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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.

Injured Marcelo will not start for Brazil against Mexico

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Brazil is already down a pair of right-backs in this 2018 World Cup, and they could be down the world’s best left-back as well.

Marcelo went off just 10 minutes into Brazil’s final group stage match against Serbia, and it appears a back problem will keep him out of the starting lineup for their Round of 16 matchup against Mexico. Brazil manager Tite confirmed that while Marcelo has returned to training, he will start the Mexico match among the substitutes.

Filipe Luis came on to replace Marcelo against Serbia, and Tite confirmed the Atletico Madrid man would start the knockout stage game in his place as well. Luis was good against Serbia, completing 68 of 77 pass attempts, but he doesn’t provide the same two-way threat that Marcelo give the Seleçao.

Marcelo reportedly was removed from the Serbia game with back spasms, and the Brazil team doctor suggested that a bad hotel mattress was to blame for the 30-year-old’s issues.

Brazil is also down right-backs Dani Alves and Danilo, both missing out due to injury. That has pressed Corinthians right-back Fagner into duty, starting each of the final two group stage matches and playing well defensively. Still, neither Filipe Luis nor Fagner provide the attacking threat that the Brazilian starting full-backs give the World Cup favorites.

2018 World Cup team preview: Brazil

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Getting to know Brazil: It’s hard to believe, but nearly two years ago, Brazil was on the outside looking in. After getting shelled 7-1 in the embarrassment at home, Brazil’s FA ignored the pleas for modernization and a progressive approach, instead deciding to appoint former player and manager Dunga. Through the first six rounds of qualification, it was sitting outside the World Cup places, with just two wins in that span. A disappointing Copa America Centenario was enough to give Dunga the boot, which gave current Selecao coach Tite the chance to turn things around.

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And that’s exactly what Tite has done. The veteran Brazilian manager, who spent time in Europe studying managers and how they get the best out of their players, led Brazil on an incredible run, winning nine straight and becoming the first team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Unlike Dunga, Tite has gotten the best out of Brazil’s squad, including quality performances from Neymar, Casemiro, Gabriel Jesus, Willian and Paulinho. Now, with the wind at their backs, Brazil is looking to win a record sixth World Cup title, and avenge the shock defeat to Germany.

For more on Brazil’s history, click this link.

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What group are they in? Group E with Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia. It’s a group with three decent opponents but there’s no reason with the talent Brazil has, that it shouldn’t be running away with the group and emerge as winners in all three matches.


Game schedule – Group E – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Sunday, June 17: Brazil v Switzerland, Rostov 2pm, ET
Friday, June 22: Brazil v Costa Rica, Saint Petersburg 8am, ET
Wednesday, June 27: Serbia v Brazil, Moscow (Spartak) 2pm, ET


Projected lineup (4-3-3) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Alisson —–

Danilo — Thiago Silva — Miranda — Marcelo —-

—- Paulinho —- Casemiro —- Fernandinho —–

Willian —— G. Jesus —— Neymar


Star player: Neymar – Who else? The superstar winger missed the final three months of the league season for PSG but still managed an insane 19 goals and 13 assists in 20 league matches, as well as six goals and three assists in the UEFA Champions League. Neymar scored on his return to the Brazilian side last Sunday and scored on a beautiful solo move, but there are questions as to his fitness after missing so long with a serious ankle injury. Brazil goes as Neymar goes.


Manager: Tite (pronounced Chee-Chee) – Unlike some managers in Brazil, Tite was afraid to admit that he didn’t have all the answers and spend time in Europe learning from the world’s best coaches. After taking over a struggling Brazilian side, he led them on a nine-game winning streak as the side breezed through qualifying. He’s figured out all the right buttons to press to get the best out of his side, and Brazil – based on talent and form – are certainly one of the favorites at the World Cup thanks to him.


Secret weapon: Paulinho – It’s hard for the world’s most popular team to have any players considered a “secret,” but let’s go with Paulinho. The central midfielder failed to make an impact at Tottenham and it appeared his career was on a tailspin. Paulinho cashed in on his European adventure at the time for a massive contract in China, but reunited with his former coach – Tite – from Brazilian club Corinthians, Paulinho returned to his best for the Selecao, which ended up helping get him to Barcelona. Paulinho is an energetic box-to-box midfielder, who has a knack for making late runs into the box and scoring goals, but he can also defend deep and provide cover to the backline. With wingbacks that love to bomb forward, Paulinho’s role will be very important at the World Cup, ensuring that the defenders behind him aren’t left stranded.


Prediction: Combined with a manageable group and a decent draw, Brazil has every chance of making the World Cup semifinals again, and this time, winning the whole thing. If Neymar is back to full fitness and can continue scoring goals at a record pace for the national team, there’s no reason why Brazil can’t win. Brazil should make it at least to the semifinals, and we think they’ll go all the way and lift the FIFA World Cup trophy.

Which Premier League players will be at World Cup?

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There are 107 players from the Premier League who are going to the 2018 World Cup.

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Manchester City have more players going to the tournament (16) than any other club in the world, while the English national team are the only country in the entire competition to have 100 percent of their players from their domestic league.

Belgium have an incredible 11 of their 23-man squad who play in the Premier League, while Senegal and Brazil have six players each from the PL and Argentina, Denmark and France boast five players each in their final rosters.

