Seven Conclusions on Scolari’s New Side
It’s extremely premature to draw any meaningful conclusions from Scolari’s first call-up. But we won’t let that stop us, will we? Let’s get started.
1. Scolari has his hand on the pulse of world football far more than Mano Menezes did
When Mano first called his squad against Brazil, I believe he had something like thirteen players who were either domestic based, or had just barely left for Europe. Almost every other player on the side, except for Andre Santos and David Luiz (in Benfica at the time) was based either in Italy, Spain or England. That set a pattern for the next three years, where the vast majority of call-ups came from either inside Brazil or from the Italy-Spain-England triumvirate. Mano was often either extremely slow to call up Portuguese, German or French-based players (I’m not sure he ever called anyone from France, actually), or else he was quick to drop them. This led to a lot of frustrating and bewildering decisions. Hulk’s first call-up was long overdue, the likes of Filipe Luis, Diego and Michel Bastos were never selected, and Luis Gustavo and Fernandinho couldn’t hold down regular places in the team.
I said about a month back that one benefit to hiring Scolari is that he has far more international experience than Mano did. He’s coached at home and abroad on every level. With that in mind, I thought it likely that Scolari would be more aware of what was happening in the Atletico Madrid’s and Bayern Munich’s in the world. Again, it’s too early to really determine if this is true, but the early signs look promising. Obviously, everyone reading these words will have known about my long-time frustration at Filipe Luis’ exclusion, while Dante, the Bayern centerback, has his own supporters. As far as I can tell, neither player has any sort of sizable following in Brazil, so it wasn’t domestic pressure that led to their call-ups today. Even a lot of the more famous international writers out there have barely mentioned the likes of Filipe, Dante, or Miranda, so to see Scolari select them is a testament that he’s aware of what’s going on abroad, and that he knows which members of the Brazilian footballing diaspora are in good form.
To be sure, Scolari’s choices aren’t perfect. There are a few notable exclusions, like Fernandinho, Willian, Diego, Fernando Reges and others, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. And while there are a few “WTF?” choices, like the journeyman Arouca, all-in-all you have to feel that Scolari is off to a good start. Maybe he didn’t hit a homerun, but he at least got a double. (Sorry for mixing sports metaphors.)
2. Scolari isn’t playing favorites…so far
I’ll be honest; I was worried about this one. There was talk toward the end of last year that Scolari would choose players he was familiar and comfortable with. Lucio’s name was banded about, and even – heaven help us – Gilberto Silva. I’m not against their call up on principle, but players of their ilk haven’t demonstrated an international level of quality for a long time. I was preparing myself to see a list of names culled from a 2002 poster, but the only call-up from Scolari’s last go-around is Ronaldinho.
Whether Scolari persists in calling up players long after they’ve proven themselves inept, as Mano did, remains to be seen.
Another thing Scolari seems to have avoided so far are the shadier selections that haunted Mano’s early years. How many Corinthians based players did we see, for no apparent reason? How many players tied to certain power brokers lurking on the fringes of the footballing world? A lot. I don’t see anything like that so far with Scolari. Again, though, time will tell.
3. Scolari won’t bow to domestic pressure
I mentioned this in my last article. He proved himself immune to media campaigns during the Romario saga of 2002. This can be a positive or a negative, but in this case, I think it’s positive. Again, Mano’s first call-up had something like thirteen domestic players. Scolari’s has six, and one of them is a no-brainer in Neymar. Even among the other five, the only one that makes you shake your head is Arouca. I don’t agree with Ronaldinho and Fred’s selections, but at least they’re not left-field choices like Ralf, Rever or Andre were, back in the day. (By left field, I don’t mean relative to their position in the Brasileirão. I mean relative to who else was available on the entire planet Earth.) Even Fred, one-dimensional as he is, can lay a solid claim to being the best Brazilian center-forward currently playing. (I maintain that a grotesquely overweight Ronaldo was more exciting and dynamic in fifteen minutes against Romania than Fred was in 9 matches, but nevertheless.)
4. Scolari is going to build his team around veterans
There are only three U23 players in this side: Neymar, Oscar, and Lucas Moura. All of them inevitable choices. But there’s no Leandro Damiao, Juan Jesus, Philippe Coutinho, Marquinhos, Bernard, Dede, Wellington Nem, Rafael Cabral or Rafael da Silva to be hound. Some of them might come later, whilst others, like Pato, aren’t available. But in his first press conference, Scolari made a point of wanting to use more veterans, and whilst he didn’t call-up the aforementioned Lucio, the vast majority of his call-ups are players who have been around for a while. That’s consistent with his approach last time, too. Back in 2002, he only relied on 2 younger players in Lucio and Ronaldinho, surrounding them with either 90’s era veterans or players in their mid-to-late twenties, like Gilberto Silva.
