Brazil might have won their first 2014 FIFA World Cup match against Croatia, but their victory was not without fault—or areas for improvement.
While Neymar and Oscar certainly impressed, fellow centre-forward Hulk had an utterly ineffective game and was substituted in the second half, with replacement Bernard looking a far brighter prospect in his time on the field.
If Hulk wasn't already concerned over his place in the team, he will be now, having picked up an injury in training (per Mirror Football)—which casts doubt on his participation in Brazil's next fixture, on Tuesday against Mexico.
Hulk vs. Croatia
Hulk usually operates from the right side of Brazil's forward line, where he can cut infield and let loose with his powerful left foot. But he also offers the side plenty of width during buildup play, hugging the touchline until the right moment to drift inside.
Against Croatia, he played from the left wing instead, with Neymar occupying a more central role.
This switch should have seen Hulk using his pace on the outside and perhaps looking to get some crosses in, but he barely made a mark on right-back Darijo Srna—and completed only six passes in almost 70 minutes on the pitch.
No chances created, two misplaced long balls, two unsuccessful crosses and two shots off target compounded his misery.
With the performance Hulk put in, his place would probably have been in jeopardy anyway, but the injury in training will perhaps force manager Luiz Felipe Scolari to make that decision regardless of performance.
During the remainder of the training session, it was not impact sub Bernard who filled Hulk's role on the right, but Ramires, the versatile and energetic midfielder who also made a late appearance off the bench against Croatia.
Brazil's 1st XI trained against their reserves. When Hulk went off injured, Ramires took his place. Oscar on left, Neymar central— Ben Smith (@BenSmithBBC) June 15, 2014
While nowhere near as much of a final-third threat as Hulk in peak form, the Chelsea midfielder offers athleticism and power as well as tactical strength for Scolari, with more protection offered to right-back Dani Alves if needed.
He's not a similar type of player to Hulk and certainly doesn't offer the same threat in beating players though—perhaps Brazil will feel the absence of PSG speedster Lucas Moura in this instance.
Why Not Bernard?
Even without Moura, Bernard could have offered a big impact by beating players, producing moments of quality in the final third and being a goalscoring threat himself.
Scolari will likely turn to Ramires, though—not because Bernard is not capable, but because Ramires can help negate the threat of Mexico's system.
Playing with a 3-5-2 system, Mexico's left wing-back Miguel Layun pinned back Cameroon in El Tri's opening game, rampaging forward into space and doubling up well with the midfielder inside him—Andres Guardado, who did not have such a good game—to create space for crossing chances.
Ramires has the pace and stamina to keep up with that tag-team in the left channel, but also the athleticism and opportunistic characteristics to take advantage of the space which is left behind when Layun advances.
As much as Hulk's omission removes certain threats, it could certainly work out in Brazil's favour tactically if Ramires takes his place.
Add in the fact that Hulk was a poor performer against Croatia, and Brazil could improve immeasurably with just this one simple switch in their starting XI.
Statistics from WhoScored.com.
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