Neymar's injury was the main story for Brazil, as their star man was ruled out.

Willian, Hulk, and Fred: What Neymar’s absence means for Brazil

3 Comments

When Neymar emerged in the Brazilian national team, he was a wide attacker that served as more of an outlet than a focal point.  Over time, that outlet’s slowly developed into a playmaker, one that Brazil head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari moved to the middle of the attack before the World Cup. A text book number 10, he’s not, but by the time the team kicked off its tournament against Croatia, Neymar certainly had become the focal point of his country’s attack.

Without him, Scolari needs to re-think how his team generates chances, and while we shouldn’t expect a huge shift in formation or style, a deep attack will have be creative with its options to replace the Neymar’s impact.

Here’s what might change in Brazil’s Neymar-less world:

1. Willian will likely come into Scolari’s team – There’s also a chance Ramires, who started for Hulk in the team’s second group stage match, could move into Scolari’s starting lineup. Bernard, a slight but quick 21-year-old winger is an option, too, but given the type of player Brazil has lost, Willian’s the more likely choice.

An attacking midfielder who moved to Chelsea last summer, Willian can play anywhere across the three in Scolari’s 4-2-3-1, though he’ll likely be deployed wide. Highly skilled, intelligent in possession, and a great striker of the ball, the 25-year-old also offers a high work rate, something that could prove especially valuable if he’s played opposite Phillip Lahm. If that happens, Hulk will be allowed to move back to his preferred right side, with a centrally deployed Oscar allowing the team to more-easily shift between a three- and two-man midfield. Against possession-hogging Germany, that could prove especially valuable.

A former standout at Shakhtar Donetsk, William offers a different type of creativity to Brazil’s attack, albeit at the expense of Neymar’s goal scoring. His familiarity with club teammate Oscar will help as the 22-year-old becomes more of a focal point in the team’s attack, while his crossing could get more out of Fred in the middle. In the space in front of the defense, he’ll provide a second player able to play a final ball, putting more pressure on Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger to pick him up when he comes off the wing.

With both Willian and Oscar capable of attacking across the width of the field, Brazil can target specific weaknesses in the German defense. Scolari may not need to return Dani Alves to the team to outnumber left back Benedikt Höwedes.

Downgrading from Neymar to Willian certainly hurts, but the true impact of that swap will likely be felt elsewhere. Few nations are lucky enough to have a player like Willian in reserve.

source: AP
Brazil’s Fred holds off Colombia’s Mario Yepes during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Brazil and Colombia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

2. Fred’s role may change – Brazil’s heat maps showed something that’s confusing, if you think of Neymar as his team’s central playmaker. Often over the course of 90 minutes, his average position rivaled Fred’s, Brazil’s forward. While Scolari moving Neymar to the middle allowed his best player to play a bigger part in Brazil’s attack, it allow allowed him to push forward and play along the line when Fred dropped back to win and hold up the ball.

That dynamic changes if Willian comes in. For all his talents, he’s not someone plays along the defense. Neither is Oscar. Fred can continue to drop back to help Brazil get out of their own half, but there’s no Neymar to burst forward to fill that space.

Ideally, instead of playing as much with his back to goal, Fred would stay higher, trying to push central defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. Regardless, is movement will become much more important. As Germany’s fullbacks have to deal with Hulk, fullback Marcelo, or possibly Alves, his ability to exploit the channels could be the difference between merely having Oscar and Willian’s skills and truly leveraging them. If he can’t, we may see Jô come on earlier than usual.

3. Hulk’s movement will matter more – In that same vein, Hulk’s ability to play higher and provide an option for Oscar and Willian’s creativity could be more important. Whereas with Neymar it was more important to read defenses as they reacted to Brazil’s focal point, creating options for the team’s playmakers may prove more important against Germany. Instead of waiting for Oscar and Willian to generate space, Hulk and Fred will need to read the defense and adjust. As the German’s adjust to Brazil’s two creators, Hulk could have space to exploit.

There’s also the chance Hulk can see more opportunities isolated against defenders if his team becomes less worried about maintaining space for Neymar. If Oscar and Willian team up toward the left or middle, Hulk may have room to take on Höwedes and cut onto his favored left foot. Clearing their right side for Hulk may also give Scolari reason keep Maicon at right back, knowing Alves will only be blocked fi he tries to get forward.

source: Getty Images
Hulk has failed to score in four games, but with Neymar out, his production could prove vital in the World Cup’s semifinals. (Source: Getty Images)

The undercurrent here, though, is the importance of replacing Neymar’s scoring. With four goals in five games, Neymar was responsible for 40 percent of his team’s production. Hulk, who has failed to score thus far, is one of the few players who can replicate that threat.

He needs to be put in positions to succeed. Against a team of Germany’s caliber, he may also need to deliver.

4. Will Scolari be tempted to use Paulinho – If Scolari’s looking for other way to replace Neymar’s goal scoring, restoring Paulinho to the starting XI could work. The Spurs midfielder was back in the team that faced Colombia, but only because Luiz Gustavo was suspended due to a second yellow card. With the Wolfsburg midfielder available, it’s expected he’ll partner Fernandinho in the middle.

Paulinho, however, provides more of a threat going forward, with his ability to read a defense from deep and exploit available space, particularly valuable if Oscar and Willian can play well. Whereas Gustavo is a pure destroyer and Fernandinho’s more comfortable in a deeper role, Paulinho’s main value is his ability to be that extra man in the box.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t played very well this tournament. Though his showing against Colombia was an improvement on what we saw in group stage, he still wasn’t as good as Fernandinho, who took his spot in the starting lineup before the knockout round. On performance alone, there’s almost not augment for choosing Paulinho over one of Scolari’s two other options.

