On Thursday night Brazil took on Bolivia in the ninth game of the South American World Cup Qualification. The match was the third in the nascent reign of Tite as manager of the Seleção.
The first two could not have gone better for the ex-Corinthians coach as Brazil beat Ecuador 3-0 away in Quito and overcame a strong Colombia side 2-1 in Manaus. After the second disastrous spell with Dunga as coach of the national team, Tite had a rebuilding job on his hands, coming in with Brazil sixth in the qualification table, but he has quickly managed to stamp his mark on the team and the two wins took them up to second, just a point behind leaders Uruguay.
Another positive result and performance was expected against Bolivia, who have never won on Brazilian soil.
In those first two outings Brazil lined up in Tite’s preferred 4-1-4-1 formation with Roma’s Alisson in goal; a defence of Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Miranda and Marcelo; a central midfield three of Casemiro, Renato Augusto and the much maligned Paulinho; Neymar and Willian on the left and right and Manchester City’s summer signing Gabriel Jesus leading the line.
The team was well balanced, with Casemiro providing a cover in the midfield that allowed Paulinho and Renato Augusto to join Neymar and Jesus in attack. Philippe Coutinho came on in both games and his positive performances were enough to force his way into the starting line-up for this game at the expense of Willian.
Three other changes were forced on the new manager, with Marcelo and Casemiro picking up injuries and Paulinho serving a one-game suspension. Into their places came Filipe Luis, Fernandinho and Giuliano, three more than able deputies. Giuliano is a name that may not be familiar to all but he is a player who performed well for Grêmio in the first half of the year before moving to Zenit Saint Petersburg in June where he has continued his good form, scoring nine goals and providing seven assists in his first 10 games in Russia.
The positioning of Coutinho and Giuliano was the big tactical talking point before kick-off as they are both players with more attacking instincts than the men they replaced. Would they fulfil the same roles as Willian and Paulinho or would the shape of the team change to accommodate their style of play?
Bolivia also have a relatively new head coach in the form of Argentine Ángel Hoyos and had a positive start under his stewardship, beating Peru 2-0 at home and drawing 0-0 with Chile in Santiago. They were, however, expected to come and set up to limit the damage, packing the midfield and defending deep.
Though technically limited, Bolivia had not until now been whipping boys of the qualification league, even on their travels away from the altitude of La Paz. Argentina only managed to put two past them and they went to Chile and came away with a 0-0 draw against the double Copa América champions.
From the off Brazil’s formation appeared to be fairly similar to that seen in the previous two ties with Coutinho wide on the right in the position Willian occupied and Giuliano through the middle filling the hole that Paulinho had left.
That is not to say they were static in these positions; far from it; Coutinho on the right and Neymar on the left both drifted in towards the middle, dragging away the Bolivian full-backs and leaving space for overlapping runs from their own full-backs and central midfielders.
Brazil’s first opportunity came after six minutes as Renato Augusto dropped deep to pick up the ball from the defence before spraying a long pass to Coutinho who had come inside. The Liverpool playmaker provided a deft flick to play in Gabriel Jesus but the teenager could not finish. It was a sign of things to come.
The intensity of Tite’s team off the ball was also highly impressive, within a few seconds of a Bolivian player receiving the ball there was always a yellow shirt buzzing around trying to win it back. And it was from this pressure that the first goal came after just 10 minutes.
Neymar closed down the dilly-dallying Bolivian defender 40 yards from goal before playing it into Gabriel Jesus who was one-on-one with the keeper. Jesus was unselfish and played it back into Neymar who tucked the ball into the empty net.
The second followed on 25 minutes, with Philippe Coutinho finishing from close range after some lovely play between Alves and Giuliano down the right. Coutinho had once more drifted inside drawing away his marker leaving Giuliano and Alves two-on-one with the Bolivian left-midfielder. This was clearly an attacking ploy that they had worked hard on in training and they put it to good use here.
Fernandinho was also in fine fettle, spreading the ball around, using the various options provided to him by the other midfielders and killing any danger before it had chance to take shape.
Two more goals followed in quick succession after 38 and 43 minutes. The third was started from another long pass into Gabriel Jesus from Filipe Luis. Jesus was fouled but the ball fell to Neymar who took it away from two players creating space for Luis who had continued his run from the back. Neymar played it into him and the Atlético Madrid defender finished low into the near corner.
The fourth was similar. Jesus dropped deep to pick up the ball and played it through for Neymar to run onto. Neymar again returned it beautifully and Jesus delightfully dinked it over the onrushing keeper from close range. Pep Guardiola will no doubt be rubbing his hand with glee at the prospect of Manchester’s new superstar joining up with his squad in January.
These two goals, as well as taking the game beyond any doubt, perfectly exemplified the way Tite set up his team to play. Whenever he is on Brazilian television he talks about the importance of quick vertical passes and triangulation. Brazil drew Bolivia in, letting them think they could win it high up the pitch before striking with frightening speed which left no time for the stretched Bolivian defence to compose itself. The runs of Luis and Jesus to follow their passes also show the desire to work that Tite drives into his teams.
To give you some idea of the speed of the attack and the way they drew Bolivia in, the two images below show where Gabriel Jesus made the initial pass to start the move for the fourth goal and then where he was finishing it off six seconds later. Notice the position of the Bolivian team who had been drawn in intelligently.
This game was against Bolivia so Brazilians perhaps should not get too excited but it was an excellent first half performance from the Seleção. There was some terrifically fluid interchanging of position from the hosts and the ball was moving from back to front with the sort of speed one rarely sees in international football.
The second period was a procession for the men in the famous canary yellow shirt, strolling around the pitch comfortably keeping possession with neat triangles and tidy passing. It was a case of preserving energy for the trip to Venezuela on Tuesday.
After the hour mark, and a nasty looking cut to the face of Neymar, he and Gabriel Jesus were withdrawn and replaced by Willian and Roberto Firmino, but this point the game had lost its verve and rhythm. There was time for Firmino to add a fifth, however, nodding in a Coutinho corner with 15 minutes to go.
Brazil finished the game having had 67 percent of the ball and 18 shots to Bolivia’s three. This was a truly dominant performance against a team that despite being relatively poor going forward can usually hold its own defensively against quality opposition.
The most notable changes between Tite’s team and the one he inherited are the speed of the attacks and the intensity on the ball. Given the amount of time international managers have with their players, he has worked wonders to get them to this stage after just three games.
The real challenge though will come on 10 November when Brazil take on Argentina at home. In the crowd in the stadium on Thursday night was a child holding a sign that read: “Argentina may have the Pope, but we’ve got Saint Tite”. That game – a month on Monday – will be the true test of whether the new man has worked a miracle with the mess left by Dunga.
By Joshua Law. Follow @FootyCanarinho