Neymar is really important player for his team – just one of the more obvious 5 learnings from Brazil’s 2-0 friendly win over Croatia
5 – Thiago Silva is still Brazil’s best defender
Despite having been excluded from the national team for a long time, Paris Saint Germain captain Thiago Silva made a spectacular comeback under Brazil boss Tite, and was able to help the side keep three clean sheets in his last three appearances as a starter, against Russia, Germany and Croatia respectively.
The 33-year-old was rock solid in his penalty box today, and did not allow the Croatians to win any significant duels. A beast in aerial battles and a monster in one-on-one challenges, Thiago is set to displace Marquinhos in Russia.
4 – Brazil’s system requires ball-playing defenders
Croatia finished the first half with a mere 35% possession of the ball. Their strategy was to work on Brazil’s mistakes by applying high pressure in the opening minutes, then sitting deep and relying on counters. This strategy almost managed to come through, as Joao Miranda and Danilo Luiz lost possession on more than one occasion when pressed by the opposition.
Miranda in particular needs to improve his passing and avoid cheap giveaways. Playing the ball from the back is crucial to maintain balance in Tite’s system, which is completely different from the outdated center-back to striker strategy that Felipe Scolari used back in 2014.
3 – Neymar is the number difference maker
No matter how good Brazil plays without Neymar, his presence is always important for the team and gives this technical superiority in 50/50 games. You only need to defend well, and then you know that just in case your attacking unit failed to snatch the all-important goal, the brilliance of the PSG star gives you a big advantage over the opposition.
Neymar’s arrival meant that Philippe Coutinho would return to midfield, and that Willian would benefit from less attention on him to sneak in and cause havoc. The combination of the three stars directly resulted in the opener, as Neymar JR danced his way through the Croatian defense before scoring a screamer.
2 – Willian is under-appreciated
Despite all the never-ending criticism he keeps on receiving, Willian has once again shown that he’s got everything to be Brazil’s secret weapon at the World Cup. He may not be someone who carries a big team to the top, but he is certainly one of the best players you can find, who are able to play a supporting role to the main star.
Neymar won’t find anyone better than Willian who works hard and adds work-rate to maintain defensive balance, allowing the other aces of the team to concentrate on their primary roles. In addition to that, his change in pace is often enough to shake off his marker and deliver deadly crosses to the penalty box.
1 – Roberto Firmino deserves more minutes
Liverpool’s best player in their Champions League campaign after helping them reach the final with spectacular displays throughout the competition, Roberto Firmino has shown his critics that not being able to do it for Brazil is nothing more than a myth.
The 26-year old came on and had an immediate impact as Brazil’s performance improved, before being on the receiving end of Casemiro’s diagonal ball, controlling it with his chest and lobbing the goalkeeper to give Brazil their second strike of the day. His competition with Gabriel Jesus for the number nine spot, promises to be exciting.