What if TransferLab was Managing Brazil in the Copa America…?

James Nalton uses TransferLab’s new National Best XI tool to compare Tite’s Brazil to TransferLab’s predicted XI.

Since taking over as Brazil manager in 2016, Tite has never lost a Copa America game. In 2019, he guided his nation to their first Copa win since 2007. This year, perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, he has steered Brazil to another final.

What’s more, he’s only lost one game in a major tournament—a defeat to Belgium in the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup—and has only lost four games in total during his time as Brazil boss.

Of the managers who have taken charge of more than 15 games for Brazil, only 1958 World Cup-winning boss Vicente Feola has a better points per game record.

He must be doing something right.

It seems futile, therefore, to suggest where he might be going wrong in terms of team selection. But rather than telling Tite what to do, this exercise will show how much TransferLab agrees with the wily manager and the strength in depth Brazil still has thanks to its players dotted around leagues across the world.

The Selection

TransferLab’s best XI feature is not only useful for looking at the best players in each position in a particular league but it is also able to pick out players based on nationality.

Given Brazil players cover pretty much all of the football world and the number of talented individuals they have shining in various leagues, there’s always the chance a team selected using data alone could throw up an XI of wildcards. 

As it turns out, the team it produces agrees with Tite in many areas while also highlighting some players who are sure to be in the Brazil manager’s future plans.

The criteria for the team is simply Brazilians who played more than 1,500 minutes during the 2020/21 season. They have also been separated into specific roles and TransferLab chooses the most suitable players based on that role.

Switching these around from the numerous options available can throw up a couple of different players but we can generally assume that a Brazil team will want to play the ball out from the back and use attacking full backs supported in the middle by a defensive midfielder.

No Neymar?

As a result of the 1,500 minute qualifier, Neymar isn’t included in this team as he doesn’t quite meet the minutes required for Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 last season.

It’s a given, though, that Neymar is the first name on Brazil’s team sheet, so it’s interesting to look at which other players are getting a decent amount of minutes and are highly rated by TransferLab.

Few players, regardless of nationality, are as highly rated as Neymar. If the threshold on minutes is dropped he comes straight into the team on the left wing and is rated 99. 

The majority of his data points are above the 90th percentile even when compared to Tier 1 leagues and do so in whichever attacking role is chosen.

Neymar was not part of that 2019 Copa America win, and Brazil’s shining light for the modern era is yet to win major international honours (although back in Brazil, they will consider the 2016 Olympic gold, which Neymar helped win, a major honour). 

It’s for this reason he will be determined to use these skills to drive Brazil on to glory in this edition of the Copa America. He trusts his teammates to produce, too, rather than feeling he has to carry the entire nation on his shoulders, indicated by the fact he has more assists (3) than goals (2) so far.

Star Quality

Neymar aside, it sometimes feels like Brazil don’t have the array of stars they did in previous decades. The former Santos man was probably the last player to come out of Brazil already on the cusp of genuine superstardom.

The superstars of yesteryear — the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Romario, Ronaldinho, Robinho and many other players whose name doesn’t begin with ‘R’ — still don’t feel like they have their equivalent in this modern side.

Instead, Brazilians can go more under the radar before bursting onto the scene. Roberto Firmino was a fairly low profile at Hoffenheim before moving to Liverpool and young players are snapped up from Brazil at an early age before they have had chance to generate the hype Neymar did.

Some of this may be nostalgia at work, though. It’s easy to forget that Ronaldo and Romario once played for PSV Eindhoven, Rivaldo played for Deportivo La Coruña, and Ronaldinho played for a then-less-high-profile PSG, for example, before making their moves to the top of European football. But even at those clubs it felt like Brazilian players had a sprinkled with a type of stardust other players didn’t have.

O Jogo Defensivo

The biggest names and most legendary players in current and more recent Brazil squads, meanwhile, seem to be defenders, defensive midfielders, or goalkeepers.

The likes of goalkeepers Ederson and Alisson, defensive midfielder Casemiro, and centre backs Marquinhos and Thiago Silva are likely to go down as among the best players Brazil have produced in their respective positions.

The aforementioned goalkeepers are the top two according to TransferLab regardless of the positional profile chosen (we will go with “Ball Player”) with Liverpool no. 1 Alisson coming out on top.

