Brazil face Belgium on Friday in the World Cup quarter-finals with both sides looking to claim their first big scalp of the tournament.
The magnitude of the game will be weighing on Brazil manager Tite and his counterpart Roberto Martinez as the two plot their way to the semi-finals.
Here’s a closer look at the tactical talking points that will be occupying the minds of Tite and Martinez heading into Friday’s match.
DOES BELGIUM’S FORMATION PLAY INTO BRAZIL’S HANDS?
The 3-4-3 formation Belgium are deploying has, like any formation with three at the back, one crucial weakness: the space in behind the wing-backs. And Brazil have just the players to exploit that weakness.
Neymar, who will be up against Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Thomas Meunier on Belgium’s right, and Willian on the opposite flank are not the sort of players a defence wants to be giving space to – which leaves Martinez with a conundrum.
Does he switch away from the formation that has worked so well for Belgium so far in order to combat the Brazil threat, or stick to his guns and hope his defenders can handle Neymar and Willian?
Yannick Carrasco was exposed against Japan and they do not have a natural left-sided option in a flat back four given that Martinez left Jordan Lukaku at home. Jan Vertonghen could cover the position, but going off-script at this stage would be a huge gamble for the Red Devils manager to take.
TITE’S MIDFIELD DILEMMA
Casemiro’s unavailability for this match through suspension is a huge blow for Brazil. Belgium are a side capable of lightning-quick counter-attacks and the Real Madrid man is the perfect player to guard against that.
He’s arguably the best in the world at the moment in sitting in front of the defence and making sure the back-line is protected. With Brazil, he has also curbed his tendency to go gallivanting forward as he often does with Los Blancos.
Fernandinho can perform that role admirably, but his relative lack of pace could be an issue against Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku, and club team-mate Kevin De Bruyne.
And yet, it’s hard to see who the alternative would be for Tite. The other option would be to pack the midfield, but that’s just not Brazil’s style.
TIME TO DROP WITSEL?
Martinez’s preference for playing Axel Witsel alongside De Bruyne in midfield throughout the tournament so far has raised more than a few eyebrows. Witsel has looked underwhelming in all of his appearances so far, and the fans have begun clamouring for the Tianjin Quanjian man to be dropped.
There is, however, an argument to be made that Martinez should stick with his man rather than twist with Mousa Dembele or Marouane Fellaini against Brazil. Witsel keeps it simple and steady in a team full of attacking mavericks.
Dembele can take over games by himself yet he may take too many risks with a yellow swarm around him, and Fellaini would lack the mobility alongside De Bruyne when attempting to leash the Brazilians.
Witsel is not the perfect option by any stretch of the imagination, particularly for a World Cup quarter-final against Brazil, but he’ll have to do.
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