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Brazil play a crunch World Cup qualifier against Uruguay in Montevideo on Thursday evening. They arrive in fine fettle, having won all of their last 6 qualifiers, catapulting them to the top of the CONMEBOL standings. Uruguay are nestled just beneath them in second place, four points back on the Seleção.
The home side will have to fare without their talisman Luis Suarez, who is suspended. However, Tite still has a few headaches to negotiate for the tough trip over the border. Uruguay have won all 6 of their home games in the qualifying campaign and things have moved on for a few key members of the Brazil squad since they last played in November. Here are some of Tite’s biggest headscratchers ahead of the double header with Uruguay and Paraguay.
WHO WILL REPLACE GABRIEL JESUS?
Brazil have won all 6 of their games since Tite took over from the hapless Dunga in August. The introduction of 19 year old Gabriel Jesus to finally solve the Seleção’s number 9 woes has been a huge factor in their upturn. Jesus has 5 goals and 3 assists since making his competitive debut in Quito in September.
Jesus had made an electric start to life at Manchester City too, until a broken metatarsal ruled him out until the end of April. With that, Brazil’s striking problem re-presents itself for Tite for the first time in his reign. The Seleção do not have a dependable back up option. Tite essentially has two choices, neither of which is totally ideal.
He has called up Sport Recife’s Diego Souza, who is in fine form for his club. However, he is short of international pedigree, with only 3 international caps to his name at the age of 31. An away World Cup qualifier in Montevideo is a world away from the Campeanato Pernambucano, where he has been playing this last few weeks.
It is more likely that Tite will turn to Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino in the sort of false 9 role that he plays so effectively for Liverpool. There is an added bonus that he can utilise his understanding with Liverpool teammate Philippe Coutinho, who is likely to play a roving role from the right hand side. How Neymar and Firmino link up will determine how well the frontline will work. Jesus’ absence puts more of the goalscoring burden back onto Neymar.
PLAYERS’ FORM AND FITNESS
Another big issue for Tite is the condition of some of his players. Renato Augusto plays a key role in the midfield for Brazil. However, the Chinese Super League is in its opening weeks, so Renato is unlikely to be in peak condition. The same goes for his midfield partner Paulinho, whom Tite has recalled back into the fold.
There are already concerns over the less intense environment for the Seleção’s China based players, the fact that two key players are only just out of pre-season provides a concern for Tite. As does the form of Philippe Coutinho. The Liverpool man barged Chelsea winger Willian out of the starting XI, having made an outstanding impact as a roving right winger last year.
However, since recovering from an ankle injury which kept him out for much of December and a little of January, Coutinho’s domestic form has nosedived. He has been substituted early in his last two games for the Reds as he has struggled to find his early season rhythm.
With Douglas Costa again ruled out through injury, Tite has lost a significant wide option. Willian is not an automatic starter for Chelsea any longer and his “chalk on the boots” style of wide play is at odds with Tite’s fluid formation. He has always underwhelmed in this incarnation of the Seleção.
Tite has kept faith with Alisson in goal, but he finds himself short of match practice. He is firmly second choice at Roma behind Wojciech Szczesny and will come into this game a little cold. Alisson hasn’t always impressed as Brazil’s first choice as it is and Tite’s continued reluctance to select Diego Alves could come into sharp focus if Alisson shows any signs of ring rust.
WHAT IF BRAZIL GO BEHIND?
Brazil have ridden the crest of a wave since the U-23s won the Olympic gold in August. They have only conceded once under Tite’s stewardship- an own goal against Colombia in Manaus, which they quickly rectified with a winning goal. They have had to deal with very little in the way of adversity, which means it will hit them a little harder when it inevitably arrives.
Without their star striker and a few players short of sharpness, going a goal behind in Montevideo would provide the biggest test of the team’s character since Tite’s appointment. Given their commanding position in qualifying, the coach might even welcome the chance to see how his team handles a little problem solving.
It is not always going to be plain sailing for the Seleção and adversity is a great educator. It is certainly better for Tite and his team to confront that issue now than in a potentially more critical game. Even if they lose to Uruguay, they ought to finish this set of qualifiers in first place, with a home fixture against Paraguay on Wednesday.
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