Brazil v Bolivia preview
September results pushed Brazil from 6th in the CONMEBOL table to 2nd, but the pressure is on to consolidate and the weight of expectation is significant. Tite could not have asked for a better start to life as the Seleção supremo than a consummate win at altitude in Quito and a dominant victory over Colombia in Manaus. But Bolivia and Venezuela will deliver different pressures as Tite seeks to extend his honeymoon period.
Brazil are only 3 points clear of Paraguay in 6th place and level on points with Argentina in 3rd- a victory against Bolivia in Natal is crucial. The manager will be forced to make at least cosmetic changes to his midfield with Casemiro injured and Paulinho suspended. Manchester City’s Fernandinho has been recalled into the squad and he will probably take Casemiro’s place at the base of midfield.
It looks as though Zenit St. Petersburg’s Guiliano will take Paulinho’s spot, completing a midfield trio with Renato Augusto. Tite’s midfield trios tend not to operate with clearly defined number 6, number 8 and number 10 roles like most modern midfields. Tite likes his creative playmakers to drift in from wide positions and for this reason, it looks as though Philippe Coutinho will start on the right in place of Willian.
Coutinho replaced Willian from the bench in both September qualifiers and made a good impact on both occasions. The Chelsea man was the Seleção’s most consistent performer in 2015, but Tite’s system does not suit his qualities quite as well. Renato Augusto will probably be asked to shuffle over and fill the space Coutinho vacates as he drifts inside. Fernandinho and Renato Augusto will form a fairly lopsided double pivot. Whilst Guiliano will be asked to choose his moments to attack. That said, Bolivia are hardly likely to provide the most adventurous opposition.
Thiago Silva is back in the squad, but unlikely to make the starting line up. Tite has emphasised the importance of meritocracy and having performed so well in September, he probably won’t break up the partnership of João Miranda and Marquinhos just yet. Upfront, Gabriel Jesús will continue to be Brazil’s reference point, but in possession, it is likely that he and Neymar will have the freedom to interchange between the left hand side and the number 9 role.
Jesús announced himself on the international scene with a pair of stunning goals in Quito in September, but just lately the Manchester City bound striker has been showing signs of fatigue with league leaders Palmeiras. He played in a topsy turvy 3-2 win for the Verdão over Santa Cruz on Sunday night and will only have one training session with the team before the match against Bolivia. But Tite is hardly over run with options for the centre forward role and the partnership between Jesús and Neymar has shown early signs of promise.
The decision for Brazil to play in Natal is significant. The CBF have deliberately played most of the home qualifiers in the north of the country, where the support tends to be a little warmer and slightly more patient than it is further south. Brazil were mercilessly heckled in pre Copa América 2015 friendlies in São Paulo and Porto Alegre. All 31,000 tickets have been sold in the Arena das Dunas. The mood of Brazil fans has been lifted by the removal of Dunga and two excellent victories in September, but it will soon turn sour again if Bolivia surprise their hosts here. La Verde did earn a creditable 0-0 draw in Santiago in their last fixture; they will try to repeat that scoreline in Natal.
PREDICTED LINE UP; 1.ALISSON (Roma), 2.DANI ALVES (Juventus), 3.MIRANDA (Inter Milan), 13.MARQUINHOS (Paris Saint Germain), 6.FILIPE LUIS (Atletico Madrid), 5.FERNANDINHO (Manchester City), 8.R.AUGUSTO (Beijing Guoan), 18.GUILIANO (Zenit St. Petersburg), 11.P.COUTINHO (Liverpool), 10.NEYMAR (Barcelona), 9.G.JESUS (Palmeiras).
Predicted score: BRAZIL 2 (Neymar, Coutinho) BOLIVIA 0.