Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Play It Again, Mano; Brazil Lose to Germany in Stuttgart

The failings of the current Brazil side have been (hopefully) well documented by yours truly over the past year. Too many jack-of-all-trade midfielders, a cluster of overly similar players in attack, the lack of a ball-player in front of the back four... and so on. You will forgive me then, for not producing an enormously detailed analysis of Brazil's loss to Germany on Wednesday night; this was, for the most part, a defeat borne of the very same mistakes that have characterised previous matches.

Germany 3-2 Brazil
With Lucas Leiva serving a one-match ban for the seleção, Mano Menezes handed a first start to Corinthians juggernaut Ralf, who has been in impressive form at club level. He lined up in midfield alongside Ramires and Fernandinho, who was surprisingly included at the expense of Paulo Henrique Ganso. That decision was ostensibly based on the fact that Ganso has yet to regain full fitness after injury, but also suggests that the playmaker's listless recent form hasn't gone unnoticed. The selection, however, meant that Brazil were not only deprived of a regista in the midfield platform, but also of a No.10. It was perhaps not insignificant that Neymar, rather than Fernandinho, was given the jersey usually assigned to Ganso; an oblique message of "hey fans, this lineup still has creative potential!" could be deciphered.

In his defence, Fernandinho enjoyed a decent début; his dynamism improved Brazil's saída de bola (the transfer of the ball between defensive and attacking sectors), the importance of which Menezes has repeatedly stressed. That his arrival in the side coincided with another limp performance from the seleção meant that he was unfairly criticised in some quarters following the match. Brazil's shortcomings, though, were to be found elsewhere.

Sturm und drang; Neymar battles for possession in Stuttgart.

In defence, the partnership formed by Lúcio and Thiago Silva - which appeared to be developing rather nicely earlier this year - now has major question marks over it. True, Germany's opener owed more to generous (read: laughable) refereeing than to any major error on Lúcio's part, but the extent to which Brazil's backline had been dragged apart in the build-up to the penalty was notable. Germany's second goal, tucked away by the effervescent Mario Götze, told a similar story; an inviting chasm opened up between the seleção centrebacks, and was duly exploited. The hosts' third goal, of course, must be put down to individual error; André Santos (of whom I have been so unbending in my support) provided his myriad detractors with plenty of ammunition.

Even going forward, Brazil were sloppy. With the midfield looking even more bereft of ideas than usual, Robinho and Neymar were called upon to provide some invention behind Alexandre Pato. They were largely unable to do so. Ganso's introduction in the second period emphasised the need for someone of his ilk on the park; he didn't misplace a single pass (thanks for that one, Opta), and initiated the move from which Neymar struck Brazil's second. In truth, the 3-2 scoreline was kind on the seleção; Robinho's opener came from a penalty award even more dubious than the one which preceded Schweinsteiger's goal.

The result means that, after 13 games in charge, Menezes has guided his charges to a mere 6 victories, none of which have come against purported top-rate opposition. Matches against Egypt, Argentina, and Costa Rica will provide further challenges over the next two months, but for many, the writing is already on the wall; Menezes simply cannot cut it at this level. One thing seems clear; the former Corinthians boss must find a way to avoid repeating the handful of tactical mistakes that have peppered his stewardship. A manager must be judged - at least in part - on his ability to react to changing circumstances on the pitch. By this metric, Menezes has an enormous amount of work to do.

(Photo credit; Kai Pfaffenbach.)

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