Despite a victory over Ghana, the Brazilian squad is still wrought with issues that need to be resolved.
Having lost two games in a row, a defeat to Paraguay on penalties followed by a friendly loss to Germany; Mano Menezes opted for a revamp of his squad in order to alter their fortunes. The coach decided to recall Ronaldinho after 9 months without an appearance for the Selecao, along with Real Madrid’s Marcelo.
Hopes were high following the return of the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year, but his return to the squad was damped by a disappointing team display against the African side. They were uninspiring in a 1-0 win, with Ghana playing almost an hour with just 10 men following the dismissal of Daniel Opare in the first half.
Many have praised Ronaldinho’s performance, however it was simply the brightest light in an assortment of low energy bulbs. An otherwise average game was spattered with intelligent passes and accomplished set-pieces from the ex-Barcelona man, but nothing to get the heart racing.
Indeed the real star of the show was Ghana’s young goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey. The Norway born goalkeeper, making only his second appearance for the Black Stars, pulled off a number of top quality saves to keep the Brazilians at bay.
While Menezes will be pleased to have earned a victory, he will now look to what he can do next to improve upon the performance. He can rest easy in knowing that his defence and goalkeeper are extremely reliable. Lucio will be comfortably replaced by Chelsea’s David Luiz for the next World Cup and Julio Cesar has a number of high quality replacements available in Fabio and Gabriel of Cruzeiro along with Rafael Cabral of Santos. There is also no doubt that Marcelo can hold down the left back spot for the country if he remains in the side.
The main problem comes in the middle of the park. On Monday, Brazil began with far too much emphasis on attack. A 4-2-1-3 formation including both Ganso and Ronaldinho was somewhat overly extravagant. Ganso withdrew after 8 minutes through injury but was replaced by a similarly attacking player in Elias.
Having such a number of forwards led to their isolation from the midfield. The team was guilty of playing a number of long balls from back to front, something which is uncharacteristic of Brazilian football.
With Lucas Leiva sitting deep, Fernandinho was the only link between the back and the front. Granted this was the combination for the only goal of the game when Fernandinho spotted Leandro Damiao’s run and the Tottenham target opened his international goal scoring account with a precise finish. However, for much of the game the link-up was not there as Brazil struggled to create meaningful chances.
Playing so many strikers requires a holding player to help cover the defence and break up the play in the oppositions midfield. However, they then rely on a single player to link with the attack, and Fernandinho does not have the quality for that. In fact, it would be a rare thing to find a player who could control the whole of the midfield on his own.
This is a similar issue to that which lead to their early exit from this summer’s Copa America. In a 4-2-2-2 formation, Menezes picked Ganso as the playmaker with 3 players of a similar style around him in Robinho, Neymar, and Alexandre Pato. Their attack lacked a focal point and Robinho was hugely ineffectual, thus leading to his removal from the squad for the Ghana game.
Leandro Damiao proved to be an excellent solution to the give the attack the focal point it needed, now the issue lies further back the field. A change in the teams tactics is desperately needed and it may mean a difficult sacrifice up front to give more solidity to the middle of the park and help aid the creation for the front players.
A midfield diamond is out of the question, due to the array of attacking options at Brazil’s disposal. Their best option is a 4-3-3 with Pato and Neymar wide, and Damiao through the middle. However, you are unlikely to get the best out of Pato and Neymar if they are deployed out wide, but having three in the midfield enables them to tuck inside as the full backs bomb forward.
The three in the middle would be composed of Lucas Leiva holding, with Ganso playing ahead with another. Hernanes and Ramires are the best options, the former deserving a recall following his kung-fu kick in the friendly against France earlier this year. There will always be space for Ronaldinho to come on in such a formation as well, playing out wide or moving infield with to up front, though he can surely not be considered a long-term fixture in the squad.
Menezes will have to make some sacrifices if he wants his squad to succeed. He cannot simply put every player in their favoured positions. His top-heavy attacking formations have not brought success to Brazil and he perhaps needs to reconsider.
With three years of friendlies ahead, Menezes needs to introduce a formation that will work at international level before the World Cup in Brazil. The squad lack the dynamism and strength in the middle that are crucial to the success of any team. With the pressure on him to find a way for his squad to not only win, but play in a certain style, he must alter his current formation in favour of one that gives the team more balance.
Read more from Tom at his excellent blog Purple Patch