Brazil won their second win in the World Cup group – they beat Switzerland 1-0, but scored very late (Casemiro in 83rd) and experienced significant problems in attack. This performance coincided with the absence of Neymar. Let’s figure out how Tite’s team managed without a leader and how dangerous it is in this state.
Without Neymar, Brazil hardly attacked through the center. To create chances, the wingers had to solve episodes 1-v-2
The best portrait of Brazil without Neymar is the assist map at the end of the first half, where the starting plan was most pronounced. Forward Richarlison is totally isolated from the team, there are tight connections between other players, but all attacks rest on the flank players – Rafinha and Vinicius.
There were practically no games through the center. Fred and Lucas Paqueta, eights according to the scheme, were involved in the game not in someone else’s pivot, but closer to their own. This led to a lack of progress through the central zone.
Another element is not the highest positions of full-backs. This applies not only to Eder Militao, who started on the right and predictably played the third central on possession but also to Alex Sandro on the left.
Together, these factors led to the maximum load on the wingers. Rafinha and Vinicius were fed the ball, but too often they found themselves in a 1-v-2 situation.
High-level players can create even with this balance of power, but it is much more challenging to do so. Brazil definitely felt this problem, but it still gave birth to quality chances.
With Neymar, the team also builds attacks very carefully and patiently (seen against Serbia), but it has one more player who can create individually, and a greater level of unpredictability (they can go through the center, or Neymar changes positions with the wingers and ends up on one of the flanks). Yesterday, such variability was clearly not enough, but a skill for an almost guaranteed goal is still enough.
It’s not just about the absence of Neymar, but also about the pragmatic structure, which has become less flexible without Danilo
To fully understand the functioning of Brazil in the attack, two more points must be taken into account. Firstly, not only Neymar missed the meeting, but also Danilo. Secondly, the more defensive Fred replaced Neymar in the scheme with the transition to 4-3-3 – that is, in principle, there was one less creator in the squad than against Serbia.
Danilo’s place was taken by Eder Militao, who had a very cautious position. The same can be said about Alex Sandro’s flank. Vinicius and Rafinha were responsible for the width of the flanks. In fact, the team is forced to attack without the active participation of both full-backs. It’s harder to saturate an attack this way. The load on creative footballers is increasing.
It is almost impossible to combine in the center due to a very clear numerical minority. It remains to play through the wingers, who coped with a difficult task yesterday. If Brazil used at least one full-back in attack, then they would get an additional player in the center (for example, Sandro closes the flank, Vinicius moves), but in the current structure, the key task of the wing-backs is to be ready for a counterattack.
Transformations periodically occurred only on the left – through the position of Sandro. On the right, Militao remained behind. In the usual configuration, Danilo makes it possible to carry out such changes on the right flank as well. It was severely lacking in terms of creating additional options.
That is, the main reason for the long stretches of the choking ball roll is not the absence of Neymar, but the structure itself, which is aimed at caution and readiness for loss at any moment. Neymar guarantees more flashes within this structure but does not change the structure itself.
Brazil definitely felt the lack of Neymar but did not become less dangerous. The skill of players like Neymar is a valuable bonus, but nothing more. Alternative sources of chances are enough for one ball (and more, it seems, is not necessary) – standards, fast attacks through Vinicius, the skill of other leaders, revealing the pattern through substitutions.
It seems that Kaka described the situation as accurately as possible: “I think this Brazil is as strong as possible as a team. Neymar is the icing on the cake, but the strength of the team is not in the individual talents of the players. That’s what you need at the World Cup – you need team power. That is why I think Brazil can do very well, with or without Neymar.”
Does Tite’s team become less colorful without Neymar? Definitely. Is it getting weaker? Possibly (fewer chances and options in attack). Does it become less dangerous in the playoff format? No, because the basic tools are retained and the protection becomes even more reliable.