The ankle injury suffered by PSG’s forward means that he will sit out the home Copa, leaving the Selecao with work to do ahead of the first match
Buoyed by home advantage and with a strength and depth of talent unmatched by any of the other 11 participants, Brazil go into the 2019 Copa America as overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy.
Not since 2007 have the Selecao won South America’s famous competition, and with a solitary victory in the Confederations Cup and in the Rio Olympic Games since then the pressure to prevail is intense for Tite’s men.
The coach has responded by picking a squad packed with top names, although the loss of Neymar has cast a shadow on preparations as it was confirmed that the PSG star would miss the entire competition.
Brazil’s line-up nevertheless includes two Champions League winners from Liverpool in the shape of Alisson and Roberto Firmino as well as a host of champions from across Europe’s top leagues.
That glut of options gives Tite a welcome dilemma: how to trim his 23-man squad down into a single starting XI.
The Selecao go into the Copa with a strong idea of what their best team might be, but there is still time for a surprise or two before they kick off against Bolivia on Friday – with Neymar’s replacement clearly the biggest conundrum.
“We already have the starting line-up in mind, but we joke around saying that we will call up 23 to then decide the XI,” Tite’s assistant Cleber Xavier told reporters at the start of May. It is undeniable that compared to their main rivals at the Copa, most notably Argentina, Brazil enjoy an enviable level of consistency when it comes to picking their best team.
The loss of Neymar just minutes into their first pre-Copa friendly did not have an immediate impact on results. Qatar were dispatched 2-0 before Brazil ran riot against Honduras, winning 7-0 in Porto Alegre.
In both of those games Tite went with a 4-2-3-1 line-up, which could also mutate into 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 depending on the opposition in the upcoming tournament. In the meantime Chelsea’s Willian has been drafted in for the PSG forward, a change that should make little difference tactically to the coach’s plans.
While Neymar is back on the sidelines Dani Alves, who has been handed captaincy duties for the Copa, is back at full fitness and will be in the first XI against Bolivia, while Alisson pips Manchester City’s Ederson to the No. 1 jersey after both saw action this year.
With Marcelo out of the running Alex Sandro gets the nod at left-back, outside Thiago Silva and Marquinhos in the centre of defence. It is in midfield where Brazil will have to make some tough decisions.
Casemiro will anchor the middle, leaving either Allan – the more combative option – or Arthur – a superior passer – to fight it out for the right to accompany the Real Madrid man. Then, whether Tite ultimately opts for either of his two favoured tactical set-ups, a big upset could be on the cards.
Philippe Coutinho has long been one of Tite’s favourites. But the Barcelona man has suffered all season in Catalunya, failing to show his best football; and suddenly his place in the first XI has begun to look rather tenuous, although Neymar’s injury certainly aids him in that respect.
Everton’s Richarlison has made the most of his Brazil opportunities over the past 12 months, scoring five goals in 10 appearances following his debut after the 2018 World Cup. He offers a more direct outlet to goal and looks set to take on the mantle left by Neymar in attack, although Willian will also hope to make an impact should he be given the chance.
Lucas Paqueta is a more orthodox replacement for Coutinho in that regard and will also be hoping to put pressure on the ex-Liverpool star over the course of the Copa. Brazil also have a wildcard option in the shape of Ajax’s David Neres, who enjoyed a fine season for the Champions League semi-finalists.
As mentioned above, Firmino goes into the Copa America as Brazil’s first choice to occupy the No. 9 spot, with Jesus set to be used as an impact substitute over the last half hour should the Selecao need extra firepower. What is certain, however, is that the Copa America favourites won’t have their star man Neymar to count upon over the next month.
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