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Tite faces first true tactical test as Brazil meets Belgium

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With the Round of 16 complete, Brazil is one of the few favorites in the 2018 World Cup to have earned that nomenclature thus far. Germany slumped out in the group stage, Spain looked lost without its manager and bowed out in the Round of 16, and France still seems yet to put together a truly complete performance.

Now, staring down a quarterfinal date with Belgium’s “Golden Generation” on Saturday, Brazil faces its first true test. Manager Tite has yet to find himself truly challenged tactically over his two-year tenure with the national team, breezing through CONMEBOL qualification in a South American confederation that appears weaker than usual given its combined performance in the World Cup thus far.

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Brazil sailed through qualification with a week one loss the only blemish along entire way, and to this point in the big dance they’ve done enough to push by Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia, and Mexico with few truly shaky moments. Now, Tite finds himself tasked with halting the seductively free-flowing Belgian attack that has multiple strengths with which to threaten an opposition.

In a vacuum, Tite wouldn’t have much to think about, his first-choice Brazilian side built well to handle an attacking juggernaut like Belgium. However, the numerous circumstances surrounding Saturday’s quarterfinal make this an exceedingly difficult prospect for Tite – his first truly mountainous trial.

The biggest concern Tite must to overcome is the loss of central midfielder Casemiro to yellow card suspension. The World Cup’s excessively strict yellow card policy sees players who accumulate a second caution before the semifinal suspended for the subsequent match, and thanks to Casemiro’s booking in the 59th minute of the 2-0 win over Mexico for a foul on Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Brazil is without the Real Madrid rock.

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Casemiro is essential to Brazil’s structure and shape, and protects a back line better than any number 6 in the world. His performance against Mexico was as stout as any, but it’s not a good illustration of his true abilities given how Mexico intentionally targeted Brazil’s flanks as their preferred outlet of attack. Instead, one should look to Brazil’s comfortable 2-0 win over Serbia to discover Casemiro’s true worth. Against the big, physical presence of Serbia’s attack, Casemiro was vital in preventing them from circulating through the middle. The 26-year-old completed six of eight tackles attempted, contributed four clearances, recovered nine balls, and went toe-to-toe with Serbia’s exceptionally physical presence winning three of his seven defensive aerial duels. He effectively forced Serbia’s attack out wide, where they are not nearly as dangerous. Below is their attacking dashboard, where you can see the void in the middle as opposed to the traffic out wide.

Serbia attacking dashboard vs. Brazil in Group E play of 2018 World Cup (dashboard via StatsZone app, statistics via Opta).

As you can see, they were completely neutralized in the center of the pitch. With this in mind, Serbia was forced to take a mammoth 26 crosses, of which they successfully connected on just four.

Casemiro’s suspension will be a massive loss for Brazil against Belgium’s impressive attacking assualt. In the Red Devils’ 5-2 demolition of promising African nation Tunisia, they were relentless down the middle. Roberto Martinez has Kevin De Bruyne playing in a deeper midfield role with Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens ahead of him in the attacking midfield, and the Manchester City playmaker has been able to marshal the Belgian buildup from deep. Against Tunisia he created five chances and was given free reign through the middle of the field to control the pace of play. That ultimately saw Belgium’s attack bask in plenty of sunlight through the central areas.

 

Kevin de Bruyne’s complete dashboard in Belgium’s 5-2 win over Tunisia in Group G play (dashboard via StatsZone app, statistics via Opta).
Belgium’s attempted take-ons in the 5-2 win over Tunisia in Group G play.
Belgiums attacking third passes in the 5-2 win over Tunisia in Group G play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this in mind, Tite will be forced to counter the loss of Casemiro. With Paulinho deployed next to Casemiro thus far throughout the World Cup, it’s unlikely Tite would want to leave him on an island against Belgium. The most likely scenario is the addition of Fernandinho in Casemiro’s place, with the Manchester City holding midfielder a fitting selection to deputize against his Belgian club teammate with the Premier League title winners. Fernandinho was fabulous last season for his club, a big reason why Manchester City was able to win a championship in record-setting fashion. He was the 12th best player in the Premier League last season according to Squawka Statistics as he executed Pep Guardiola‘s tactics to perfection. However, the biggest weakness for Fernandinho is his defensive ability, with the 25-year-old making 5.3 defensive contributions (tackles, interceptions, clearances, blocks) per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season compared to Casemiro’s 9.1 in La Liga play.

