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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.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

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.

Transfer news: Icardi to PSG, Hendrick to Milan

Hendrick to AC Milan
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Jeff Hendrick has been loyal to two English clubs for long tenures but could be looking to a very different arena for his next step as a footballer.

Burnley’s Republic of Ireland midfielder is out of contract at season’s end and Sky Sports is linking Hendrick with a move to — wait for it — Serie A mainstays AC Milan.

MORE: Premier League remaining fixtures ]

Hendrick, 28, has played 139 times for the Clarets since 2015, scoring 10 times with seven assists.

54 times capped by Ireland, Hendrick hit the pitch 215 times for Championship side Derby County prior to his Turf Moor move, scoring 26 times with 19 assists.

Burnley wants to keep Hendrick but the two have not agreed to a contract. Having had a taste of the Europa League with the Clarets and performing well, he may want to see how the seasons plays out for both sides. Milan sits in Serie A’s final UEL slot, while Burnley is four points back of sixth in the PL.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores | Week 29 preview, predictions  ] 

Meanwhile, rumored Newcastle and Juventus target Mauro Icardi may not get the chance to test the transfer waters this summer.

The combustible Argentine striker, 27, is going to stay at Paris Saint-Germain next season after the Ligue 1 champs agreed a big fee to permanently sign the loanee from Inter Milan.

The fee is said to start at $55 million and have the potential to rise another $9 million with incentives.

Icardi scored 20 goals with four assists during his first season in France after scoring more than 150 goals during his time in Italy between Sampdoria and Inter.

La Liga return: State of play in Spain ahead of June 11 restart

La Liga return
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La Liga will return on June 11 and El Clasico’s heated rivals will restart a battle for the top of Spain’s top flight.

Catalan clubs face drama at both ends of the table with Barcelona in first and Espanyol in 20th. Between there is mayhem.

MORE: Premier League remaining fixtures ]

Barca holds a two-point edge on Real Madrid in its bid for a third-straight La Liga crown and fifth in six seasons. Real will need a slip-up from Quique Setien’s men as there is not a Clasico to be found on the fixture list.

The other two Champions League spots will be hotly-contested with four sides within two points between third and sixth, especially considering the side bringing up the rear is powerful Atletico Madrid (45 points). Sevilla currently sits third with 47 points, with fourth-place Real Sociedad and fifth-place Getafe on 46.

Valencia is also in the picture with 42, and seventh-place will be a Europa League spot should Real Sociedad win the Copa del Rey or rivals Athletic Bilbao (37 points) win it and climb into sixth.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores | Week 29 preview, predictions  ] 

The bottom half of the table is a relegation picture, even if 11th-place Osasuna counts a nine-point lead on the bottom three of Mallorca (25 points), Leganes (23), and Espanyol (20).

The matches will, of course, be played behind closed doors, though Spanish authorities have hope for fans in the 2020-21 season.

Matchweek 28 will be played from June 12 to June 15 with the full La Liga schedule below, while there are also details on how you can watch on TV in the USA.

La Liga schedule

  • TV Channels: beIN Sports USA
  • Stream LiveVia beinSports
  • When: From June 11 to July 17

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Barcelona 27 18 4 5 63 31 32 13-1-0 5-3-5 58
 Real Madrid 27 16 8 3 49 19 30 9-4-0 7-4-3 56
 Sevilla 27 13 8 6 39 29 10 6-5-2 7-3-4 47
 Real Sociedad 27 14 4 9 45 33 12 8-2-3 6-2-6 46
 Getafe 27 13 7 7 37 25 12 7-4-3 6-3-4 46
 Atlético Madrid 27 11 12 4 31 21 10 8-5-1 3-7-3 45
 València 27 11 9 7 38 39 -1 8-6-0 3-3-7 42
 Villarreal 27 11 5 11 44 38 6 6-4-3 5-1-8 38
 Granada 27 11 5 11 33 32 1 8-2-3 3-3-8 38
 Athletic Club 27 9 10 8 29 23 6 7-3-3 2-7-5 37
 Osasuna 27 8 10 9 34 38 -4 5-5-4 3-5-5 34
 Betis 27 8 9 10 38 43 -5 7-3-4 1-6-6 33
 Levante 27 10 3 14 32 40 -8 7-3-3 3-0-11 33
 Alavés 27 8 8 11 29 37 -8 6-5-3 2-3-8 32
 Valladolid 27 6 11 10 23 33 -10 3-7-3 3-4-7 29
 Eibar 27 7 6 14 27 41 -14 6-1-7 1-5-7 27
 Celta Vigo 27 5 11 11 22 34 -12 4-5-4 1-6-7 26
 Mallorca 27 7 4 16 28 44 -16 6-2-6 1-2-10 25
 Leganés 27 5 8 14 21 39 -18 4-3-7 1-5-7 23
 Espanyol 27 4 8 15 23 46 -23 1-5-7 3-3-8 20

