Trying to replace the irreplaceable Neymar
Brazilian coach Felipão has described the player’s enforced absence from the rest of the World Cup as a “catastrophe” for his side
Injured Brazilian national soccer team player Neymar waits to be airlifted home from Brazil’s training camp inTeresopolis, near Rio de Janeiro. Marcelo Regua/Reuters
After all, everyone and the Germans know he has no other player he can call on who presents anything like his No.10’s attacking threat.
And with captain Thiago Silva suspended for Tuesday’s semi-final the veteran coach is now forced into making at least two changes just after his side’s most convincing performance of the tournament so far.
But it is Neymar’s injury that is being treated as a national calamity in Brazil which long before the tournament started saw its chances umbilically linked to a player who has scored 35 goals in 54 appearances for his country.
Now the rest of the players must respond and show that no matter how influential – and popular – their number ten might be this is still a Brazil squad, playing in front of its own fans for the trophy that matters to them most of all.
Before Neymar’s injury they knew any eventual triumph would always be seen in Brazil as his. Now they have a chance to make it a collective effort.
Felipão says despite Neymar’s injury he does not foresee any change to his tactical scheme – read as meaning he will not be dropping Fred. But whoever comes in for Neymar it will be a different Brazil that faces Germany in Belo Horizonte.
The conservative solution would be to use the place opened up by Neymar’s injury to welcome back Luiz Gustavo from suspension without dropping either Fernandinho or Paulinho but rather stringing the trio across the middle of the pitch.
Doing so would reinforce Felipão’s reputation for caution but such a solution would at least relieve Oscar of some of his defensive duties.
He appeared rarely as an attacking force against Colombia, spending too much of his time tracking back to help out with marking in midfield, which is surely not the best use of his talents.
Playing in front of an aggressive, ball-winning trio he would be freer to focus on launching attacks for Hulk and Fred.
The likeliest option, as before Neymar’s injury Felipão had practiced playing without his star and the player deployed in his place was Willian. Speaking after the Colombia game Thiago Silva sounded certain the Chelsea man would start.
Willian cannot hope to replicate Neymar’s sudden unpredictable explosiveness that leaves back-peddling defences so unhinged.
But he is nonetheless a fine attacking midfielder with great tactical acumen who would help Brazil hold onto the ball more once in possession compared to Neymar, whose ultra-aggressive but high-risk game seems him turn it over more than any other player on the team.
Playing alongside two from Luiz Gustavo, Fernandinho and Paulinho he would also allow Oscar to adopt more of a central playmaker role with Hulk playing closer to Fred.
The Inter Milan man came on at the end of the Colombia match, his second appearance as a substitute at the tournament, and has an outside chance of replacing Neymar.
He is an elegant midfielder, who at club level can expertly dictate the rhythm of games from central midfield, strong enough to hold onto possession and skilful enough to launch attacks off either foot.
But he has never consolidated a place in Brazil’s starting XI and his measured style looks out of place with the aggressive, almost anxious game, Felipão’s team now plays.
Starting the young winger who Felipão described as having “joy in his legs” would be akin to playing Brazil’s wild card. The exciting Shakhtar Donetsk player is relatively untested at this level and Felipão has preferred to use him as an impact substitute in second halves.
Neymar is the bigger loss but that of Thiago Silva is not far behind. Friday’s victory over Colombia was the 26th game in a row Brazil has gone unbeaten when he and David Luiz have played together, the last defeat being 1-0 against France in 2011.
But unlike in the case of Neymar, who brings a unique set of skills to the squad, there are two centre backs ready now to step in and replace him.
One of them the 27-year old Napoli player Henrique, came on to help see out the game against Colombia as Brazil switched to a back five.
But against Germany Felipão is most likely to stick with a back four that looked steadier thanks to Maicon replacing Daniel Alves at right back.
Most likely to come in is the experienced 30-year old Dante. Used to the pressure of the Champions League at his club Bayern Munich he has played in Germany since 2009 and knows the German squad better than any other Brazilian player, a fact that David Luiz seized on in the mixed zone on Friday night.
Neither Dante or Henrique have Thiago Silva’s commanding presence or leadership qualities but Brazil is lucky in that the man alongside them does. Since the Confederations Cup David Luiz has emerged as a natural leader who has worn the captain’s armband when Thiago Silva has not been on the field and will be excellent deputy against Germany.