A Chance for the Seleção to Experiment in La Paz
Brazil travel to La Paz for a World Cup qualifier on Thursday evening that is, on the face of it at least, consequence free. The Seleção have already guaranteed top spot in the table with an astonishing run of 28 points from 10 games. Bolivia meanwhile, are one of two teams that definitely cannot qualify alongside Venezuela.
But for Tite and Brazil, planning for next summer’s World Cup starts now. Brazil had already qualified prior to the September qualifiers of course, but Tite still opted to keep the majority of his core starting XI together for matches against Ecuador and Colombia. However, the squad for this month has a slightly more experimental sheen to it.
Grêmio’s Arthur, Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fred and Shandong Luneng’s Diego Tardelli are all called for the first time in Tite’s reign. Injuries to Marcelo and Filipe Luis mean the manager is forced to consider other options at left-back. Juventus’ Alex Sandro is likely to start both matches, with 21 year old Flamengo left-back Jorge drafted in for cover.
For Tite, roughly 16 of 23 man squad for Russia next summer are probably decided. Barring injury or a tremendous loss of form; Alisson and Ederson will form 2 of the 3 goalkeepers, with Cassio, Weverton, Alex Muralho and Marcelo Grohe grappling for the third goalkeeper slot. Dani Alves, Marquinhos, João Miranda, Thiago Silva, Marcelo and probably Filipe Luis will be selected- unless Alex Sandro can force out the latter.
The role of back up right back and second back up centre half are up for grabs. Fagner of Corinthians has been a consistent, if scarcely used presence in Tite’s squad. But Manchester City’s Danilo might catch the coach’s eye- especially given his versatility. Monaco’s Jemerson and São Paulo’s Rodrigo Caio are fighting for the last centre half position.
In midfield, Renato Augusto, Casemiro and Paulinho have formed an excellent partnership, with Fernandinho of Manchester City a trusted understudy. Tite will look at Grêmio’s promising young defensive midfielder Arthur and Shakhtar’s Fred this month, with Zenit St. Petersburg’s Giulianio breathing down their necks. Thiago Maia, now at Lille, could be an outside bet with the best football betting sites if he can show some form in France.
In the attacking positions, Coutinho and Willian are duking it out for the position on the right of the attack, with Tite saying he will rotate according to the opponents. But both are assured squad spots, as are Neymar and Gabriel Jesus. Roberto Firmino is competing with the likes of Taíson, Luan and now Diego Tardelli for the prize of Gabriel Jesus’ deputy. Luan and Tardelli, like Firmino, can play anywhere in the front 3 and are conversant with the false 9 role. The problem is that Neymar does not dovetail effectively with a false 9.
He either needs to play in that position himself, or else play off of a more fixed striker. The PSG man likes to roam freely and that clashes with the modus operandi of a false 9. In the Colombia match in September, Neymar and Firmino’s movement jarred and they ended up standing on one another’s toes.
There was some talk of the revitalised Jô coming into consideration given his more orthodox style and his impressive form at Corinthians. However, having not been selected in September or October, it looks as though the ship has sailed on what would have been one of Brazil’s most unlikely comeback stories.
With nothing riding on the match in La Paz, Tite might use the game to take a look at the likes of Jemerson, Arthur, Danilo and maybe even Cassio. Though if Ederson continues his good form, he may be able to wrestle the number 1 shirt off of Alisson. The Bolivia fixture gives Tite room to tinker, especially since the Thursday night slot makes life very difficult for some of his European based players.
The final match at home to Chile will have a great deal resting on it for the visitors, who are scrapping away for qualification. Brazil will probably need to call on their bigger guns to preserve the integrity of the qualifiers, but also because Chile are a higher quality of opponent.
Bolivia gives Tite the opportunity to begin firming up those final 4 or 5 squad spots for Russia. Bolivia’s Estadio Hernando Siles Stadium is situated 12,000 feet above sea level, a tough testing ground for his fringe hopefuls hoping to board the plane for Russia next summer.