Choosing Brazil’s Best XI and Best Formation
If you decided to make a list of all the problems still plaguing this team, what would it consist of?
Here’s mine. In no particular order…
1. Inconsistent use of width
2. Lack of playmaking from deeper positions
3. Our flanks are easy for the opposing team to exploit
4. Poor defending on set pieces
5. Neymar’s tendency to isolate himself on the left flank
6. Poor off-ball movement
7. Inconsistent center-backs
After I wrote down the list, I tried to think of how to select a team to fix or minimize as many of these problems as possible. I was having trouble doing it. The main reason why I was having trouble was that whenever I picked players to solve one issue, it would either neglect or even worsen another issue.
Then I realized something: every single selection I made was with Mano’s 4-2-3-1 or alt. 4-3-2-1 system in mind.
So I thought, why not change our basic formation? After all, we’re dealing with hypotheticals here. Mano’s not like to change, so if we’re fantasizing, we might as well go all the way.
Besides, I’ve been growing ever more frustrated with Mano’s 4-2-3-1. I want to emphasize the word “Mano” in that last sentence. I have no issue with the 4-2-3-1 formation in and of itself; in fact I rather like it for the balance it brings to the pitch. The three zones are all covered about equally well, considering that the line of 2 typically has as many defensive duties as the line of 4, and the line of 3 can and should be equally supportive of the two midfielders behind it as well as the lone forward in front of it. It’s a solid defensive formation, but it doesn’t neglect the attacking aspect either.
Yet Mano’s 4-2-3-1 has looked persistently rigid and static. Too often the players look unwilling or uncertain about straying too far out of their zones. Neymar often looks chained to the left wing; the designated center forward, whether it’s Pato, Damiao or Fred, usually seems isolated up top. As a result, off-ball movement stagnates, passing becomes slow and overly cautious, and Thiago Silva gets impatient and starts playing the long-ball more than is wise.
Furthermore, when you have attacking fullbacks who move farther up the pitch, what too often happens is that empty space is left behind them that the opposing team can exploit. The two central midfielders are forced to move over (which they rarely seem inclined to do) and anyway that often leaves holes in the center of the pitch, which Lionel Messi exploited to great effect back in June.
There’s no reason why the 4-2-3-1 has to have these problems. Joachim Low plays a 4-2-3-1 for Germany, but his teams are as fluid as rainwater. But Joachim Low and Mano Menezes are not the same, and neither are their formations. While things have gotten better recently thanks to the emergence of Oscar, as well as the movement of Hulk, they are still not good enough. (Many readers here have commented on Hulk’s poor dribbling during the Olympics, but what was less noted was that Hulk’s movement is very good – he’s a right winger but he doesn’t hug the wing nearly as much as Neymar does. He can move slightly inside to link up with Oscar, especially in the final third; he tracks back, he gets to the byline…if you go back and watch Brazil against South Korea and in the first half against Mexico, our movement and ball retention looked markedly worse than previously. Yet the only change was Hulk going off for Alex Sandro.)
So I’d like to see the 4-2-3-1 set aside, at least temporarily. And in its place, I’d like to see the return of the 4-4-2.
The 4-4-2 has gotten a reputation as a stodgy, boxy formation that has outlived its usefulness. And sometimes it’s true. But any formation can work if you have the right players manning it and the right manager overseeing it.
So what kind of 4-4-2 would I like to see? If I had my way, I’d give Ney Franco’s 4-4-2 a try, the one he used in the U20 World Cup last year. It’s a staggered 4-4-2 that looked something like this:
And here is who I would choose to man that formation for the senior team, along with their lines of movement:
The following is my choice for the best XI, along with how their selection would fix the problems listed above. (Plus, I genuinely believe each of these players is already in the conversation for being the best at his position.) First alternates are listed in italics.
GK: Diego Alves (Rafael Cabral)
Nothing special about this pick – I think he’s the best goalkeeper Brazil has right now. Rafael would be a fine alternative if you wanted a bigger, more athletic presence between the posts.
Problems he fixes: Inconsistent use of width, defending set pieces
There’s no better wide player we have right now than Maicon. None. He’s undoubtedly lost a half-step in past two years, but he’s still a fast, athletic player. No one is better at overlapping runs (although Jordi Alba is getting there) and his crossing is better for Brazil than Dani Alves’ has ever been. The change in the team’s dynamic when he came on versus Ecuador last year compared to Dani Alves against Paraguay was staggering – we looked like a totally different team. His defensive skills may also have declined somewhat, but it’s not like either Dani Alves or Rafael have looked any better.
