Due to the global pandemic and the postponement of Copa America by a year, Brazil played just four games in 2020. The team’s last outing was in November 2020, against Uruguay, and while their players have been on duty with their clubs, Tite’s side have not had the chance to work together to prepare for this delayed tournament now.
It is still encouraging that Brazil won all four of those games, against Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru. They will be facing Venezuela and Peru in their North Zone group at the tournament, and these recent victories will provide them with some confidence for the initial stages. The Seleção have been impressive under Tite, and the 60-year-old has put a defined style of play in place that focuses on attacking and creativity.
Brazil have a number of impressive individuals, and the challenge, as always with this team, is to mould them into a cohesive unit that is capable of bringing out the best of these players.
Predicted squad list:
Tite’s most-used formation in charge of Brazil is the 4-3-3 although he has also used the 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-3-2 as well. With his current starting XI options, he is most likely to play with a defensive midfielder who could provide more fluidity in the build-up and better protection during defensive transitions.
His goalkeeper options are quite impressive as he has to choose between Ederson (Manchester City), Alisson (Liverpool) and Wéverton (Palmeiras). It is most likely that Ederson will start after an impressive season with Manchester City.
Atletico Madrid’s Renan Lodi is our pick for the left-back spot, as he started all four of Brazil’s games in 2020, although his lack of game time for Atletico in recent months may move Alex Sandro ahead of him in the pecking order. On the opposite flank, Juventus’ Danilo is the most likely right-back. The central defensive pair is likely to be made up of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos, with both players having had impressive seasons with their clubs, and of course, they have had an established partnership during their time together at Paris Saint-Germain as well.
The midfield trio will see Casemiro start ahead of Fabinho as the defensive midfielder, with Éverton Ribeiro and Douglas Luiz on either side. Fabinho, Lucas Paqueta and Fred provide alternative options in this area of the pitch.
It is in attack where Brazil have an embarrassment of riches, and even so, Neymar will continue to be the key player for this side, operating off the left flank. Roberto Firmino is expected to start as the central attacker, from where he will drop deep and link up with the midfield and also create space for the wide attackers to move into. On the right, it is going to be a choice between Richarlison and Gabriel Jesus, with the Everton man more likely to get the nod ahead of Jesus. The likes of Vinicius Junior, Gabriel Barbosa and Everton offer strong alternatives for Tite to consider as well.
As shown in the age profile of the team, in the last year, the Seleção have the right balance between young prospects and experienced players, as well as players who are currently at their peak.
They have enough players for creating a good selection that will be a combination of talent, leadership mentality and technical skills.
The biggest advantage that the Brazilians have in attack is their speed. Relying on creativity and technical abilities is certainly their main trait but executing everything with pace and using their strengths to outplay the opposition is something that they focus on.
The team play possession-based football and like to circulate the ball at the back, but their advanced positioning allows them to quickly progress it to the final third should they see a good opportunity to attack.
The image above shows their advanced positioning and the occupation of the advanced areas. The team have focused on retaining possession and overloading the final third in aim to break through the opposition’s 5-3-2 low block.
Brazil like to have as much time on the ball as possible. They average 551 passes per game with an impressive 89.1% accuracy. Seleção tend to build up from the back as the main passing links are usually the ones between the centre-backs and the full-backs. That’s why they rely on many lateral passes, instead of forward passing, despite their attack-minded approach.
The team often use their central midfielders in efforts to break through the opposition’s pressing structures and progress the ball. As the manager has said, they focus on having possession since then they could outplay the opposition with their skills on the ball.
As shown above, their backline is quite high, and they tend to circulate the ball at the back until they find a way to open the passing lanes and attack. Firmino has dropped deeper to offer an additional passing option and help in the build-up.
They usually focus their attacking actions on creating combinations on the flanks and tend to rely on frequent crossing in efforts to threaten the goal. It is noticeable that when they’ve had Neymar in the starting XI they have relied more on combining on the left in efforts to penetrate their opponents with his help.
