Battling a cold, so let’s just jump right into it.
- Neymar and South American opposition
I think it’s fair to say that Neymar has a harder time playing against South American teams than those of any other continent. He’s had some brilliant moments against South American teams, but very few complete, 90-minute performances. South American teams swarm him, shadow him, kick him, boo him, jeer him, and otherwise get in his head like no one else can.
Since June 2013, you can count on one hand the number of games where Neymar hasn’t been Brazil’s best player (even when he struggles), but that really isn’t the point. The point is that performances like tonight, or the Colombia match this past summer, really need to get nixed. The frustration, the cynicism, the exasperation, all of it boils to the surface – you can see it on Neymar’s face. And then the bad habits creep out. The revenge tackles. Confronting the official. The over-elaboration on the ball. Going to ground and staying down, hoping the opponent sees yellow.
I keep thinking those days are over, and I keep getting disappointed. After Neymar’s scintillating performance against Peru, I thought he had reached a new level. Then came Colombia. After his recent run of form for Barcelona, I thought he had achieved a new level of understanding. A new level of maturity. Then came Argentina.
Understand, Neymar wasn’t bad tonight in the sense that he was hurting the team (though he did botch a few counter-attacking opportunities.) In fact, it was his brilliant switched ball to Dani Alves that led to Lucas Lima’s goal. (One of the many tools he’s added to his arsenal this year.)
But he has to understand why exactly he’s been so good for Barcelona . It’s not because he’s going on solo runs through the middle of the pitch. It’s not because he’s hitting screamers from 25 yards. It’s because he’s played more collectively than he ever has before. Because he’s recognized that involving his teammates actually opens up more space for him to score. It also helps that he doesn’t stand over the ball as much as he used to. When you compare him to Di Maria tonight, the thing that separated the two was that Di Maria attacked every moment he got the ball, and looked to link up with his teammates instead of merely trying to win the match by himself.
It goes without saying Neymar desperately needs more support from his teammates, who struggled to get him the ball the entire first half. It goes without saying that he’s far and away our best player. But he could be even better…and the only one stopping him is him.
- Brazil pays tribute to the great English teams of the 1880s
Miranda. David Luiz. Luis Gustavo. Elias. You just know they would have been first choice at, I don’t know, Old Carthusians F.C. or something. But just as the Scots showed many of those old English sides how keeping the ball on the ground and playing with short passes was superior, so too did Argentina in the first half.
Time and time again, Miranda would hoof the ball long. Time and time again, Elias would try some ridiculous chipped pass that would inevitably be intercepted or miscontrolled. Did you ever play the “Everything is lava” game when you were a kid? You know, the one where you have to step on the furniture to survive because the ground will boil you alive? That’s what the first half was like.
We know the art of passing in Brazil is in dire straits right now. But there are still good passers out there, and in key positions, too. Thiago Silva. Fernandinho. Allan. Coutinho. Until Brazil consistently uses them, and has a coach who understands (and demands) a more pass-and-move, pace-and-space style, Brazil will continue to eke out results…and nothing else.
- Lucas Lima – more questions than answers
A fine finish and a fine goal to ensure Brazil left Buenos Aires with a point means Lucas will capture the headlines and Dunga will live to fight another day. But I can’t help thinking the same thing I used to think when Paulinho was scoring goals in the Confederations Cup:
“Yes, good, but aren’t you a midfielder? What are you doing in the middle of the field?”
To be fair, Lucas is no Paulinho, and I’m not trying to compare the two. But as a midfielder, Lima’s performance was middling at best…making that three middling performances out of four. His passing was okay in and of itself, but hardly spectacular. Actually, I was more concerned with his movement. Because as much as I can (and will) criticize Elias and Gustavo for their passing, they have to have someone to pass to, and too often Lima was very slow moving into position to receive the pass.
It’s not all his fault. Like I said in the previous article: he’s an intelligent player, but probably not talented enough, or seasoned enough, to really move the needle. So even though he put in exactly the kind of performance I expected, I don’t want him dropped. What I want instead is to surround him with more players that share his mindset. Imagine him in a deeper position next to Fernandinho, or Allan, or Casemiro, with the likes of Coutinho or even Felipe Anderson up ahead. You could see some fairly exciting interplay with names like those.
Actually, what I really want to see is a manager who can institute a philosophy and system that gets the most out of names like that. Because names alone aren’t enough. Now, more than ever before, football demands a mind to mold the bodies on the field.
To put it another way, you don’t get a Xavi or a Busquets without a Guardiola. You don’t get a Reus or a Gundogan without a Klopp.
Speaking of minds…
- Where is Dunga’s head at?
I just don’t understand what Dunga’s thinking.
Whatever you could say about him, Dunga’s last go-around centered around a logical system of play. That Brazil team had a style, a philosophy, and while it may not have pleased the purists, it worked. (And looked a lot prettier than it’s sometimes given credit for.)
Now, I have no idea what this team’s style or philosophy is. It’s easy to say they’re a “counter-attacking team”, but are they really? How many lightning fast counters did you see in this game? Or against Chile? Or in the Copa America? Not nearly enough to be successful.
It’s easy to say Brazil are a “defensive team”, but are they? How many goals off of set pieces have we conceded? How often has our back-line between penetrated?
It doesn’t help that Dunga’s selections and substitutions are incoherent. For example, why would you start Ricardo Oliveira, a player who thrives on crosses, and then take out your best crosser in Douglas Costa? Why would you experiment with a false 9, and yet wait over a year to try your one player suited for the role in Neymar? (Even then, he waited until the middle of the second half to make the change.)
Why would you preach things like space and movement, then field a double-pivot consisting of Gustavo and Elias?
Four years ago, Dunga may have been an angry bastard, but at least he was a man with a plan. Now, he’s like the very team he’s coaching: just trying to eke out results.
Dunga, I’ll always love you for what you did as a player. If I were to name my all-time Seleção starting XI , you’d be in it. I’ll always defend your first tenure as being underrated and under-appreciated.
But it’s time for you to go.
- Brazil has a reputation for being dirty lately
But come on!