This is one area to keep an eye on. Having veterans in your side is important, but a manager, in my opinion, should never systematically call players up based on age. There’s just too many examples of the dead-and-buried coming back to life (look at Branco back in ‘94) or of young princes dethroning complacent kings and taking their place on the throne. (Think Pele and Garrincha in ’58.)
5. Scolari wants to build around a classic center forward
“I like to play with a player who is a point of reference between our midfield and the opponent’s penalty area.” These were Scolari’s words back in November. And his call-up seems to reflect this, as he’s chosen two out-and-out center forwards in Fabiano and Fred, and another, Hulk, who can function as one.
It’s no surprise, really. In 2002, Scolari used Ronaldo as a classic center forward. For Portugal, it was Pauleta who served as his “reference point.” At Chelsea he was a bit more flexible, but one of his preferred formations was the 4-1-4-1, alternating between Drogba and Anelka up top. I expect Fred to get the starting nod at Wembley.
6. Yet Scolari is not averse to experimenting with formations
In the last article, I talked about how there’s no classic Scolari formation. 5-2-3/3-4-3, 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, 4-5-1…Scolari has used them all. The most intriguing possibility is a three-man back line with wingbacks.
I don’t think Scolari will use this formation right off the bat, but I think he wants to try it. He’s definitely picked the right players. Dani Alves functions best as a wingback anyway, and both Filipe Luis and Adriano play the role well, too. The most intriguing thing would be how he uses David Luiz. He’s already mentioned his interest in trying Luiz in the midfield. That would seem far more feasible in a 3-4-3 system, and indeed, many of us here have been talking about returning to that formation with Luiz in the midfield since 2011. On the other hand, he might use Luiz a la Edmilson in 2002, as one of his three center-backs. Edmilson was given relatively free license to venture forward, for a center-back, knowing he had two other defenders to help cover him. David Luiz has advanced the, er, art of recklessly moving out of position even farther than his predecessor.
In 2002, Scolari flanked Ronaldo with two players in Rivaldo and Ronaldinho who started in wide positions but constantly cut in, vacating spaces on the wings for Roberto Carlos and Cafu to occupy. Fast forward ten years. Neymar and Hulk operate almost exactly the same way.
I expect Scolari to be a bit more conservative to start out with…but I don’t expect the formation we see against England to be the last formation he uses. Want further proof? Look to Scolari himself:
“David Luiz has played most of his games since the Club World Cup as a defensive midfielder,” Scolari told reporters.“He’s a third centre-back, but who plays in front[of the defensive line]. He has this ability and it gives us an alternative. I think it’s a good chance to try this during the game, but we won’t start like this. To sort this, we need time for training to work on the fine details of positioning. For now, it is an alternative for during the games, but we won’t start like that.”
- Per www.sambafoot.com
7. Scolari has chosen a very attacking side
Look at the names below:
Goalkeepers: Júlio César (QPR), Diego Alves (Valencia)
Defenders: Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Adriano (Barcelona), Filipe Luis (Atlético Madrid), Dante (Bayern), David Luiz (Chelsea), Leandro Castán (Roma), Miranda (Atlético Madrid)
Midfielders: Arouca (Santos),Paulinho (Corinthians), Hernanes (Lazio), Ronaldinho (Atlético Mineiro), Ramires (Chelsea), Oscar (Chelsea)
Forwards: Hulk (Zenit), Fred (Fluminense), Luis Fabiano (São Paulo), Neymar (Santos), Lucas Moura (PSG)
Aside from Miranda and Dante, there’s not a single out-and-out defensively minded player on the team. The fullbacks all like to get forward, whilst Arouca, Paulinho and Ramires are more the box-to-box midfielder type. Certainly they’re not classic holding players. Everyone else on the team loves to attack.
This all lends weight to my theory that Scolari would like to use a three-man backline, with David Luiz in the midfield, as a way of allowing plenty of players to get forward while ensuring he has enough cover at all times.
I have one concern here, though. With Sandro injured, Lucas Leiva unfit, and Fernando Reges ignored, we have no real defensive anchor in the midfield. That’s fine, from an attacking sense, but I worry this team is going to be vulnerable on the counter-attack, with opposing sides doubling up on the full-backs, then enfilading down their lines to get behind the defense. This is one reason I think Brazil should have a defensive anchor in the midfield, to help cover for the fullbacks. I’ve gone on record time and time again that an overly-defensive double-pivot, with no deep-lying playmaker, is a modern tradition best abandoned. But I don’t necessarily want to see Brazil go too far the other way, either. In any case, it will be fascinating to see the ramifications of Scolari’s first, fairly aggressive opening selection.
So we’re finally afforded our first look at Scolari’s new-look Brazil. It’s not perfect, but I see definite progress. At the very least, February’s matchup versus England should make for a fascinating contest.
Scolari has passed, to an extent, his first test. Now let’s see if he can get his team to pass their second.
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