Brazil vs Chile: Three Things I Liked, Three Things I Didn’t, and Three Things to Take Away
Brazil defeated Chile 2-1 on Tuesday night in Canada with our very own Kachisaw in attendance. It was a competitive and cagey match, dominated by both sides attempting to press the receiver of the ball and win back possession in the midfield as quickly as possible. The difference between the two was in their approach after having won the ball. Chile attempted to keep possession and spread play around the whole of the pitch, whereas Brazil seemed intent on taking advantage of Chile’s high defensive line by launching attacks as quickly as possible, often taking advantage of the balls over the top. As the match wore on, Brazil began to sit deeper in defense and absorb pressure, but for the majority of the game, their philosophy was very similar to the Confederations Cup final against Spain, albeit even more frenetic and with poorer execution.
As a result, Chile saw more of the ball, while Brazil had better chances to score. Both sides were fairly wasteful. Chile’s back line coughed up possession cheaply on numerous occasions, one of which led to Hulk’s opener. Brazil, on the other hand, concentrated their profligacy in front of goal. (Neymar, Oscar, and Robinho all wasted glorious chances to score, among others.) It wasn’t the highest quality match, with fatigue the main culprit. There were a lot of tired legs and even tireder minds out there tonight, and the amount of mental mistakes made by both sides was far higher than the norm.
All that said, this might have been the perfect bookend to Brazil’s year. While it would have been nice to see them end on a dominant note, that probably wouldn’t have helped them in the long run. Their confidence should be assured after winning the Confederations Cup, while the long string of routs that followed, leaving the corpses of many an international side in their wake, only cemented their renewed standing among the world’s best. So confidence isn’t what Brazil really needs at the moment. Chile pushed Brazil, and in one key aspect of the game, the midfield, surpassed them. Perhaps this will serve as a useful warning against complacency – the World Cup isn’t won yet, and there’s a lot more work to be done.
All in all, 2013 was the best year for the Selecao since 2009, and there are a lot of eerie similarities to four years ago. Both teams won the Confederations Cup. Both teams scored vital victories against sides that were supposed to be better than them: away to Argentina in ‘09, and home to Spain in ‘13. Both teams ended the year on spectacular streaks: Brazil topped their qualifying campaign in ‘09, and Scolari and co. ended the year as the hottest country on the planet. Finally, both teams had slight hiccups right at the very end. Dunga’s Brazil drew 0-0 at home to Venezuela, while Brazil came back down to earth a little bit against Chile.
We can only hope the similarities stop here.
I’ll have a three-part article coming up toward the end of this month that recaps the year that was and looks ahead to the year ahead, but for now, let’s take a quick peek at the match we just witnessed.
Three Things I Liked
In 2011, shortly before the Olympics, Mano Menezes introduced a new facet to his otherwise nondescript coaching philosophy: pressing. Against Denmark, the USA, Mexico and Argentina, Brazil actively pressed the opponent’s back line to good result. The team also pressed against Egypt in the opening round of the tournament. And then…they stopped. For reasons known only to Mano, their high-tempo pressing made like Keyser Soze and vanished, never to return.
Under Scolari, Brazil has brought pressing back…but more judiciously. Note that I’m speaking solely about high-intensity pressing. (”Swarming” might be an even better term.) Scolari seems to know when he’s up against a midfield superior to his own, and his response is not to adjust his line-up, but to press. While I take issue with the “not adjusting his line-up” part, his decisions about when to press high and hard have been masterful. Take our first goal of the evening. It came as the result of a poor give away, but the only reason the ball was given away so cheaply in the first place was because Jo was pressing the dribbler.
2. Hulk’s first touch
Where has this been? I’ll tell you where it’s been: in Portugal. But after finally catching up with him in Russia, Hulk’s missing first touch stayed with him for his trip across the ocean. For the second straight match, Hulk has masterfully controlled tough passes in the box before finishing with aplomb. We can talk about his two excellent finishes another night, but it’s his first touch that really impressed me. A few months ago, Hulk would have totally mishandled Oscar’s pass, forcing himself to snatch at the ball instead of placing it. But Hulk has found his form and confidence in the wintery climes of former Leningrad. The tension I wrote about in September seems to have vanished, and I for one couldn’t be happier.
I still think there’s no question that Hulk works best coming off the bench. Willian or Bernard allows us to set a collective tempo better, and it’s notable that after about the first 35 minutes, Hulk’s influence in the game waned (his superb strike in the 2nd half notwithstanding.) While Willian played well off the bench, Hulk would likely have been an even more effective substitute, given his ability to directly run past flagging Chilean defenders. Note that I am by no means criticizing Scolari’s decision to start Hulk for this match, as it paid enormous dividends. But for the future, I think the team is better served with Hulk as a super-sub.
One other note on Hulk. In this match, he played on the left-wing, just as he did against Honduras. It’s the second straight time that he’s performed well on this side, after playing awfully there under both Mano and earlier this year. Whether this is due to his recent form, or if he’s somehow weaned himself off his reliance on Robben-impersonations, I don’t know.
