Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Have Brazil lost their Samba Spirit?

The 2011 Copa America was supposed to be the tournament where Brazil made up for their shortcomings at the World Cup in South Africa last year, a tournament they were once again favourites to win but ended up slumping to defeat to eventual runners-up Netherlands. It was a match that is probably best remembered for the freak goal the Dutch scored after Wesley Sneijder swung a cross into the box only for Felipe Melo and Julio Cesar to both flap it and end up in the back of the net.

This year’s Copa America would prove to be as equally disappointed, especially for a team renowned for its attacking flair. With only one win in the tournament against minnows Ecuador, and with three draws in the competition to the likes of Venezuela (0-0), Paraguay (2-2) and Paraguay again in the knockout stage (0-0), it was no surprise to see Brazil miss all four of their penalties after showing a lack of killer instinct in front of goal all tournament.

It seems then that the Selecao have lost that attacking flair, the Samba spirit that Brazil were once famed for in football tournaments. The Brazil of today is very different to previous squads we’ve seen in recent years and a far cry from the great Brazil squads of the 1970’s not just in personnel but in ideology as well. Brazil has taken a defensive shift in the way they approach their matches, something that happened under previous coach Dunga and from the results of the Copa America, something which current coach Mano Menezes looks to continue with.
Then again looking at the team in its current state can we surmise that Brazil has just not developed the attacking talent it once blossomed with? Garrincha, Pele, Romario, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho are all famed for their fantastic attacking instincts and the magic they produced on the ball, but they were all the best of their generations. Nowadays the best Brazilian footballers seem to be the defenders, Dani Alves, Lucio, Lusiao, Thiago Silva, Maicon and David Luiz are just a few of the top quality defenders Brazil has to offer and are all currently playing at top clubs around the World. As far as the attack goes the quality players are limited, with only Neymar, Alexandre Pato and the midfielder Ganso the standout players of the strike force. But even then Neymar is somewhat unproven outside Brazil and his team mate Paulo Henrique Ganso is exactly the same yet both are made the centre of Brazil’s attack and creativity.

However the Brazilian coaches should have seen this coming. With Ronaldo’s and Ronaldinho’s retirement from the national team, Luis Fabiano stepping up but then returning to Brazil and seemingly ending his club career at 30. Former World Player of the Year Kaka, looked an impressive prospect but has looked a shadow of his former self ever since leaving AC Milan. The attacking options have become limited as time goes on and the country can’t produce the strength in depth to make up for it.

One of the last few great attacking players left in the Brazil squad is Robinho. He performs well every time he wears the shirt but even consistent players like him haven’t been enough to lift the team and produce results on the pitch, he can’t do it all alone.

We can’t just blame a lack of quality in depth, in time Neymar and Ganso will become even better than they are now and new players will come along to fill the voids left by past players. Instead maybe the Brazilian coaches need to evaluate their approach. They haven’t helped the team in the past few years. Dunga and Menezes showed a tactical inconsistency flicking between three up front, to one solitary striker to even a narrow 4-2-2-2, all of which meant players didn’t get used to playing within a system as a team. Then of course there’s the overly defensive nature of Dunga and Menezes which in comparison to Carlos Alberto Parreira (1994 World Cup winning coach) and Luiz Felipe Scolari (2002 World Cup winner) is a total change from the attacking philosophy which won them two World Cups in eight years.

The real question at hand is how are Brazil going to recapture the Samba spirit that has won them five World Cups? A managerial change isn’t the answer, Menezes’ men have disappointed a nation at the Copa America but it would be unwise to get rid of him so hastily especially with Brazil hosting the next World Cup in 2014. As they aren’t participating in qualifiers it might give Menezes a chance to let his younger players develop within the squad and nail down a tactical system he and his team are happy with.
Brazil are in a very difficult situation and the squad, coaching staff and the nation as a whole are going to have to look deep within to find the solution. The World Cup in 2014 could turn out to be a huge lift to the team and the players may be inspired to produce performances on the pitch to match the expectation of a nation that has lost its spirit.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Three Years in the Making – Liverpool finally have the missing players to step into the roles left empty from previous campaigns.

It was only 3 years ago when Liverpool FC were pushing Manchester United all the way for their first title since 1990, however it wasn’t meant to be and the Merseysider’s finished an disappointing second place, their best ever finish in the Premier League and with only two losses all season, a 2-1 defeat to Tottenham away and an embarrassing 2-0 away defeat to Middlesbrough. In spite of those results Liverpool racked up an impressive 86 points which at the time was the highest ever points tally for 2nd place.

Nowadays that incredible season for Liverpool seems a distant memory compared to recent performances, in the 2009/10 season they crashed down to 7th in the League and last season Liverpool flirted with relegation under former manager Roy Hodgson before being lifted to 6th under the leadership of club legend Kenny Dalglish and ending the season with hope for next year.

Under Dalglish Liverpool were a team transformed, players were producing the performances fans had remembered from that title challenging season in 2008/09 only a few years ago. He’s also gone about rebuilding another team that can start competing for honours and get back into the Premier League top four and more importantly, Champions League football.

With the new arrivals in January and this summer Dalglish has built himself another competitive Liverpool squad that can again start to think about making an impact at the top of the table. Suarez and Carroll have given Liverpool variety upfront, Suarez being a player who can drift out wide as well as cut inside from the wings and Carroll, a strong centre forward who’s good with the ball in the air and possesses a powerful left footed shot. Both have shown early signs of a good strike partnership and if time keeps allowing both of them to play together they can terrorise defences the way Toshack and Keegan did for Liverpool back in the 70s.

Then of course we have the summer arrivals of Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing.

It is unknown what role Henderson will play at the club but for £16m it would be foolish to see the youngster stuck on the bench, not to mention a waste of money. He was an important player for former club Sunderland, creating 39 more scoring chances than any other of his team mates. However playing a similar role to Gerrard may limit the youngster’s chances, but perhaps he’ll be pushed out on the right as an alternative to Dirk Kuyt.

Charlie Adam has seemingly been brought in to finally replace Xabi Alonso as a Deep Lying playmaker with Lucas Leiva taking on the defensive midfield responsibilities. Whilst at Blackpool, Adam was instrumental in creating opportunities with his crosses from deep, which could come in handy with the likes of Carroll waiting inside the box. The newest arrival, Stewart Downing, is the perfect fit on the left wing and can compliment Adam in the centre of midfield providing floating crosses for Carroll to head into goal.

It will ultimately be down to Kenny Dalglish to get all his new signings as well players like Raul Meireles, who impressed fans a lot last season, to gel together and begin playing the fluid, flowing football a lot of old school Liverpool fans are used to. With the plethora of midfield options it would seem likely that Dalglish play some sort of 4-5-1 variant, whether it be two holding players in a 4-2-3-1 or a more compact 4-3-2-1, with Suarez and Gerrard behind Carroll as the lone striker, and either Lucas or Adam as the holding midfielder flanked by a couple of wide men.

Either way Liverpool have a much more rounded squad than ever and can have no real complaints as far as squad depth goes, with reserve and academy players like Jay Spearing and John Flanagan showing some real progression and promise under Kenny Dalglish last season. It’s too soon to start suggesting Liverpool can win the League, but breaking into the top four would be a good start along with some good cup runs to go with league performances. The Liverpool squad now is certainly looking its best since that successful of season 2008/09 when they finished second.

If Liverpool and the fans are patient then maybe their first league title since 1990 will eventually arrive, but we have to be realistic as there are no easy fixes in football and it will take some time before Liverpool can ever be expect to be crowned champions.