Havertz makes history in Bayer win

Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen recap and video highlights
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Kai Havertz made more Bundesliga history as Bayer Leverkusen got back in the win column with a 1-0 win at scrappy Freiburg on Friday.

Havertz became the first player in history to score 35 Bundesliga goals before the age of 21 with the match’s early second-half opener, assisted by Leon Bailey. He turns 21 on June 11.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores ]

Havertz has 11 goals and five assists in Bundesliga play this season including five goals since the end of the coronavirus pause.

Bayer pulls in third place with 56 points, one ahead of RB Leipzig and one back of Borussia Dortmund. Gladbach lurks three points back.

Freiburg may have waved goodbye to its sixth-place hopes, now four points back of Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Week 29 preview, predictions  ] 

There were hints of danger for both teams in the opening throes.

Leon Bailey missed an early chance for the visitors, and Vincenzo Grifo saw a turnover at the other end denied by a sliding challenge.

Bailey was dangerous but not clinical as Bayer controlled the first half but, like many, couldn’t find away through Freiburg’s cagey, Burnley-like compactness.

Freiburg broke the other way and had a glorious chance to steal a lead when Roland Sallai sent Lucas Holer on goal, but Lukas Hradecky cut down the angle and Holer missed wide on a chance to score in consecutive matches.

Bailey played his part well in setting up Havertz’s post-halftime opener. The Jamaican dribbled into an out of traffic before cutting a path onto Havertz’s path.

Havertz rolled the ball between the legs of Freiburg star backstop Alexander Schwolow to make it 1-0 in the 55th.

Freiburg had one more big chance to get a point, as Christian Gunter crossed for Nils Petersen but the latter couldn’t get enough on the shot to beat Hradecky.

Bundesliga preview: Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund

Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund preview
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Last-place Paderborn is running out of time to make a run out of the drop zone, and a visit from Borussia Dortmund wouldn’t normally inspire too much.

But Sunday’s match between the two sides sees Dortmund taking the pitch for the first time since seeing its title hopes dashed in a fierce Klassiker, and Paderborn’s picked up points in all three matches since play resumed from the coronavirus pause.

Not only that, the sides drew 3-3 in November at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, BVB firing back from a 3-0 halftime deficit thanks to goals from Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus, and Axel Witsel.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores | Week 29 preview, predictions  ] 

Paderborn has been playing well for a last-place side, ornery and collecting more cards than most teams in the Bundesliga.

As for Dortmund, the black and yellow side performed well enough to get a result from Bayern but lost on a Joshua Kimmich wondergoal and will likely still be lamenting what could’ve been if VAR reviewed an apparent Jerome Boateng handball in the box.

Still, there’s too much talent here, even at a desperate host. In a non-coronavirus world, the home crowd changes our opinion a little on the score line. We’re feeling a blowout, Dortmund 4-0.

Below is how to watch Borussia Dortmund v. Paderborn on TV in the USA this Saturday, while above you can follow the action live, as the three points are so valuable to both clubs but for very different reasons.

Bundesliga schedule

  • TV Channels: FS1
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • When: Saturday, May 30 – 12:30 p.m. ET: Bayern Munich v Fortuna Dusseldorf
  • Americans Abroad: Giovanni Reyna (Dortmund)