An added benefit is Maicon’s height and athleticism – both vital attributes when defending set pieces. Neither Dani Alves or Rafael are much help in that regard. Hopefully Maicon is rejuvenated by his move to England – he’ll definitely be in the limelight, so consistent form could get him back into the national side.
CB: Thiago Silva
He hasn’t been as consistent as you’d expect lately, but I think you can chalk that up to the fact that he was coming back from injury and that he was partnering with – let us be frank here – a defensive buffoon in Juan Jesus. I’m a bit worried that he’s injured again, though, and I don’t think he’s featured for PSG yet. Still, he’s the best we have, and when he’s healthy, the best there is.
CB: Alex (Dede/Miranda)
Problems he fixes: Defending at set pieces, inconsistent centerbacks
Choosing Thiago Silva’s partner in crime has been an exercise in uncertainty. There are plenty of possible partners (Alex, David Luiz, Dede, Miranda, Lucio) but every one of them has a question mark next to their name. Alex has lost some pace and doesn’t have a sterling health record; David Luiz is lovable and talented but you have to wonder if his hair is actually a parasitic organism leaching the smarts from his brain; Dede is athletic and talented but relatively untested; Miranda is very good but never impressed under Dunga; Lucio is old. My first choice, if he’s healthy, would be Alex. On talent alone I think he’s the best of the lot save for Lucio; he’s tall, strong, experienced, and should hopefully form an intuitive partnership with Thiago Silva that could extend to the national team. As alternatives, either Dede or Miranda would be great choices. Dede has got all the potential, and Miranda is in his prime.
LB: Filipe Luis
Problems he fixes: Protects the left flank, inconsistent use of width
Slowly but surely, Filipe Luis seems to be playing his way back into the conversation as one of the world’s great left backs. Given the dearth of great left backs playing today, that’s to be expected. I first fell in love with Filipe Luis during a World Cup Qualifier against Venezuela back in 2009. Dunga’s previous selections, like Marcelo and Andre Santos, had all failed to impress. But Filipe Luis immediately looked like the real deal – he kept his flank quiet, and whenever he got forward it was usually to good effect.
I started watching him for Deportivo La Coruna several times after that, and never once disliked what I saw. Then he was struck down by injury, and his brief window in the sun looked over. It’s to his great credit that he’s recovered as well as he has.
Filipe Luis is the most balanced left back Brazil has. Marcelo is undoubtedly a better attacker, but his temper and his positioning have caused us too many problems. Filipe Luis is a better, smarter defender. In fact, you have to wonder if his presence would help poor David Luiz, who always looked targeted by the opposition. Whether it’s France, Bosnia, Argentina or South Africa, opposing teams always look to infiltrate the left wing in the space vacated by Marcelo or Andre Santos or before him. That puts David Luiz on the bad end of a 2v1 situation, something for which he is ill-suited.
Offensively, Filipe isn’t as dynamic as Marcelo, but he’s not bad himself. He doesn’t have Marcelo’s dribbling skills or ability to create a shot for himself, but he can maintain possession of the ball and he’s a very solid crosser. In fact, as far as crossing goes, I’d actually argue that he’s better than Marcelo. Leandro Damiao or Pato could have a field day trying to get a head on his crosses.
LW: Michel Bastos
Problems he fixes: Protects the left flank, inconsistent use of width, Neymar’s positioning
Michel Bastos is the single biggest reason why I love the staggered 4-4-2 idea. I’ve always wanted to see him called up again, but I was never happy with the idea of dropping Neymar in his favor. The 4-4-2 fixes that problem by moving Neymar higher up and into the center of the pitch. Plus, Bastos can protect the left flank better than Neymar ever could. As a left back, he’s not a great defender. As a left winger, he is a great defender. He’ll track whenever you ask him too, helping Filipe Luis out and in effect turning the left wing into a no man’s land for opposing attackers. Bastos would also provide more genuine width than Neymar, as he doesn’t seek to cut in as much and is an excellent crosser.
The staggered 4-4-2 formation also leaves the door open for Coutinho to take this spot in 2 to 3 years.
