By Joshua Law
Brazil visit Uruguay on Thursday in a clash between first and second in the South American World Cup qualifying table. Here are some things to look out for in the game:
- Who will replace Gabriel Jesus up front?
When Tite took the reins of the Seleção for the first time, against Ecuador last September, he had a difficult decision to make. Who would be his number 9? Dunga had used the aging Ricardo Oliveira, Porto’s Jonas and Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa. But the first two no longer looked up to the task and Barbosa was sitting on the bench at Inter Milan.
Neymar was one option but Tite prefers to put players in the same position they play at club level, meaning Brazil’s star man would be out on the left.
Another, riskier option was Gabriel Jesus. He was playing well in that position for Palmeiras in the domestic league. When deployed there in the opening two games of the Olympics, however, he had underwhelmed. A move to a 4-2-4 with Neymar and Grêmio’s Luan through the middle proved much more productive.
Tite opted to take the risk and it has paid off handsomely. Jesus scored two and got an assist on his debut, and managed 3 more goals and 2 assists in the five games that followed. But now he is out injured for the first time since he burst onto the international scene and made himself the undisputed first choice. So who will replace him leading the line against Uruguay?
Tite could still opt for Neymar. As I said before, he prefers using players in the positions they occupy at club level, but moving Neymar up front would allow Philippe Coutinho to move over to the left-hand side role he plays at Liverpool. He could then also use Coutinho’s space on the right to put in an extra creative player, or to play Chelsea’s Willian, a workaholic who will provide more defensive cover.
Another option is Diego Souza, a surprise call up who plays his club football with Sport Recife in Brazil’s North-East region. He is nowhere near as mobile as the other options but could provide a good focal point to the attack. He has excellent technique and knows how to hold the ball up before bringing others into play.
The most natural replacement, however, seems to be Roberto Firmino, another of Jürgen Klopp’s disciples. His mobility is comparable to that of Jesus but he is perhaps less of a goal threat. Despite this limitation his work rate and ability to link play still look like the best option.
- How will Brazil react if they go behind?
This is the most important thing we are yet to find out under Tite. Since that Ecuador game kicked things off in September the team has conceded once and scored an incredible 17 times. They are yet to spend a single second behind in a game.
If they go behind in this one, certainly a possibility away against a tough Uruguay side, how will they cope with the additional pressure? Knowing how to control a game when in the lead is one thing, breaking down a solid defence that is trying to hold on to its own advantage is another entirely.
The lack of Luis Suárez, suspended for this game, reduces Uruguay’s threat significantly but they may still provide Tite’s toughest test so far. The boss might even be hoping that his boys don’t have it all their own way. Only then will he get to see what they’re really made of.
- Who will come in for Suárez?
Uruguay’s best player is, as I just mentioned, out through suspension. He picked up a caution for a foul on Gary Medel in Uruguay’s last game against Chile. Just two yellows in two separate games are enough to earn a one game ban in this qualifying tournament. It’s harsh, but the rules are the same for all.
Any team would miss a player like Suárez, perhaps the world’s finest number 9, but in Edinson Cavani Uruguay have a more than able deputy. He has already bagged 40 goals in 43 appearances this season. The question, however, is how they will set up the team around him.
Normally Uruguay line up in a 4-3-1-2 formation with Cavani and the Barcelona striker as the front two. Without Suárez it will be interesting to see whether Óscar Tabárez decides to stick with his formation and put in Abel Hernandez or Diego Rolan, both more natural centre-forwards, or whether he goes with two attacking midfielders in a 4-3-2-1.
Tabárez has plenty of options to fill these positions with Diego Laxalt, Cristian Stuani, Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Cristian Rodríguez to choose from. From a personal standpoint I would be interested to see how De Arrascaeta copes in such a big game after some wonderful performances for his Brazilian club side Cruzeiro.
- Who is Brazil’s best goalkeeper?
Tite will most probably be inclined to stick with Alisson, the Roma goalie who has started all of the six games so far.
There is a problem, though. Alisson has not been turning out regularly in the Italian Série A recently and the performances of Benfica’s Ederson in the Champions League have seen him force his way into the squad. Taffarel, the goalkeeping coach, is a fan of Alisson but Tite has a serious decision to make.
Will Ederson’s performances be enough to give him a chance to start against Uruguay? We will have to wait and see.