Instead of Fernandinho, we could see the likes of new Manchester United signing Fred or veteran Renauto Augusto if Tite wants to be more aggressive, which may be a preferable tactical choice given Belgium’s weak defensive midfield that Japan exploited in the first half of their Round of 16 meeting, before Roberto Martinez shored things up with the introduction of Marouane Fellaini.

Another conundrum Tite must solve is the looming question up front: what to do with Gabriel Jesus. The 21-year-old attacker impressed in his first season in England, but has proven underwhelming in Russia this summer. He has been upstaged by Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino late in World Cup games, most recently watching from the bench as Firmino iced the Mexico game with a late goal. There are calls to replace Jesus with a more centrally inclined striker like Firmino in the starting lineup, and it is Tite’s job to deduce whether Firmino is a fitting replacement for Jesus from the get-go, or if his success is molded by his use as a late sub against tired legs. If his Champions League performances are any indication, Firmino is more than capable of causing problems for opposition defensive structure for an entire 90 minutes at a high level, and his World Cup performances seem to suggest he has a better understanding with Neymar than Jesus has shown.

Finally, Tite has issues to solve on the back line as well. Injuries have decimated the Brazilian full-back ranks, and while it appears those injured may be somewhat subsiding, there are still lingering questions. Danilo was reportedly fit for the Mexico game, but Tite stuck with understudy Fagner at right-back, who was subsequently torn to shreds by Carlos Vela early and Lozano as the game progressed. Vela created four chances throughout the match – three in the first half – while completing 13 of 16 pass attempts in the attacking third. Lozano, meanwhile, completed six of 10 take-ons including five of his first seven before Brazil’s pressure became too much for Mexico to handle. Meanwhile on the left flank, Filipe Luis was troubled by Mexico’s wide attack as well – although not to the extent of Fagner – and while Marcelo’s presence in the Brazilian lineup would seem a given if healthy, some believe Filipe Luis has performed well enough to keep his place in the eleven.

Brazil has passed every test to this point, but in a World Cup full of chaos and upsets, Tite cannot afford to underestimate any personnel choice or tactical decision, no matter how small. His conclusions over the next few days will shape the 2018 World Cup’s first true heavyweight bout.

Gold Cup: Mexico secures place in knockout round with win over Canada; Martinique over Cuba

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The Mexico National Team at the 2019 Gold Cup has been very focused on introducing inexperienced players into the squad, and yet, it was a veteran on Wednesday that reminded everyone how much he still has left in the tank.

Mexico captain Andres Guardado, who came off the bench for the injured Erick Gutierrez in the first half, scored a brace as Mexico held off a surging Canada late in the match. Guardado’s first goal was an absolute golazo from 30-yards out, while his second showcased his poise and calm in the box.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Mexico – as is custom for El Tri – controlled possession and looked very confident on the ball, zipping it around midfield and at times, playing on a faster speed than Canada, it seemed. However, with Canada sitting in a low defensive block, it took until the 40th minute for Mexico to get on the board through Roberto Alvarado finishing into an empty net after a big save from Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan.

Canada pushed higher up the field in the second half and seemed to be turning the tide before Guardado picked up a loose ball – and there may have been a foul on Canada – and el Principito unleashed a rocket that Borjan had no chance to keep out.

Canada made six changes in the starting lineup from its first game and it was the introductions of Scott Arfield, Jonathan Osorio and Jonathan David in the second half that began to get Canada back into the game. A mistake by centerback Nestor Araujo in the 75th minute, trying to be fancy with a Cruyff turn allowed David to advance down the Mexico goal on a breakaway. After a cutback, David played Luca Cavallini in the box and Cavallini scored to cut it to 2-1.

However, Guardado, and LA Galaxy winger Uriel Antuna, put the game away for good two minutes later. Antuna got around his defender and centered to Guardado. The wily midfielder took three Canada defenders out of the play with a quick touch to his right, before scoring a deflected goal off the post and in.

Earlier in the evening, Martinique recorded a dominant 3-0 victory over ten-man Cuba. Star striker Kevin Parsemain didn’t score, though he did play a role in Martinique’s third goal with an outstanding back-heel pass.

