“Like Neymar, Tite does not dare whereas, in Europe, coaches like Roberto Mancini has shown everyone how to bring the best out of a young unit if you just pass your daring mentality to them – such mentalities are contagious and captures not only the imagination of the players but the others as well”

 

While at the temple of Brazil football – Maracana, Argentina and Lionel Messi celebrated the end of the 28-year old trophy drought, the Brazilians were left pondering what went wrong! They were the host and defending champions and possessed the players to win back-to-back Copa America titles, still, when it mattered, they were outweighed by an opponent, who caught them on the counter and then defended their one-goal lead – Brazil failed to breach an Argentine defence whereas their attackers were known much better than the arch-rivals.

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Argentian would build up their side relying on defensive solidity –  Lionel Scaloni set Argentina up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Angel Di María and Giovani Lo Celso operating as wide midfielders and captain Lionel Messi alongside Lautaro Martínez in the front two.

One key pattern involved left-back Marcos Acuna pushing further forward in possession, which left Argentina with more of a back three but allowed Lo Celso to narrow into central midfield from his starting position on the left.

Di María would hold his wider position on the right flank; this allowed Messi to drop into the right inside channel, while Martínez operated as a more traditional centre-forward in occupying Brazil’s centre-backs.

Lo Celso’s narrowing into more of a three-man central midfield alongside Leandro Paredes and Rodrigo De Paul also gave Argentina cover when they lost the ball inside Brazil’s half. Lo Celso and Rodrigo covered the spaces inside Di Maria and Acuña, leaving Paredes to focus on blocking central access into Brazil’s forwards. This second line of three did well in limiting Brazil’s breaks after they began to use a much deeper block to defend against Argentina’s front line.

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Tite surfaced a team with the 4-3-3 formation and when they defended, the formation transformed to 4-4-2 and guess what, their back four left spaces to exploit – Rodrigo de Paul exploited it and a mistake by Ranan Lodi presented Di maria with the opportunity to take the lead and Argentina did nothing but defended.

Argentina adapted their attack so Messi could drop deeper and contribute more to the build-up, especially in central midfield. Di María then moved higher with the intent to cut inside from wide, almost as a second centre-forward.

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Right-back Gonzalo Montiel could then push forward for the first time in the game; the central midfielders were able to cover for the full-backs on both sides, especially with Messi dropping to maintain numbers in central midfield.

It seems that Argentina would go for ore, but what they really did was centre and midblock – filling up the spaces and slowing down the rhythm of the Brazilian midfielders and attackers.

The introduction of Nicolas Tagliafico at left-back enabled Acuña to move forward and established a stronger defensive set-up against Brazil’s increasing threat from the right while maintaining the same attacking structure.

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Argentina came out successful while Neymar and Tite failed.

If anyone goes by the numbers, then Neymar would come out as the lone performer for Brazil at Maracana, but the quality of a player does not depend on just big-fat statistics, but intensity and character determine how good a player is when the defence is stubborn and ragged.

For example during the Round of 16 clash against the host USA on the Independence Day of the US, the hosts dished out a defiant defensive display against Brazil where it became hard for the Selecao to get past the defenders and goalkeeper Toni Miola.

That Brazilian unit was dubbed as one of the most pragmatic units ever in the history of Brazil’s World Cup journey before the Carlos Dunga era. Carlos Alberto Parreira built up a unit relying on Romario and what he discovered around him were a bunch of pragmatic exhibitionists – thus, it was up to Romario to show much more determination and intensity.

The more the opposition defenders showed their stubbornness, Romario breached their fort with astute footwork, vision, pace and goal-scoring intensity.

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He believed he was the best and in the end, he proved his point to the world.

One could witness from the World Cup in Russia when Neymar is tracked down or attacking spaces are narrowed by the better teams in the international arena, he loses his intensity and the clinical finishes fade with the progression of the match.

It is a matter about temperament rather than boosting the stats – if you think, your opponent player is your friend and better than you, then it always becomes hard to build up that champion like mentality and perhaps, at Maracna, Neymar was thinking about his friend rather than saving the prestige of Marcana where Brazil is invincible for more than four decades.

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Neymar’s vulnerability against a stubborn defence was evident against Chile and Colombia during World Cup 2014 while against Belgium at Kazan in 2018 – he was not up to the mark by his standard.

Neymar is a marvellous player but he is still not like Romario, Bebeto, Ronaldo O Fenomeno, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo let alone Pele and Garrincha – because Neymar does not think like a champion, rather, he is happy where he is and does not push the limit like his predecessors.