But with Oscar potentially augmenting that two-man midfield, Brazil may be able to sacrifice one of Gustavo or Fernandinho. If, however, he feels Scolari thinks his team is capable of generating chances with just his attackers, Paulinho should be on the bench when the teams kick off on Tuesday.

MLS All Star Game preview: Zelalem, Xhaka will play; Kaka the MLS captain

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 25:  Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is seen in the stand prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Wales and Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes on June 25, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Fans tuning into the MLS All Star Game on Thursday will get a look at USMNT prospect Gedion Zelalem and new Arsenal star Granit Xhaka.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger confirmed the news Tuesday as he met the media along with Petr Cech and Jack Wilshere ahead of Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.

How much they’ll play is unknown, just that Zelalem will be in the lineup and Xhaka will “play a part”.

[ MORE: Everton to land Gueye? ]

Earlier, Major League Soccer announced that Kaka will captain the side, and that FC Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta and L.A. Galaxy back Jelle Van Damme have been added to the roster to replace Matt Besler and plan for the possible absence of Liam Ridgewell.

MLS has won the last two All Star Games, and the last two against Premier League competition.


Arsenal

Goalkeepers: Petr Cech, David Ospina, Emiliano Martinez

Defenders: Hector Bellerin, Krystian Bielik, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Rob Holding, Nacho Monreal

Midfielders: Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Chris Willock, Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Gedion Zelalem

Forwards: Chuba Akpom, Joel Campbell, Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott


MLS All Stars

GOALKEEPERS: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)

Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution), Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Jelle Van Damme (LA Galaxy), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Kaká (Orlando City SC), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Andrea Pirlo (New York City FC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)

Forwards: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC), Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), David Villa (New York City FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

UEFA Champions League roundup: Stanciu’s stunner, five draws, more

BUCHAREST,ROMANIA - AUGUST 19: Nicolae Stanciu of FC Steaua Bucuresti  in action during the UEFA Champions League first leg play-off match against between FC Steaua Bucuresti  and PFC Ludogorets Razgrad on August 19, 2014 in Bucharest,Romania . (Photo by Daniel Mihailescu/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
Photo by Daniel Mihailescu/EuroFootball/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We were treated to a pair of very different but still aesthetically pleasing goals as the first legs of the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League kicked off on Tuesday.

Ajax, Shakhtar Donetsk and Monaco are three of the biggest teams playing at this stage of the tournament, with the first two playing today and one featuring in the goals in question.

[ MORE: Everton to land Gueye? ]

That was Ajax, as PAOK’s Djalma Campos took a walk around wandering Ajax goalkeeper Jesper Cilleseen and cut a goal home from a tricky, tricky angle.

The Dutch legends came back to draw 1-1, but gave up a quality road goal to its Greek visitors.

Romanian powers Steaua Bucharest found themselves a thrilling free kick goal in a 1-1 draw at Sparta Prague.

Nicolae Stanciu is the goal scorer in question, the 23-year-old who’s scored four goals in 7 appearances for the Romania national team since breaking through this season.

This is how he did it today:

Tuesday’s first legs
BATE Borisov 1-0 Dundalk
Ludogorets Razgrad 2-2 Red Star Belgrade
Sparta Prague 1-1 Steaua Bucharest
Partizani Tirana 0-1 Red Bull Salzburg
Viktoria Plzen 0-0 Qarabag
Rostov 2-2 Anderlecht
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 Young Boys
Ajax 1-1 PAOK
Dinamo Zagreb 2-0 Dinamo Tbilisi

PSG signs Argentine midfielder Giovani Lo Celso from Rosario

@PSG_English
@PSG_English
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) French champion Paris Saint-Germain has signed attacking midfielder Giovani Lo Celso from Argentine club Rosario Central on a five-year deal, making him new coach Unai Emery’s fourth signing since replacing Laurent Blanc last month.

The 20-year-old Lo Celso, who operates best as a probing playmaker behind the strikers, scored twice for Rosario last season.

No financial details of the deal were given.

[ MORE: Everton to land Gueye? ]

In recent weeks, PSG has signed France winger Hatem Ben Arfa, Poland midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak and Belgium right back Thomas Meunier.

Lo Celso says he hopes to “follow in the footsteps” of countrymen Angel Di Maria and Javier Pastore – who are key players for PSG.

Before joining up with his new teammates, however, Lo Celso will play for Argentina at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics next month.

Coup for Koeman? Everton agrees to Gueye’s release clause

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Idrissa Gueye of Aston Villa controls the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park on April 2, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
2 Comments

If you’ve read this space at all, you’ll know PST is very high on Aston Villa box-to-box midfielder Idrissa Gueye.

Only N'Golo Kante registered more successful tackles than Gueye in last season’s Premier League, and that came on a Villa side which endured its first PL relegation.

[ MORE: Sounders, Schmid part ways ]

Gueye, 26, has a release clause of $9.3 million, and according to Sky Sports it’s now been met by two teams: Marseille and Everton. Reports say Gueye prefers to stay in England, so Ronald Koeman could have a huge addition to his squad.

It’s not overstating it to say Gueye could revolutionize the Everton squad, allowing players like Ross Barkley even more freedom and giving terrific cover. Gueye has a better offensive acumen than we saw with Villa, and is an invaluable part of Senegal’s set-up.