Problems they fix: Playmaking out of the back
In this position you can basically alternate between two players as the situation demands. When playing teams that will park the bus or try to contest the midfield, you play Hernanes, who is just too good and too versatile in my opinion to leave off. Hernanes is a decent defender but would be the best playmaker Brazil has had out of the back for a long, long time. He and Bastos gives you extra threats at set pieces. When playing against stronger teams like Germany or Argentina, you put in Fernandinho instead. You trade a little bit of playmaking for a bit better defense.
Anderson is also a possibility here, but until he shows consistent health and consistent form, I don’t think you could justify giving him a call-up.
DM/RM: Fernando Reges
Problems he fixes: Protects the flanks
I’ll be honest – I’m really disappointed in Sandro. I had really, really high hopes for him. When Mano took over, there were four players I thought would explode for the Selecão before the next World Cup: Neymar, Hernanes, Ganso and Sandro.
Well, Neymar is still on target. The latter three haven’t, though Hernanes definitely exploded in Italy and has been shamefully misused by Mano. Ganso looks destined to forever be a “might-have-been.” Sandro still has time, and indeed he started very brightly. His performance over two legs against Milan in the 2010 Champion’s League was a revelation. I don’t know if it’s his benching at Tottenham or what, but Sandro has taken a major step back. He’s still decent, but he no longer looks like the athletic, physical, whirlwind destroyer I thought he was.
Fernando Reges still is, however, and all credit should go to Eric and others who first turned me on to him – previously I hadn’t even known he was a Brazilian. He’s a blazing, muscular presence in the middle of the pitch who commits his entire body into a challenge. He’s also a surprisingly decent passer. But his biggest virtue, at least when it comes to fixing our team’s problems? If you watch him for Porto, he routinely will slide over to cover for the other Maicon. So he would be ideal to partner with Manchester City’s Maicon whenever the latter goes on one of his surging runs forward. In this scenario, the right wing wouldn’t be quite as protected as the left, but a team with Maicon and Fernando Reges is definitely going to be more solid than a team with Rafael and Sandro.
Oscar resumes the position he owned so well under Ney Franco, and his versatility means he’s perfect for it. He can maintain possession of the ball, he can drop back to help Fernando and Fernandinho, and he’s comfortable enough on the right wing that he can slide over to hold up the ball and then lay it off to create overlapping runs for Maicon. Plus, having creative players on either side of him (Hernanes, Maicon) and ahead (Neymar) means he won’t have the entire burden of playmaking thrust on him. And while Oscar is surprisingly strong for his size, and is a willing and able defender for his position, being supported by Fernando Reges would help prevent opposing teams from taking advantage of his slight build.
Problems that moving him fixes: His positioning
Almost everyone here has long been begging Neymar to eschew the left wing for the center, and posters like Steeve Cantave and I think Kachisaw have long wanted to move him closer to goal as well. This formation does both. It’ll allow him the freedom to range around the pitch; it should give him more goal-scoring opportunities; it will prevent him isolating himself on the touchline (which was disastrous in the 1st half against Mexico); and it will relieve him of having to defend. And it means that he and Michel Bastos can be on the pitch at the same time. What’s not to like about this?
CF: Luis Fabiano (Leandro Damiao)
Brazil’s best finisher, and probably its best pure scorer, can resume his place in front of the attack. Or keep Leandro Damiao where he is to help him develop even further, and to take advantage of Filipe Luis, Michel Bastos and Maicon’s crosses.
In my opinion, this lineup and formation:
- Has the most balance between attack and defense, with out-and-out attackers (Neymar, Fabiano) combined with versatile players who help out with both (Michel Bastos, Oscar, Maicon, Hernanes.)
- Generates a lot of width (Filipe Luis, Michel Bastos, Maicon)
- Protects the wings from counter-attack (Filipe Luis, Bastos, Maicon, Fernando)
- Moves our best player to where he should be most effective (Neymar)
- Better defends set pieces (Alex, Maicon, Fernando Reges)
- Provides better playmaking from deep positions (Hernanes/Fernandinho)
- Will have better off-ball movement (with Bastos, Hernanes, and Oscar all intelligent movers, and with Neymar stationed more centrally)
So what do you all think? Please post your opinions below, and feel free to use this post as a match commentary thread for tonight’s game versus China.
Comments are closed
MORE SOUTH AMERICA BLOGS
474 articles | 49,372 comments
761 articles | 10,942 comments
956 articles | 3,475 comments
165 articles | 306 comments
38 articles | 64 comments
162 articles | 620 comments
28 articles | 549 comments
20 articles | 14 comments
9 articles | 11 comments
5 articles | 124 comments