Aside for one moment of predictable madness, which we’ll get into in a moment, Brazil’s defense looked compact and organized for the entire night. The team did a good job of never letting anyone be forced to defend on an island, with all the defenders keeping in close contact with each other, blocking channels and closing down gaps quickly. Thiago Silva was his predictable self, always reading the game correctly. David Luiz made several crucial blocks on the edge of the box, and one superb tackle late in the 2nd half to deny Chile a chance to go 1v1 with Julio Cesar. Maxwell did well keeping Alexis Sanchez confined to harmless areas, and Maicon kept his flank quiet all night long. Special mention should go to Luis Gustavo, perhaps the best of all: he pressed with conviction and tackled with gusto throughout the whole match. Brazil have only conceded 6 goals since June, and 3 of those came from ghastly individual errors from players who should know better (Thiago Silva against Uruguay, Dani Alves against Switzerland, and Maicon against Portugal.) As a whole, Brazil’s defense has been extremely tough to break down.
Bonus Thing I Liked: Neymar’s second-half performance
But wait, didn’t Neymar miss an awful chance to score? Yes, he did. And as a whole, his night was a fairly poor one…at least by his high standards. But Neymar was miles better in the second half than he was in the first. In the first half, he was playing for himself, with needless indulgence and Lucas Moura-style blinders on. And his decision-making was awful. On several occasions, Neymar found himself conducting a wide open counter-attack only to over-hit the pass, choose the wrong teammate, or wait too long and end up missing the opportunity.
I said in the match thread that I hoped someone would give Neymar a stern talking to at halftime. Whether that happened, I don’t know, but here’s what I do know: Neymar played far smarter in the second half. He started looking for teammates on counters far more than he did himself, and should have gotten himself an assist after a beautiful, scything through-ball to Robinho. He also fed Hulk and Paulinho for excellent chances as well. Finally, his vision to pick out Maicon was absolutely key to the second goal.
True, he somehow contrived to miss yet another glorious chance to score. It’s a major problem, but also a discussion for another day. For now, it was good to see Neymar work to correct his own mistakes.
Three Things I Didn’t Like
This is less fun, so I’ll be brief:
1. Paulinho and Luis Gustavo against more technical midfields
Neither man had a bad game; in fact, Gustavo had a very good one. But as I’ve sad time and time again, their partnership just cannot maintain possession, nor consistently deliver the ball where it needs to be, against high-tempo, technical midfields. They couldn’t do it against Wilshere and England, nor Mexico, nor Uruguay for long stretches, nor Switzerland (in their defense, the whole team was miserable in that game) nor tonight against Chile. They don’t have the skill to consistently dribble past their opponents, the quick-thinking to play the ball short into confined areas, nor the range of passes to – again, the key word here is consistently – deliver the ball into space for the attackers to run on to.
Scolari clearly knows this, and you can see it in his judicious use of pressing. It’s also apparent in the various formations he’s used. Tonight, he trotted out a very rare (for him) 4-4-2 formation, with Hulk and Oscar almost level with Paulinho and Gustavo on either flank. His reasoning was clear: he wanted to dedicate two extra bodies to the middle third of the pitch, and he knew he would have to rely on Oscar and Hulk to launch attacks. I imagine he also wanted Hulk to provide extra cover on Sanchez.
Maybe this will never end up hurting Brazil, but it’s a weakness, and one I hope we don’t end up talking about after the quarterfinals next summer.
2. David Luiz allowing shots from range
No need to devote a lot of time to this. David Luiz consistently backpedals whenever he’s uncertain of the defensive support around him, ceding instead of closing space. It needs to stop. Rooney burned him on it, Balotelli burned him on it, and now Vargas has burned him on it. Oh, and guess what? This is the same Vargas that burned Rever at almost the exact same spot back in April.
It’s simple: David Luiz simply has to close down on the dribbler. Otherwise, he’s giving the opponent a training ground shot. If he closes down and gets bypassed, fine. But stop backpedaling!
What do we do about Jo? On the one hand, he’s got a good strike rate for Brazil. On the other hand, they’ve all been fairly simple finishes with 98% of the work done by someone else. On the other hand, he does work hard when it comes to pressing. On the other hand, his back-to-goal and link-up play is woeful (save for one match against South Korea.) On the other hand, at least he tries. On the other hand, if trying is all that counts, give me a yellow shirt. Put me in, coach, I’m ready.
It might be a bit unfair to single him out here, because this is exactly the kind of match he WOULD struggle in: high-tempo, lightning fast counters, etc. He just doesn’t possess the skills to operate effectively in such a contest.
It’s frustrating that there isn’t an obvious alternative, and it’s getting REALLY late in the game to be experimental. If Jo ends up making the final squad (and I think he will), than so be it. He’s seized his chances as best as he’s physically able. But we’ll be bringing the homeless-man’s version of Serginho to a must-win tournament, and if that doesn’t keep you up at night, I want whatever it is your taking.
Three Things to Take Away
1. Barring injury, Maicon has booked himself a spot on this team.
But will Scolari start him? Somehow, I still doubt it, even though his performances have far surpassed anything Dani Alves has done in years.
2. Bernard looks to have locked up his roster spot, too
This is pure speculation on my part, but I would guess that Bernard not playing tonight is a good sign for him. Scolari knows his quality and doesn’t need to see anymore; tonight’s match was more about having a look at Willian and Robinho.
3. The name of the game now is to avoid injuries
In 2010, both Kaka and Fabiano were battling injuries that severely hampered their effectiveness. If they were both fit, things might have gone differently. As it stands, there is a LOT of football to be played between now and June; one injury to Neymar and things will look pretty bleak. In addition, Thiago Silva, Maicon, Marcelo, and Fred, four key players, are all fairly injury prone.
Watch this space.
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