Copa America: Watch Newcastle’s Almiron sets up Paraguay opener with 60-yard sprint (video)

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For the second time in as many games, Argentina has allowed it’s opponent to score the first goal. This time, it has Miguel Almiron to thank.

Starting with a dummy that lead to a more than 60-yard sprint to the end-line, Almiron showcased his top-line speed, strength, and dribbling ability as he lead Paraguay down the field in transition, eventually crossing into the middle. It was there that Olimpia’s Richard Sanchez met the cross and sliced it home to put Paraguay up 1-0 in the first half.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Atlanta United fans saw plenty of that blazing speed during Almiron’s two years in the U.S. If Newcastle fans get to witness this in person more this coming season, Almiron will be a fan-favorite.

 

 

Transfer Roundup: Neymar to cost $337 million? Could Jorginho follow Sarri to Juve?

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Will he stay or will he go?

That’s the main question surrounding Neymar this summer. If reports out of France – and there are many – are to be believed, Neymar will have to stay.

[READ: Landon Donovan to lead USL franchise]

Le Parisien reported on Wednesday that if Neymar was to leave Paris Saint-Germain this summer, it would cost an insane $337 million (€300 million) in transfer fees. With that price, and UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, it pretty much rules out any club from Europe from signing the Brazilian star. Neymar has recently been linked with a move back to Barcelona, with $112 million and other players reportedly included in a deal from Barcelona to PSG.

There’s so many moving pieces involved in any case. Antoine Griezmann is expected to leave Atletico Madrid, with Barcelona the rumored destination. But if Neymar goes to Barcelona, could Griezmann head to PSG? Meanwhile PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi pretty much called out Neymar for some of his off the field – and on the pitch – antics, likely hurting their relationship.

So while it seems like Neymar – and PSG – may want the relationship to end, PSG won’t miss out on getting its money back.

Here’s more transfer stories from around Europe:


Jorginho to Juventus? 

Jorginho is to Maurizio Sarri like red wine is to a medium-rare steak. They just go great together.

With Sarri moving to Juventus, that raises the question that Jorginho, who moved with Sarri to Chelsea, could move back to Italy this summer. There’s plenty of reasons why it could make sense. Despite playing 56 times for the Blues, including helping lead them to the UEFA Europa League title, he took plenty of criticism from the media and fans for his lack of defensive ability. Fans were also upset with Sarri’s insistence of playing Jorginho at the 6, and not at the 6 or as part of a double pivot with N’Golo Kante. In Premier League games that Chelsea was undone, it was because Jorginho was overrun in midfield.

Jorginho meanwhile could go back to Italy, where he has citizenship, plays for the national team and enjoyed so much success with Napoli.

According to reports out of Italy, Jorginho’s agent said that the player is happy in London, but they would wait and see what happens next from Juventus.

“Chelsea have a four-year contract with the man,” Joao Santos said, via Football Italia. “We’ll wait a few days to figure out whether there is any truth in this interest mentioned in the papers. His past at Napoli won’t be an issue, because Jorginho is a professional. Right now, Jorginho is happy at Chelsea. He found a great atmosphere and we can’t really say that he’d like to go elsewhere, but anything can happen on the transfer market. We’ll wait and see…”

Follow Live: Mexico faces Canada in Gold Cup doubleheader nightcap

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From Mile High USA, Denver, Colo., the 2019 Gold Cup continues with a highly-anticipated matchup between Mexico and Canada.

El Tri is coming off a 6-0 rout of Cuba in the opener at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena last week, while Canada thrashed Martinique, 4-0 in its opener. All of which leads to Wednesday, when an up-start Canada faces a young and firing Mexico in the 10 p.m. ET nightcap.

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The LA Galaxy’s Uriel Antuna, a late addition to the squad, scored a hat-trick against Cuba and is one of the many young players getting their first chance to impress new Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino. Meanwhile, Canada is having a recent resurgence, with young stars Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies and Mark-Anthony Kaye all making an early impact.

Meanwhile, Cuba and Martinique now battle it out in the first match of the night from Denver at 8 p.m., with both sides hoping for three points and a chance to emerge from the group in third place. Cuba has already lost one player to asylum in the U.S., but it’s unclear what kind of impact that will have on the team.

Follow along with us on the link above and in the comments below.