That doesn’t mean that they stay away from the central areas, as they do frequently focus their ball progression there, but they averaged 17.25 crosses per 90 in their last four meetings, which underlines their active use of the wide players for creating chances.
In terms of shooting activity, they do produce a higher number of shots on average compared to their opponents, and 52.25% of their shots have been on target, showing their attacking players’ proficiency and concentration.
Brazil also tend to use their speed to counter-attack, although having to react quickly they often lose momentum and it takes away from their accuracy. They averaged 3.5 counters per 90 last year but only 21.4% of them ended with shots.
The image above shows Firmino’s movement on a counter. He outran his opponent to move behind the defence and receive Arthur’s through balls. The team rely on pace and smart movement in their counter-attacking efforts.
Their high line is the starting point of their build-up but would also help in executing their pressing strategy out of possession. The team have been extremely focused on their high press intensity and recovering the ball in the advanced areas to expose the opposition.
Their high press has been successful, especially against teams who tend to give away the initiative and allow being pinned at the back. Brazil wouldn’t be involved in pressing that high against more attack-minded teams but would still focus on gaining back possession as soon as possible and keeping the opposition away from their defensive third. They’d just focus their actions around the central line.
Their man-to-man marking is illustrated above. They made sure to cover each of the ball-near players in aim to recover the ball immediately after the throw-in.
Tite has been very particular in his instructions for the team when they are out of possession. He wants them to keep fighting for the ball:
“The ball is in the air, no possession – fight for it. Because this is how to play when we do not possess the ball. Loose ball – fight for it. Dead ball situation – pay attention.” said the manager in one of his pre-game speeches shown in the “All or Nothing: Brazil” documentary.
And this is what his players replicate on the pitch. They constantly press the opposition in efforts to win the ball back. That is shown in their average PPDA rate of 7.06. They try to limit their opponents’ space for movement and pressurise them enough to force them into errors. They recover the ball 77.25 times per game on average which helps them in keeping the goal safe but also in having more time on the ball and attack.
The above image shows their pressing efforts where they try to block the passing lanes and then pressurize the ball carrier in order to force him into individual error and losing the ball.
When it comes to defensive transitions, it is impressive that they don’t often get exposed considering their advanced positioning. This is partly possible due to Danilo’s successful split of responsibilities and while he contributes to ball progression, he does stay closer to the backline compared to Lodi. With the contribution of the midfield players who do involve in providing additional defensive support, combined with their pressing, they manage to keep the opposite teams away from the goal. They have only allowed 4.75 shots against them on average in their last four games.
The team’s defensive awareness is shown in the above image. After the full-back was dragged out wide, one of the midfielders immediately covered depth and didn’t allow the opposition to have a numerical advantage on the flank while filling in the gap.
In the above scatter plot, we have focused on showing the attacking players’ goal contribution. The list of players that have been involved in attack for Brazil in the last calendar year consists of Neymar, Firmino, Richarlison, Pedro, Coutinho, Rodrygo, Éverton Ribeiro, Gabriel Jesus, Thiago Galhardo, Matheus Cunha and Vinícius Júnior.
On the left, we can see their Touches in the box per 90 next to their Shots per 90. This allows us to better understand their efficiency in attack and if they manage to take advantage of the chances they get in quality areas. The plot shows that Neymar and Coutinho create the most shots per 90 on average with the PSG player having an advantage in that area, which is explained by his more advanced position. It turns out that Coutinho has more touches in the box per game, but a lower number of shots produced. This could be as a result of his tendency to create opportunities for his teammates and provide key passes instead of directly shooting.
The least efficient out of all has been Éverton Ribeiro who doesn’t often contribute in the box, although this is usually out of his responsibilities as a right midfielder. He gets involved in the attacking actions but more as an additional option in the wide areas which explains his low numbers in the penalty area.