Below is a breakdown of the PL players heading to Russia this summer, with players from recently relegated teams in 2017/18 and teams coming up to the PL in 2018/19 included.

Here’s a country-by-country breakdown.


Argentina
Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United)
Marcos Rojo (Manchester United)
Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City)
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Willy Caballero (Chelsea)


Australia
Mat Ryan (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town)


Belgium
Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)
Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur)
Mousa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur)
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United)
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
Nacer Chadli (West Bromwich Albion)


Brazil
Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)
Danilo (Manchester City)
Fernandinho (Manchester City)
Willian (Chelsea)
Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Ederson (Manchester City)


Colombia
David Opsina (Arsenal)
Jose Izquierdo (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham Hotspur)


Croatia
Dejan Lovren (Liverpool)


Denmark
Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)
Andreas Christensen (Chelsea)
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Mathias Jorgensen (Huddersfield Town)
Jonas Lossl (Huddersfield Town)


England
Jack Butland (Stoke City)
Jordan Pickford (Everton)
Nick Pope (Burnley)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur)
Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Gary Cahill (Chelsea)
Phil Jones (Manchester United)
John Stones (Manchester City)
Harry Maguire (Leicester City)
Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur)
Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur)
Fabian Delph (Manchester City)
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea, on loan at Crystal Palace)
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
Jesse Lingard (Manchester United)
Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)
Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)


Egypt
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal)


France
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur)
Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
Olivier Giroud (Chelsea)
N'Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City)


Germany
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)
Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City)


Iceland
Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton)
Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley)


Japan
Maya Yoshida (Southampton)
Shinji Kagawa (Leicester City)


Korea Republic
Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur)
Ki Sung-Yueng (Swansea City)


Mexico
Javier Hernandez (Mexico)


Morocco
Roman Saiss (Wolverhampton Wanderers)


Nigeria
Wifried Ndidi (Leicester City)
Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City)
Victor Moses (Chelsea)
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal)


Peru
Andre Carrillo (Watford)


Poland
Jan Bednarek (Southampton)
Grzegorz Krychowiak (West Brom, on loan from PSG)
Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)


Portugal
Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)
Joao Mario (West Ham United, on loan from Inter Milan)
Cedric Soares (Southampton)
Adrien Silva (Leicester City)


Serbia
Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace)
Nemanja Matic (Manchester United)
Dusan Tadic (Southampton)
Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United, on loan at Fulham)


Senegal
Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Idrissa Gueye (Everton)
Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham United)
Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City)
Alfred N'Diaye (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Badou Ndiaye (Stoke City)


Spain
David De Gea (Manchester United)
Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Nacho Monreal (Arsenal)
David Silva (Manchester City)


Sweden
Victor Lindelof (Manchester United)
Martin Olsson (Swansea City)
Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea City)


Switzerland
Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)
Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City)


Tunisia
Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City)


Neymar set to return to action in Brazil-Croatia friendly

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LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Neymar is set to play for Brazil on Sunday for the first time since being injured in February.

But the striker will only come on in the second half of the friendly game against Croatia in Liverpool, Brazil coach Tite said at a news conference on Saturday.

Neymar has been sidelined for more than three months due to surgery on his right foot.

“He will be on the bench because he is in the process of recovery and will play in the second half because this is a match to prepare the whole team,” Tite said. “I don’t know who will leave. He has to have a leading role, but the others have to have leading roles as well.”

Brazil’s team on Sunday was unveiled as Alisson; Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda and Marcelo; Casemiro, Paulinho and Fernandinho; Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Willian.

Asked whether that would be his starting lineup if the World Cup began now, Tite said “Yes” three times.

“At this moment they are the best and we have to work with the current moment,” Tite said.

That would mean defender Thiago Silva, Brazil’s captain at the 2014 World Cup, getting his place back in the starting lineup alongside Miranda, leaving his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Marquinhos out.

“It was very difficult to choose,” Tite said. “When Marquinhos got injured a few months ago, Thiago stepped in and did great. Sometimes it pains my heart and I have to decide. It would be fair to have any of those three in the team.”

Still, Tite said he could change his mind before the World Cup begins. Brazil’s opener is on June 17 against Switzerland. Costa Rica and Serbia are also in Group E.

Brazil’s coach denied that the midfield formation with Casemiro, Fernandinho and Paulinho would be too cautious.

Midfielder Renato Augusto, who plays more as a pacemaker, was injured earlier in the week during training and replaced by Manchester City’s Fernandinho.

Five-time World Cup champion Brazil will not have a single captain for the tournament and 21-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus will lead the team on Sunday.

“We will keep sharing (the captaincy) in the World Cup. But with athletes that are more experienced, they will be used more,” Tite said.

Croatia was deliberately picked by Brazil as a tough opponent, and coaching assistant Cleber Xavier said it was a test similar to the one Brazil will face against Serbia.

“Croatia has many players in Italy, Spain. Their midfielders are great and they play with two lines of four players. Luka Modric here is different from the one of Real Madrid. It will be a great test,” Xavier said.

Modric said Brazil was better than the team which opened the 2014 World Cup against Croatia in Sao Paulo. Brazil won that game 3-1 with two goals from Neymar.

“But we have improved too, so this will be a good game,” Modric said.

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