5 Things Luiz Felipe Scolari Should Test in Brazil's Friendly vs. Serbia
Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil undertake their final World Cup warm-up clash on Friday against Serbia, having strolled past Panama just a few days ago.
With the opening clash of this year's competition just days away, the temptation would be to rest key players, but the suggestion is that Brazil will give an outing to what will largely be their strongest side.
Serbia are one of the strongest sides not heading to the World Cup and will be as good a warm-up opponent as Brazil could hope for. Ideally, they will provide some form of resemblance to the Croatia side the Selecao will face next week.
As ever, then, Scolari will be keen to take lessons from the encounter he can use when the World Cup commences. But what aspects of his side's play can he look to trial this time out?
Willian to Start on the Right Wing
Hulk played fairly well in the encounter against Panama and, indeed, got himself on the scoresheet. However, his efforts were matched and bettered by the cameo of Chelsea's Willian, who is now consistently impressing when handed a chance with Brazil.
What makes Willian even more appealing is that he is a natural wide player on the right flank, unlike his rival, who is forced to cut in onto his left foot on a regular basis. With Neymar doing likewise on the opposite flank, it is important to maintain balance.
Willian is also highly effective on the counter-attack, much like Neymar and Oscar. The trio have worked well as a unit when given the chance but have rarely started together.
Scolari knows what Hulk can offer but could do worse than to test Willian against Serbia.
In previous jobs, Luiz Felipe Scolari has been a fan of the three-man defensive line, with a variation of 3-5-2 the most common of his repertoire. This time around, though, his Brazil side have largely lined up in 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2 formations.
They are not now going to suddenly change their preferred setup ahead of the World Cup, but there are times when an alternative option could be useful.
Against Panama, there were times in the second half when it was clear Scolari had ordered his full-backs to push forward and Luiz Gustavo to drop deeper into defence. The result was effectively a three-man back line.
It will be no surprise to see the same approach tested against Serbia, with variations and alternative approaches key to their World Cup hopes.
Fernandinho as a Midfield Alternative
In the match with Panama, Scolari chose to rest Paulinho from his first-choice midfield and start Ramires alongside Luiz Gustavo. The Chelsea man was largely ineffective and has likely missed his shot at increased World Cup involvement.
It would be little surprise to see both midfield berths altered this time around. Paulinho will need game time, while Manchester City's Fernandinho could also use minutes ahead of the competition. The latter has one final chance to press a case for inclusion.
Luiz Gustavo played well against Panama in a defensive sense, but the Brazilian midfield failed to control the game for the opening half-hour. With Fernandinho starring as a holding midfielder in England, he has gathered vocal support.
It is unlikely that Scolari will change his plans at this late stage, but Fernandinho should be given the chance to state his case. He is potentially too useful a player to overlook.
Give the First-Choice Back Four Time Together
Brazil's defence is as settled as they come, with Julio Cesar set to start in goal behind a unit of Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo.
However, with Thiago Silva absent against Panama and Marcelo having missed friendlies earlier in the year due to injury, it is now some time since they operated as a complete unit.
The quintet know one another's games inside out and have played together on many occasions. An extra 45 minutes or hour in a competitive match, though, can only help sweep away any cobwebs ahead of Croatia on June 12.
Neymar as a Central Striker
Centre-forward Fred will start the encounter with Serbia as Scolari looks for his main striking option to gather form ahead of the World Cup. When he is subbed off, though, it may be worth not replacing him directly.
Should Scolari choose to, it could be an interesting trial to play Neymar through the centre at the pinnacle of the Brazil attack in the second half. When ahead in big games at the World Cup, they could use this strategy when focusing on counter-attacking play.
Neymar has played through the centre for Brazil before, and it could allow for the introduction of speedster Bernard on the left. It is an option Scolari could certainly choose to explore.
When Neymar has played centrally before, Oscar has come into his own—often alternating with his attacking colleague. There will be times when Brazil don't need a target man, and Neymar could well be the solution.