On the right, we have added their Goal contribution numbers next to their xGoal contribution. The plot shows that actually, Neymar underperforms in that area. His expected goal contribution is higher than his real contribution. Galhardo has performed as expected, while Coutinho has performed better and has provided more opportunities up front than expected.
The team haven’t had many options in midfield though. The players that have covered the central areas in the last year are Casemiro, Arthur, Douglas Luiz, Allan, Fabinho, Lucas Paquetá and Bruno Guimarães.
The above scatter plot shows their Progressive passes per 90 next to their Passes to the final third per 90. This partially shows their ball progression contribution and if they have been involved in the attacking actions as well. This cannot be measured only by these indicators and the players’ positions should be considered as well, but it provides more clarity on their strengths and responsibilities.
The plot shows that Arthur and Guimarães complete the most passes to the final third on average, which shows their involvement in ball progression but underlines their aim to deliver the ball directly to the frontline.
Douglas Luiz’s low contribution in these areas is expected due to his focus on the defensive actions and being a passing outlet for pass combinations with the backline, meaning many of his passes are sent back. Paquetá is the player with the most progressive passes on average.
On the right, there is their xGoal contribution next to their real Goal contribution. We can see that only Paquetá has a higher goal contribution compared to the other midfielders, but as mentioned for many of the players this is due to their positioning and different responsibilities. The Ligue 1 player has more attacking responsibilities than his teammates displayed in the graph.
In the last scatter plot in our analysis, we have compared Brazil’s defensive options, by looking at PAdj interceptions (Possession-adjusted interceptions) next to their successful defensive actions per 90. The full-backs’ involvement in attack should be considered as it takes off of their defensive contribution. As shown, Militão is successful both in his overall defensive actions and in PAdj interceptions. Emerson and Marquinhos also have shown consistency and have performed solidly in defence.
Thiago and Carlos on the other side have provided quite a high number of PAdj on average per game, which is very important for the team’s defensive performance especially in their defensive third where they need confident players who don’t hesitate to dive into challenges and gain back possession. Menino has been the least successful in his defensive actions.
On the right, we looked into their contribution to the build-up play by adding their Progressive passes per 90 next to their Progressive runs per 90. The plot is showing that quite a few players contribute actively to the ball progression.
Danilo, Alex Sandro, Thiago and Arana have excelled in that indicator. This shows Thiago’s importance in retaining possession and in advancing the ball. The other three players are full-backs and have the responsibility to occupy more advanced areas and support the attacking actions, while despite Thiago’s centre defence position he is used according to his strengths as a ball-playing defender.
Felipe is the player that has contributed to the build-up the least but he is known for his focus on his defensive contribution where he excels with high concentration and awareness.
Neymar is considered to be Brazil’s best player in the last few years. He soon celebrates ten years of representing Seleção’s on the international scene. He already has 103 appearances in which he has scored 64 goals and assisted 43 more. This makes him one of the most efficient forwards that have played with the infamous yellow and green shirt among Pelé and Ronaldo.
Neymar plays as a left-winger in Tite’s set-up and is the team’s key player who is crucial during possession and in offensive transitions. He is known for his technical abilities which he uses to support his teammates with through balls, smart passes and crosses but also to provide a direct threat to the goal. His control and confidence on the ball result in impressive dribbling attempts and help him in holding on to the ball.
PREDICTIONS FOR THE TOURNAMENT
Considering their line up and their successful performance in 2020, Brazil are one of the favourites for the Copa America triumph. They need to defend their 2019 title and if they stay consistent and stick to what they do best – be creative in attack and concentrated in defence they have high chances to outplay their opponents.
The bookmakers have pointed out both Brazil and Argentina as the two top contenders for winning the tournament, but they have also considered a possible surprise by Colombia and Uruguay who also have their strengths.
The Brazilian squad seems like the most complex out of all, having players that have been among the top performers on a club level both in Europe and South America which is definitely a reason for increasing their confidence and hopes.