Casemiro is rated 98 along with Fabinho in the defensive midfield role which has been set to the “All Round” profile as they’ll be tasked with defending, covering for full backs, and also helping build attacks.

Casemiro is arguably Brazil’s best player after Neymar and combines the perception of Brazilian flair with the reality of Brazilian grit, tenacity, and defensive ability. 

Add Fabinho to the mix as a Gilberto Silva-type player, along with Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz and Fernandinho of Man City, and few teams are blessed with such talent in the defensive midfield area.

Incidentally, if we expand the selection to the top three players per position, Fred of Manchester United is next in line, again agreeing with Tite’s selection.

Having set centre back set to the “Ball Playing” role, Thiago Silva is the highest-rated in this area and Marquinhos is fourth, so there isn’t too much disparity between this and the actual Brazil squad, but Marlon Santos of Shakhtar (having moved to Ukraine from Sassuolo this summer) and Marcelo of Lyon are second and third.

At 34, the uncapped Marcelo may have missed the Brazil national team boat but 25-year-old Marlon Santos is still someone who could be in line for a debut further down the line. Tite went with Éder Militão and the left-field choice of Léo Ortiz from Brazilan side Red Bull Bragantino.

TransferLab also agrees with Tite on full backs, choosing Emerson of Real Betis and Danilo at right back, and Alex Sandro at left back. 

Should Tite want an alternative backup left back to Atlético Madrid’s Renan Lodi, TransferLab suggests he should turn to 23-year-old Monaco man, Caio Henrique.

Future Stars

As we move further forward, we start to see TransferLab looking to the future. Lucas Paquetá is chosen in the “Box to Box” role and the 23-year-old has shone for his country at the Copa, scoring the only goal in the 1-0 semi-final victory against Peru to add to his strike off the bench against Chile in the quarters. He’s likely to be a mainstay in the Brazil team in years to come.

While Tite may sometimes opt to go with two defensive midfielders in a 4-2-3-1, we’ve used a 4-3-3 as it’s more fun and we already know who the good DMs are. In the more attacking midfield role, we can go with an “Attacking Playmaker” or “Shadow Striker”.

Over the years, Brazil have often had players who combine the roles of the no. 10 and centre forward. Pelé was a forward who dropped deeper into the no. 10 position to get more involved while attacking midfielder Zico has the scoring record of a striker.

TransferLab chooses the promising Hertha Berlin forward Matheus Cunha for this “Shadow Striker” role. The 22-year-old’s considerable rating of 95 suggests that in many ways he’s already the real deal rather than just potential.

As shown below, there is still plenty for him to build on, though, with reasonable rankings for short passing, shooting (xG) and through balls, and the quality of his dribbling is rated as among the very best in Europe’s top five leagues.

In the spirit of legendary Brazilian wide-men Garrincha and Jairzinho, we have gone with the “Classic Winger” setting, but regardless of which role is chosen in this area—Classic, Wide Playmaker or All Round—the same names appear.

On the left, we have Real Madrid’s Vinicius Júnior who looks like he may have the skillset to someday replace Neymar, while Benfica winger Everton, who is also in Tite’s squad, is just behind him.

In the right-wing role, Raphina of Leeds United shows up well across the board when compared with players in Europe’s top five leagues.

He’s above the 85th percentile for expected assists, key passes, and forward passes received, and is above the 90th percentile for progressive short passing and dribbling quality.

Former Barcelona man Malcom, now plying his trade in the Russian Premier League with Zenit Saint Petersburg is in second place on the right, while West Bromwich Albion’s Matheus Pereira makes an appearance if digging down for a third-choice right winger.

Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus ranks as the top striker, but Firmino and Richarlison aren’t too far behind. These are the three strikers in Brazil’s Copa America squad, with the Everton man (not to be confused with Everton or Éverton Ribeiro) sometimes playing from the left.

Conclusion

TransferLab *handshake emoji* Tite.

The Brazil national team may be built on defensive solidity and Tite has assembled a close-knit group that values teamwork and organisation. But when you’re Brazil, you can’t help but show moments of magic once in a while.

Analytics FC provides software and data services to entities within football looking to realise the gains possible from analytical thinking. We provide cutting-edge software solutions such as TransferLab, which helps improve and simplify recruitment decisions. To find out more about TransferLab and our other data services, or to find out more about us, visit our website.

At Analytics FC, we provide software and data services to entities within football looking to realise the gains possible from analytical thinking.

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