Brazil: Analysing Scolari's Tactical Progress Ahead of Confederations Cup

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Brazil: Analysing Scolari's Tactical Progress Ahead of Confederations Cup
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Luiz Felipe Scolari picked up one of the toughest jobs in football when he was announced manager of Brazil on November 28, 2012.

Managing the powerhouse nation is no small task, but when the country are set to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup, it becomes infinitely harder.

The Selecao enter every tournament expected to reach the semifinals at a minimum, if not win the whole thing: Being the most successful nation ever to compete—five wins remains the record—takes its toll on the team.

And it's not just hosting the tournament that amplifies the pressure on Scolari's shoulders, it's the fact that the last time he led the team to a World Cup, they lifted the famous trophy.

Felipao was in charge for the 2002 triumph, guiding his troops to wins against Turkey, China, Costa Rica, Belgium, England and finally Germany. Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Cafu and Roberto Carlos were among the stars that summer.

They say never go back, but "Big Phil" clearly couldn't resist the urge.

In all honesty, his reign so far has been quite poor: A crushing win over minnows Bolivia has done little to lift the clouds over a loss to England and draws to Russia, Chile and Italy.

The way he has experimented and juggled his lineup from a tactical point of view has been interesting though, and he's clearly working the kinks out of the side.

So let's take a look at how Brazil are shaping up ahead of the tournament tactically—can they compete, win and install a champion's mantra at the perfect time?

 

Out With Mano Menezes

Before Scolari, Menezes held the managerial post and took his side to both the 2011 Copa America and the London 2012 Olympics. He fielded a side many expected would grow and become the one who would contest the World Cup, but they fell woefully short of expectation.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Like Scolari, he struggled to find a lineup that suited the way he wanted his side to play. A terrible Copa America showing, in which Brazil stumbled through the groups and lost in the quarterfinals to Paraguay, was indicative of this.

Many felt his selection policy was heavily flawed, too, as he consistently called up players such as Jadson, started the likes of Ramires and ignored consistent club performers like Hernanes.

According to B/R's Chris Atkins, whom I spoke to via private conversation, the Copa America showing started the rot, the Olympics were viewed as a complete failure and big wins against small opponents only served to mask the fatal flaws in the side.

Eventually, results stacked up against him and the Federation, clearly worried for their side's prospects in the upcoming World Cup, made a move.

 

Scolari's First: Wembley Horrors

Brazil were tough to predict coming into Scolari's first game as Brazil manager in 2013, facing England at Wembley Stadium.

Most Brazilian football experts, including Paulo Freitas and Chris Atkins, had the Selecao down as playing a 4-2-2-2 formation (or a close variant of it), but they ended up fielding a loose 4-2-3-1 shape.

England 2-1 Brazil, Wembley Stadium

The game centred on Ronaldinho: It appeared it would be his first and only chance to impress Felipao, and was fielded in the No. 10 role behind Luis Fabiano. Neymar took a left-forward role, while the holding pivot of Paulinho and Ramires from Menezes' reign remained.

"Dinho" flunked the audition, making very little impact on the game. His role was of critical importance on the counterattack, as isolating Steven Gerrard (regista) became an obvious route to success, but failed to orchestrate proceedings and looked guilty of trying to do everything perfectly.

England were the better side—a sentence not often uttered—and it became clear Felipao had work to do.

 

Moving Toward a 4-4-2

Scolari continued with the 4-2-3-1 against Italy in March, playing out a ridiculously entertaining 2-2 draw. Fred replaced Fabiano and played very well, while a new holding pivot in Fernando and Hernanes impressed too.

Four days later, Brazil drew once more with Russia at Stamford Bridge, and the game serves as a marker for tactical progress.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Paulinho—a key man?

Moving away from the 4-2-3-1, Big Phil utilised a strike partnership of Neymar and Fred, continued with the same holding pivot that played Italy and used Kaka and Oscar in freer, wide roles.

It looked a lot like the 4-2-2-2 we'd been expecting months before, and it verged on a straight 4-4-2 at times. The same shape was donned in Bolivia, and it brought Scolari his first win as Brazil boss 2.0—a 4-0 thrashing in which many Brasiliero Serie A players starred.

He then opted for the same system against England to open the Maracana stadium, and in truth was unfortunate not to come out the victor. Joe Hart was the only reason Brazil weren't 5-0 up at halftime, and ended up drawing 2-2 having come from behind.

 

Tactical Constants, Selection Dilemmas

Scolari has had more than enough time to adjust his sights and prepare his team for the Confederations Cup, and certain tactical constants have started to emerge.

He will always use a double midfield pivot to provide a layer of security for his defensive line, and that's a wise choice considering Dani Alves plays "right-back" for the Selecao.

The unstable partnership of Ramires and Paulinho has been broken up and several others have impressed in their auditions—will it be Hernanes and Fernando to start, or does Luiz Gustavo come in?

Brazil 2-2 England, Maracana

As much as fans are desperate to see Dante partner Thiago Silva in central defence, David Luiz is the choice: They've played together for a long time now, and there's no way Felipao is bowing to fan pressure.

The strike partnership, too, has become a feature. Fred plays well with a partner, and Neymar's ability to drift in and out of the forward line has helped the Selecao manipulate space and dominate proceedings on the left-hand side.

Hulk looks set to start in a wide-left role that sees him drift inward to take advantage of Neymar's movement. Like the omission of Dante, fans still can't see what Felipao sees in the Zenit St. Petersburg attacker.

 

Predictions, Conclusions

On June 6, the Brazil team did a full training session with the following starting XI:

Julio Cesar; Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo; Gustavo, Paulinho, Oscar, Hulk; Neymar, Fred.

That is likely to be the selection Felipao uses to take on Japan on June 15, and the side has only one more friendly against France to sharpen themselves for the task.

As stated previously, the Scolari reign has been a disappointment so far: Poor results, some sub-par performances and some questionable player preferences have left fans disenchanted with the progress.

But the formation switch has led to better showings, and they're on the verge of clicking. You can't see Brazil winning the Confederations Cup despite being the hosts this summer, but they're moving in the right direction and this could serve as a valuable litmus test.

Many often forget how hard it is to truly gauge your side when you play no competitive matches for two straight years—the disadvantage of hosting the World Cup.

 

 

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