against the stronger attacking forces and one to install against sides that sit back – they go into Russia with great assurance.
An important cog here is the presence of Casemiro and Paulinho. Casemiro has been dominant for club and country and there seems to be no doubt that he is a certain starter at the World Cup. His defensive stability allows the back-line to share the responsibility almost putting on a back-three of Silva, Miranda and himself when under pressure. Paulinho, meanwhile, has off-the-ball capabilities that has made him a fixture in this team despite frequent criticism. He is vital with his smart running and ability to break lines with them giving Brazil greater access in attack.
The final problem of a lack of leadership brought out an old method. Tite used a system of rotating captains at his old club, Corinthians. He has integrated that method with the national team as well. Under Dunga, the captaincy went from Thiago Silva to the burdened Neymar resulting in a lack of on-pitch leadership. But under Tite, the armband has been shared by the likes of Dani Alves, Filipe Luís and Renato Augusto. This has created a sense of shared responsibility and unity amongst the side, providing improved results.
This shows the fine man-management skills of Tite. From the days of Carlos Alberto and Sócrates to Cafu and Lúcio, Brazil have always had an established leader. However, this unconventional style gives everyone the sense of responsibility that may just help the swagger return to the side. The 23 going to Russia will have the pride in representing the famous yellow. And to Tite’s credit, it’s another masterstroke to fix a problem that was holding the national team back.
WORLD CUP FAVOURITES
In June, Brazil kick-off their fourth attempt for the hexa – the sixth title that has been waiting since 2002. And with everything going their way, this may just be their best chance. Brazil always enter the World Cup as favourites, but this time, they’ve got a lot more causes for optimism as Tite’s shrewdness and pragmatism paints a pretty picture heading into the summer’s extravaganza. A resurgent qualifying campaign, a united squad, two impressive showings against the hosts and the World Champions and a star who’s on the road to recovery, Tite has fixed a broken Brazil and the sixth may not be too far away.
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