With next to no competitive action whatsoever ahead of the World Cup in 2014, friendly games offer up rare opportunities for Brazilian players to stake their claim for a place in the squad. The starting lineup against Russia was packed with the usual household names, but, in amongst the Thiago Silva’s and Neymar’s, there are some players looking to break through.
So the friendly against Russia at Stamford Bridge provided us with ample opportunity to run the rule over some of the players that aren’t absolutely sure of their place. Not to mention a chance for Europe’s top talent spotters to potentially scout the "next big thing" from South America.
One young player who is just embarking on his international journey is Gremio’s Fernando Lucas Martins. Having put in a solid performance in Brazil’s 2-2 draw against Italy, I decided to take a close look at the 21-year-old's contribution against Russia.
First of all, a quick tactical observation on Brazil, who looked a lot more organized than they did when they last played on English soil. In the defeat to England at Wembley, they operated in what was almost a 4-2-4 system with Jack Wilshire running riot in the space left in central areas.
Brazil reverted to their familiar 4-2-3-1 system in this one, immediately closing the spaces in those central positions. As we will see, Fernando played a key role in this operating on the right side of the midfield pivot.
Fernando failed to make any real impression on proceedings in the first twenty minutes as the Russians started brightly. So much so that the Gremio man's first telling contribution didn’t come until the 20th minute. A direct free kick from 40 yards out. Unfortunately for him, it went just as far over the bar.
But as Brazil started to click into gear, Fernando started to grow into the game. He was comfortable taking the ball from the centre-backs and initiating attacks. His passing under pressure was also neat and tidy, showing several sharp one touch flicks to get himself out of tight areas and Brazil moving up the pitch.
This is all well and good, but his main task was to shield the Brazilian back-four as his midfield partner, Hernanes, was given the license to push forward and influence the play.
Fernando strikes me as a "front-foot" style defender. If the ball is there to be won, the chances are he’ll be going all out to get it. This was particularly evident throughout the contest, as when Brazil lost the ball he showed acute defensive awareness to stifle the Russian counter attacks, often meeting Russian midfield runners head-on in tackles in the central areas.
This type of defending can be high risk however. Misjudge your pressing or tackling slightly and good players will take advantage. Fernando did get caught once down the right hand side, lunging into a tackle that was never really there to be won. Russia broke forward and should have done better with the resultant opportunity.
That blip aside, the Gremio man was understatedly impressive.
He continuously backed up the play when Brazil had possession, keen to offer an easy pass and recycle the ball. He also continued to showcase his defensive qualities further as the game went on.
With Dani Alves roaring up the right-hand side in typical fashion, Fernando had the nous to shuffle across to his right and cover the space left in-behind. Even on the occasions David Luiz burst forward, he would remain disciplined and seamlessly drop into the space left at centre-back. I don't recall him running beyond the ball even once throughout the 90 minutes.
For a player who is still relatively young, this was the part of the game I was most impressed with. Even when Russia managed to open the scoring, Fernando had already thrown himself in front of a goal-bound strike and cleared another effort off the line. This was no coincidence as he constantly dropped into intelligent positions to halt Russian attacks and mop up play.
Even when Brazil were pushing for an equalizer in the latter stages, he was happy to get hold of the ball and start attacks. His displayed a cultured range of passing to compliment his outstanding defensive work.
In reality, Russia offered little from an attacking point of view, and it would be interesting to see how Fernando would have coped with players like Andrey Arshavin or Alan Dzagoev floating between the lines.
Looking to the potential Brazil squad in 2014, this performance won’t do Fernando's chances any harm whatsoever. He is currently vying with Paulinho (who I was very underwhelmed with following his performance against England) for a starting berth. On this evidence, the Gremio man offers considerably more in all departments.
What did you think of Fernando's performance? Which players on the Brazilian team impressed you?
Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball
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