Champions are not born but made.

God might gift you the talent, but it depends on your mentality to take it to the next level.

On the other hand, under Tite, Brazil boast an amazing record – it does look very good when read the number of matches Brazil won under him, but still, now, Tite has delivered the brand of football people like to relish in patches.

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Like Neymar, Tite does not dare whereas, in Europe, coaches like Roberto Mancini has shown everyone how to bring the best out of a young unit if you just pass your daring mentality to them – such mentalities are contagious and capture not only the imagination of the players but the others as well.

A change of mentality can change everything.

Under him, Brazil have been pragmatic and suffered due to his selection policies.

Copa America was the opportunity to try and the players available and despite CONMEBOL letting teams call up 28 players instead of the usual 23, Tite persisted with essentially the same group of 24 players you called up for World Cup qualifying earlier in the month – the only change was Rodrigo Caio making way for Thiago Silva once the latter recovered from his injury.

Why the last four sports were not exploited remains a moot question!

Maybe the CONMEBOL made the change too late to call up anyone from Europe and clubs in Brazil were unwilling to give up any more of their players.

Or, maybe the CBF was prioritizing the Olympics and so Olympic-age players were largely given preference for that tournament, only for some of them to be forbidden to go by their clubs after the deadline had passed for Copa America.

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Tite selected a stagnant midfield.

Casemiro and Fabinho were the obvious best choices to anchor it, and Lucas Paqueta proved to be a pretty decent number 10, but otherwise, his only options were Fred, who’s a decent passer but can’t compete physically; Douglas Luiz, who he barely played, possibly since he’s also in the Olympic squad; and Everton Ribeiro, who is 32 and couldn’t produce anything like Paqueta’s creative impact.

Somehow, there both weren’t any good options to shore things up when under pressure (since Tite seemed reluctant to have Casemiro and Fabinho on the pitch at the same time), and nobody to add any creativity if Paqueta was tired or ineffective.

Obviously, Arthur’s development has stagnated pretty badly, and three extremely promising replacements: Gerson, Claudinho, Bruno Guimaraes were called for the Olympics instead, but surely one or two more options in this sector couldn’t have hurt.

In the midfield, Brazil still miss the qualities of Philippe Coutinho whose pace and skill have injected life in so many matches. But the downfall of Coutinho does not mean, Brazil don’t have the options – they have plenty of options available to mobilize that midfield as for example – Claudinho of Red bull Bragantino.

Then the tactics of Tite, which needs to adapt to the counter of the opposition and exhibit more dynamism.

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Tite has tested the 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 0r 4-5-1 and during an attack, it switches to 4-1-5 or 4-2-4: They all are good formations, but without pace and dynamism, they are not fruitful.

In Copa America, Tite tried to tire out the opposition and they are on the ropes, he would go for the kill and for which, Brazil had been dull and slow starters in the first half which backfired as the tournament progressed.

Starting slowly has never been the Brazilian style of play and also, it never reaps a rich harvest.

The opposition caught Brazil during transitions because on the left Neymar’s lack of defensive abilities as when left-back pushed high up the pitch to provide width in behind and combine with Neymar, who ideally cuts into the middle and thus not providing that width.

The midfielders like Fred slid left to cover the space the left-back leaves behind. On the other side of the pitch, the right-back took up a more conservative position, closer to being in line with the number 8 than with the left-back.

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This left the right-winger as the primary party responsible for providing width and runs in behind on the right side—and so one who prefers to cut inside could a liability defensively.

The need for a right-winger was evident and Tite tried Gabriel Jesus, Richarlison and Everton Soares in those positions unsuccessfully. Jesus on the wide right is good but not better, Richarlison and Soares are more oriented on the left. One could witness how Richarlison and Soares struggle – also, why Neymar should always start from the left and come centrally. Rather, like his predecessors, he could start more centrally.

At the wing-back position, Danilo and Alex Sandro have nothing to offer, rather, think about alternatives.

Talents like Emerson Royal, Raphinha, Luiz Felipe, Matheus Cunha, Gabriel Menino, Gabriel Veron, Reinier Jesus, Rodrygo Goes, Claudinho, Antony, Gabriel Martinelli, Tete, Talles Magno, Kaio Jorge and so many others are out there to deliver for Brazil. Yes, not all of them could be picked, but the right ones could be and Tite just needs to put the right player in the right position.

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