On Feb. 6, Brazil will travel to London for a friendly encounter with England at Wembley Stadium. The game will offer our first taste of which direction Luiz Felipe Scolari will look to take Brazil under his management.
While Neymar is surely assured of his place, the reality for Brazil is that very few others are—particularly with captain Thiago Silva absent through injury
When "Big Phil" comes to name his squad within the next two weeks, the eyes of football's most expectant nation will be examining for any indication of his plans for the 2014 World Cup.
Will Ronaldinho be recalled? Is there a space for Robinho? Will he persist with the Ramires-Paulinho midfield partnership? All questions will be answered by early next month.
So, with no real indication of the direction in which Scolari plans to take the Selecao, we can have a go at second-guessing the experienced coach's plans.
Suggested Formation: 4-2-3-1
First up, we need to decide what formation is likely to be employed. With Brazil in 2002, Scolari famously went with a 3-4-1-2 setup, designed to get the best out of world-class full-backs Cafu and Roberto Carlos, as well as reinforcing a creaking defence.
Later, with his Portugal sides of 2004 and 2006, a more conventional 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 setup was used. With attacking midfield talent of the calibre of Figo, Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo, it made more sense to allow them the freedom to attack with regulation full-backs in place.
However, our most recent indication of Felipao's mindset comes from his recent spell at Palmeiras. As described in detail here, he started life looking at the 4-2-2-2, 4-3-2-1 and 4-2-3-1 formations that dominate Brazilian football. Eventually, though, it was the 3-4-1-2 that saw a return as Palmeiras won the 2012 Copa do Brasil, but also slumped to a shock relegation.
Given Scolari's stated intention to re-introduce a traditional centre-forward to the Brazil lineup, we can assume that Mano Menezes' 4-6-0 setup will no longer be in play. However, given the limited time he will have to prepare his side, it's unlikely a three-man defence will be implemented—for now at least.
Therefore, for the purposes of this article, I will assume that a standard 4-2-3-1 setup will be used against England. The Brazil coach said (via Xinhua):
You are not going to see a new national team. There will not be many changes made in relation to what everybody has already seen. It won't be very different because it's the first chance to have a good look at the players.
Goalkeeper: Diego Alves
In goal, the assumption has to be that Valencia's Diego Alves will continue to occupy a starting position.
While he may not be everybody's favourite, Diego has conceded just once in seven international fixtures—a fine record regardless of the standard of opposition. Unless his form drops dramatically, it is likely that he will continue through to the Confederations Cup with the No. 1 shirt.
Other contenders for a squad place will be Corinthians' Cassio, Fluminense's Diego Cavalieri, Botafogo's Jefferson and Santos' Rafael. Cassio, in particular, is riding the crest of a wave in terms of popular support following his heroics at the Club World Cup.
QPR gloveman Julio Cesar must also have a real chance of a recall. The former Inter Milan star has been in fine recent form and offers international experience that no other candidate can compete with.
Defence: Daniel Alves, Dede, David Luiz, Marcelo
In defence, Thiago Silva's recent thigh injury throws up a dilemma for Scolari (via FIFA.com)
The preference would surely have been to retain the Thiago Silva-David Luiz partnership that Mano Menezes has used as a constant ever since the 2011 Copa America. That, now, is an impossibility.
To add to the conundrum, David Luiz has barely featured as a defender for Chelsea since the Club World Cup, while likely substitute Dede has not played since October due to injury. It remains to be seen if he will be risked.
Next in line under Mano Menezes would have been Roma's Leandro Castan and Atletico Mineiro's Rever, but doubts still remain of the duo's ability at international level. Domestically, there are few other candidates likely for consideration.
It is therefore entirely possible that the likes of Bayern Munich's Dante or Roma's Marquinhos, could be rewarded for their impressive showings this season. Dante, though, remains underappreciated in Brazil and Marquinhos is just 18 years old.
All things considered, it's difficult to look past a pairing of David Luiz and Dede for the encounter.
Question marks have been raised over the form of Daniel Alves at Barcelona this season, but both he and Marcelo remain standout candidates for the full-back roles.
It would be, given Scolari's desire for continuity, a massive surprise if either were to miss out.
Manchester United's Rafael has enjoyed a fine season and may earn a recall to the squad, while Barcelona's Adriano is also a likely squad member given his experience and versatility.
Porto's Danilo and Alex Sandro are outside bets but have their supporters in Brazil. Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid's Filipe Luis is another who will hope a change in management will offer him a chance to represent his country.
Central Midfield: Sandro, Ramires
At the base of midfield, Scolari has always shown preference for an out-and-out defensive midfielder. At present, the in-form candidates are Tottenham's Sandro, Corinthians' Ralf and the uncapped Fernando of FC Porto.
Liverpool's Lucas Leiva is probably the leading candidate for the position on a long-term basis. However, with the player only recently returned from sustained injury absences, he may be given some time to rest over the international break.
Alongside the holding midfielder will likely be more of a box-to-box player, possibly two. The prime candidates will, of course, be current starters Corinthians' Paulinho and Chelsea's Ramires.
Shakhtar's Fernandinho and Santos' Arouca are the leading alternative candidates, but neither hold the international experience to demand inclusion.
My suspicion is that Scolari will play it safe initially and stick with the additional experience that Sandro and Ramires can offer for this particular game.
There is also, of course, the possibility of Paulinho also being used, with Ramires operating on the right flank for additional protection.
Attacking Midfield: Neymar, Ronaldinho, Lucas Moura
For the three attacking midfield roles in our side, there are plenty of viable candidates looking for a starting position.
In recent games, Mano Menezes had lined up with a combination of Hulk, Kaka, Oscar and Neymar. However, that is all expected to change.
Neymar is a certainty and will likely take his place on the left of the three attacking midfield starters. The other recent starters, though, are all encountering poor form or a lack of regular appearances for their clubs.
There has been a large surge in support for Ronaldinho's recall to the side, after having impressed for club side Atletico Mineiro in 2012. Scolari knows the playmaker well and it could well be that it is he who is chosen for the central role.
Oscar will be his main competition, but there is a feeling Scolari may prefer once more to opt for increased experience.
To complete the trio, Lucas Moura is likely to be the prime candidate to play on the right.
His presence, with Neymar on the other flank, would help surround Ronaldinho with pace—something he has thrived upon at club level in recent times.
Striker: Leandro Damiao
When it comes to striking options, Felipao has a big call to make.
At present, the two most likely candidates to start as the lone striker against England would be Internacional's Leandro Damiao and Fluminense's Fred.
With Alexandre Pato not expected to be fully fit for Corinthians until early February, he is unlikely to feature. However, the recently repatriated forward does offer a potential long-term alternative.
For this friendly then, it is likely to become a simple choice between the two previously mentioned forwards. Damiao offers more creativity and bigger potential, but Fred is the experienced option and has been in much better recent form than his younger colleague.
Whichever decision he makes, Scolari will surely be a little concerned about the lack of options. He may choose to recall Sao Paulo's Luis Fabiano, but the striker's poor recent injury and disciplinary record will be a concern. In form, though, he is undoubtedly a match-winner.
For the purposes of this friendly, with the World Cup 2014 in mind, it is to be expected that Damiao will be given preference.
It would, though, be little surprise to see Fred in a starting berth come Feb. 6.