Dunga Must Decide Whether Brazil Stick or Twist in Copa America Against Peru

Robbie Blakeley@@rio_robbieSpecial to Bleacher ReportJune 10, 2016

FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2015, file photo, Brazil's coach Dunga screams to players during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Argentina in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)
Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

Hello, old friend. Brazil, it’s good to see you.

The public will hardly be taking to the streets in their thousands because Brazil have been able to dispatch limited opposition in the form of Haiti, but Dunga and his cohorts have laid down a marker for the remainder of the Copa America Centenario.

This Sunday, the Selecao play their final group game against Peru. Following the 2-2 draw between Ecuador and the Peruvians on Wednesday night, a point will be enough to see Brazil through to the quarter-finals as group winners.

That particular issue may throw up a conundrum for the Brazil boss, who saw his side break forward with ease and yet, despite being infrequently tested, managed to appear worryingly fragile across the back line.

From middle to front, Dunga can have little complaint apart from profligacy in front of goal, young striker Gabriel in particular being found guilty in preventing Brazil from realistically hitting double figures.

Dunga's Brazil side could have hit double figures against Haiti.
Dunga's Brazil side could have hit double figures against Haiti.HECTOR RETAMAL/Getty Images

When Brazil attacked Haiti, they went forward in waves, with full-backs and central midfielders pushing up to join the front three. It was as close to taking off the shackles as we have seen in Dunga’s second spell as Selecao boss.

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And it is at the offensive end of the field that Dunga has a selection headache, albeit a pleasant one. So far in this competition, he has started with Jonas, a more conventional yet static target man. The ploy has been successful up to a point, with the Benfica man dropping deep and helping bring wide men Willian and Philippe Coutinho in from the flanks.

The introduction of Gabriel at the interval against Haiti, however, gave Brazil a spark. Not exactly sparking the side into life—Brazil were already 3-0 up, after all—but the Selecao played with a renewed verve and energy, an attacking undercurrent which was a more direct route to goal than the more laborious workings of the veteran Jonas.

Gabriel could get the nod ahead of Jonas this Sunday.
Gabriel could get the nod ahead of Jonas this Sunday.HECTOR RETAMAL/Getty Images

Following his well-taken goal and determination to cover just about every blade of grass in the pitch’s final third, Dunga could well plump for Gabriel to start against Peru.

However, the coach’s main selection dilemma ahead of the clash lies in the midfield sector. Real Madrid enforcer Casemiro picked up a yellow card against Haiti, his second of this Copa America, and will now serve a one-match suspension on Sunday evening.

What is Dunga’s next course of action? Go for a like-for-like replacement, in the shape of Rodrigo Caio or, as is more likely, Walace?

Or does he decide that fortune does indeed favour the brave, play Lucas Lima from the start and gamble on Brazil’s creative axis outgunning any potential defensive frailty?

Lucas Lima, who scored against Haiti, is in contention to replace Casemiro against Peru.
Lucas Lima, who scored against Haiti, is in contention to replace Casemiro against Peru.HECTOR RETAMAL/Getty Images

The immediate impulse after such a dominant and attacking display must be to throw caution to the wind. The idea of playing a base of three creative midfielders, in Lucas Lima, Elias and Renato Augusto, may well be overpowering.

Throw into the mix the marauding full-backs Filipe Luis and Daniel Alves, the latter of whom looked particularly menacing on Wednesday evening, and you may be forgiven for thinking that a second goal-fest in four days would be on the cards.

Against Haiti, Brazil were afforded what looked like acres through the middle of the park, with Coutinho, Augusto and Elias at times reminiscent of country gentlemen out for a Sunday stroll in the fields.

The Liverpool playmaker was understandably given the man-of-the-match award following his hat-trick. Not so rigid in sticking to his flank as Willian, he cut in at every opportunity and linked well with the centre-forward.

Philippe Coutinho cut in from the left against Haiti to devastating effect.
Philippe Coutinho cut in from the left against Haiti to devastating effect.HECTOR RETAMAL/Getty Images

It is unlikely Peru will be so hospitable in giving them time and ample space on the ball, and with target man Paolo Guerrero looking to lead from the front in breaks on the counter, some form of midfield enforcement would be a more than welcome addition.

Should Dunga be able to call on his No. 3, Miranda, the Inter Milan stopper can be expected to walk back into the team, ideally as a man-marker for the rugged Flamengo front man.

The defence looks like it could be a concern for Dunga. In the goalless draw against Ecuador, his side was set up to deal with any potential counter-attacks, and the job was done efficiently and competently.

Against Haiti, despite infrequent threats at goal, there were holes to exploit, explained by Dunga’s tactical switch in the second half to a more daring shape. The coach made the right move in testing other options in preparation for Casemiro’s enforced absence; however, it is unlikely that what he has seen will encourage him to adopt a posture of wild abandonment.

Casemiro is suspended for the Peru game.
Casemiro is suspended for the Peru game.HECTOR RETAMAL/Getty Images

Taking out a natural holding midfielder will also alter the formation of Dunga’s setup. Should Caio or Walace get the nod, the Selecao are likely to retain a loose 4-1-4-1, which can rapidly switch to a 4-3-3 when sweeping forward.

Without a holder, Brazil will revert to a more conventional 4-2-3-1, arguably losing a little of their flexibility and change in play when playing either with or without the ball. Renato Augusto would push forward in support of Willian and Coutinho, but would then be occupying the space the Liverpool player cut into with such devastating effect against Haiti.

Perversely, opting not to field a holding, more defensively minded midfielder, is likely to hinder Brazil’s creative fluidity to a greater degree. With one of Walace or Caio deputised to sit and hold anchor, the team will be far more balanced and not so top heavy.

In addition, there is an extra layer of protection for a central-defensive pairing and goalkeeper who have not looked 100 per cent solid at this tournament thus far and are liable to be abandoned by their full-backs at any time. In this instance, Dunga’s pragmatism should pay dividends for the side.

Selecting Walace to play in holding midfield would offer Brazil greater balance.
Selecting Walace to play in holding midfield would offer Brazil greater balance.GREGG NEWTON/Getty Images

There are, of course, always those who disagree. On SporTV on Thursday morning, presenter Andre Rizek criticised Dunga’s lack of courage in not sticking with no holding midfielder after Haiti scored (link in Portuguese).

Rather confusingly, Rizek’s comments came in the same segment where he also admitted the defence was bad generally. With a leaky defensive pairing, it is difficult to decide what else Dunga could have done.

Marquinhos in particular looked slack when picking up forwards and could be the player to make way for the returning Miranda. Brazilian broadcaster Carlos Cereto, who is in the USA with the squad, also claimed that Dunga had tried a lighter formation in training but was unlikely to change the team shape fundamentally against Peru.

That would point to the same formation, same game plan, if not the same gaping scoreline. A point will suffice for Brazil, but after Wednesday night’s blitz, the Selecao may have the kick-start they were after at this tournament.