Brazil head into the 46th edition of the Copa América as tournament hosts and favourites, but without talisman Neymar. The PSG forward picked up an ankle injury against Qatar and will now miss the tournament in its entirety. Brazil will be looking to bring home the Copa América trophy for the first time since 2007, after failing to even reach the final in three previous attempts, making the pressure on the host nation will be immense.
The wound left by the 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semi-final of their own World Cup is still gaping so picking up silverware on home soil may go some way to lifting the dark cloud which came over the national team 5 years ago in Belo Horizonte. This tactical preview will use statistics and analysis to see how Brazil could win the Copa América.
Four goals in his first five international matches of 2019, including three in their final two warm-up games make Jesus the prime candidate to fire Brazil to the title on home soil. Despite a difficult campaign in terms of starts, 2018/19 did prove fruitful for Jesus. A domestic treble and 21 goals in all competitions made it the best season of his fledgling career thus far. When looking at his goal-scoring metrics per ninety, his impact off the bench in the Premier League can be truly appreciated.
Despite managing just 993 minutes in the league, he still recorded seven goals, an average of one every 143 minutes. Consistency in front of goal is key to tournament success and it will be no different for Brazil at the Copa América. Whilst there are some discrepancies between an xG90 figure of 1.14 and actual goals figure of 0.33, his overall goal contribution to Manchester City has been consistent.
As can be seen in the images above from the game with Honduras, his shot selection and ability to get into the box and score goals make him a dangerous forward for Brazil heading into the tournament. He was able to tie up two opposition defenders before offering a decoy run and then spun in behind to get on the end of a cross. With a plethora of creative players withing the Brazil squad, his predatory instincts around the box will be crucial. This was shown last season as just two of 43 shots in the Premier League came from outside the area, with all seven goals coming from inside the box.
After a strong Premier League season, Richarlison has emerged as a key figure for Brazil heading into the Copa América. With the injury to Neymar, there is a gap in the starting eleven for an inside forward and he could be that man. A very respectable haul of 13 league goals for Everton came in 2702 minutes of football, an average of a goal every 206 minutes. His near one in two strike rate came from an xG90 of 0.38, only slightly different to his actual goals figure of 0.43 per 90.
Much of this can be attributed to his conversion into a more central role. All 13 of his goals came within the box, with six inside the six-yard box. Defenders have found his spontaneous style difficult to contend with, as he is more than capable with both right and left feet, as well as his head. However, he will need to improve upon his build-up play to adequately occupy Neymar’s wider role. Just one assist and 0.67 key passes per 90 will need to be increased if he hopes to play a starring role.
His positional flexibility could well be key for Brazil as they look to land the trophy on home soil and after goals and assists against both Qatar and Honduras, he goes into the tournament in red hot form.
Dani Alves heads into the Copa América as newly appointed Brazil captain and the only member of the squad to have lifted the Copa before. Despite being 36 years of age, he is still one of the most consistent right backs in the world. In addition to that, his experience as one of football’s most decorated players will be crucial.
Although he helped PSG stay reasonably solid in defence this season, it is in attack where he has impressed. An average of 0.39 assists per 90 in 1633 minutes is exceptional for a fullback. This sits almost level with his expected assist figure of 0.38. Perhaps his most impressive attacking statistic, however, is his key passes per 90 metric. After averaging 1.82 key passes per game in Ligue 1, the attacking impact of Alves can be seen, something which may prove vital as Brazil challenge for the Copa América.
How will they lineup?
Recently, Brazil have opted for a 4-2-3-1 on paper and their final warm-up games before the Copa América were no different. Their final match against Honduras may be their strongest side without the absent Neymar, too. Alisson will most likely see off the stiff competition from Ederson to start in goal, following an impressive maiden season in England which saw him pick up the Golden Glove, as well as the Champions League. Whilst both are gifted with their feet and command of their defensive third, Alisson’s 21 clean sheets cannot be ignored. In terms of centre backs, it seems as though Tite will opt for experienced PSG duo Marquinhos and Thiago Silva.
Perhaps the single most difficult decision for the manager will come at left back, with captain Dani Alves maintaining a solid grip of his right back slot. Whilst Filipe Luis started against Honduras and is considered more sound defensively, Juventus’ Alex Sandro may be preferred, particularly against lower sides. The width provided by the wing backs has tended to be a dangerous weapon over the years for Brazil and the performance of the two selected will be integral, both in providing an additional attacking threat, whilst nullifying the opposition.
Another key but competitive position for the Copa América is the number four. The deepest midfielder pinning the whole team and screening the defence is the key cog in the team and both Fernandinho and Casemiro are vying for selection. Whilst Casemiro was preferred against Honduras, Fernandinho’s ability to move the ball through the thirds and switch play with his superior vision make Tite’s decision difficult. Casemiro showed his suitability in the role in the first minute against Honduras.
Having him drop so deep pulled out the opposition from their block, leaving a huge pocket of space behind when they came to press. After that, it is simply a question of having the quality to play the pass. Casemiro was able to spin and play the ball straight through the lines with a single touch, leaving Arthur to attack the backline.
Two players who seem to be settled in the side, however, are Barcelona duo, Arthur and Coutinho. Arthur will most likely play slightly advanced of the number four as he did in the warm-up games, dictating play from deep and providing an interior option for the wing back, as well as the pass out of defence for Silva and Marquinhos. Despite a difficult season for Coutinho at club level, it is he who will take a lot of the creative burden from Neymar. Operating as a number ten in a more flexible role than expected, it is his chance to finally pick up some form.
However, after the injury to Neymar, we could see Roberto Firmino preferred in a deeper role. His ability to drop and link play between the midfield and wide men was decisive in Liverpool’s success last season, as well as his late arrivals into the box to score. This may push Coutinho wide left at the expense of David Neres.
The Ajax man started against Honduras but has the second-fewest caps in the Brazil squad so may not be trusted to start at the Copa América just yet. The aforementioned Richarlison seems to have secured his place in the starting eleven pre-tournament. His ability to drift between the lines and attack space have proven fruitful for Tite thus far and is the man in form heading into the Copa.
Gabriel Jesus will head into the Copa América with more goals for Brazil than anyone else in the squad. Despite the difficult season at Manchester City previously mentioned, his productivity in front of goal for Brazil will play a key part, should they get far in the tournament. The space he makes for others will be crucial, too. His horizontal movements in the pocket will pull players out and open up areas for the wide, inverted forwards to move into, thus allowing the wing backs to overlap, too.
When looking at squad depth, it seems that Brazil are deserved favourites. However, the psychological impact of their defeat to Germany cannot be underestimated. The match that broke a nation will still be weighing heavy in the minds and the pressure of righting that wrong will be immense. Despite losing their talisman, Neymar, it could be argued that the balance of the squad is now better and more cohesive. Furthermore, with a seemingly simple group including Venezuela, Bolivia, and Peru, the Seleção should realistically be looking to bring home the Copa América on home soil.
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