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Is Brazil Better off without Neymar? I think so…

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It was very easy to predict Brazil would make the semi finals. Their path wasn’t particularly difficult but most importantly they are at home. History says host nations are more likely to reach the semis in the competition. 7 of the last 11 World Cup host made to the semis. The exceptions being South Africa (2010), USA (1994), Mexico (1986) and Spain (1982), all (except perhaps Spain 82) fairly subpar compared to world class standard. The (past) likelihood of making the semis increases when we take into account all the 20 editions (13 of 20).

Seeing Brazil in that stage is not surprising but I’ve never had so many mixed feelings about a Brazilian team. They’re talented, yet they’re seems to be no true cohesion on offense. They seem to be very good on defense yet they make sloppy defensive mistakes. Sometimes they combine nicely but rarely show me the killer instinct a winning team should have. Put it simply, they’re not living up to their potential. Most importantly, I haven’t seem them produce consistently in a second half in any game yet on the offensive end.

Everyone has their own hypothesis as to why the team is underperforming. Some blame Fred: deservedly so, though he has not been as bad as people make him out to be. Others blame Scolari, some of the boss’ choice were/are questionable — especially with Oscar. People doubted Alvez and Paulinho, both « kinda-sorta » lost their spot in the starting lineup. Trying to understand why a team is underperforming is difficult. I say it’s all about team balance. It’s simply inexistent in that team.

Forget the fact that they don’t dominate nor intimidate as they usually do. The strange positioning of Oscar and the poor display from Paulinho in the first few games are reasons. Oscar is brilliant when able to work space in the center while Paulinho commanded the midfield last year at the confederation cup. But today let me point out to someone people have been very lenient on lately: Neymar.

Neymar is a very talented player. Quick with the ball, slick, great dribbling abilities, he causes problems to defenders but also has some great goal scoring capabilities as his record with Brazil (and in the world cup) show. Skill level is not the problem. I’ve been watching Neymar closely for four years now. The real issue is his decision making. It’s often (VERY) poor. Let me explain.

Most of Brazil’s offense is dictated by his choices, whether its a run in the defense, a pass deep or a shot. He has arguably the most influence on both the team’s open play and set pieces- He takes most corner and free kicks. All of this is amirable, he’s taking a huge leadership role at such a young age. Yet, so often Neymar fails to make the right football play. So often I find myself screaming at my TV « GO WIDE » to see him try a set of unnecessary dribbles and then lose the ball. When he does go wide, it’s too late or the pass is simply not well adjusted. So often I want him to shoot the ball and he just loses it by wasting time dribbling or doing the wrong football play. Too often his dribbles actually result in moving backwards than actually booming forward.

Oh and I forgot, he falls/dives on the grass on at least 50% of the plays in which he is reasonably challenged. (This actually pisses me off).

Neymar always had those decision making issues. I saw them when he played with Santos. This is why I hoped and prayed he joined Barcelona. I thought this would be a system in which he could actually learn the most. Learn things like when to make the right pass or not to hold the ball when unnecessary (Last I checked, Barcelona still have the best « one-touch ball » game in football). It was rather disappointing to see him make those mistakes constantly in the tournament. After playing with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Messi for a full season, he should know better.

Before we make any excuses for him: I don’t see Hazard, Kroos, Gotze or even James Rodriguez- who was sensational during the World Cup- make those kind of mistakes. They’re all his age or around so.

At the end of the day those plays hurt the team and result in one main observation: Neymar does not make his team mates better. If he made better choices, perhaps Fred would be more involved in the play. Blaming Neymar as the sole reason for Brazil’s underperformance would be unfair. He already netted 4 but most importantly he often disappears in the second half anyways (as the rest of the team), thus his influence on offense is diminished and decision making deficiencies are less apparent. To be fair, he plays with a lot of efforts and I’m often surprised by how agressive he is on defense. I don’t take issues with him. He’s arguably the most talented player Brazil has on the offensive end.

However Brazil fans should not think the world is over because Neymar will be missing the rest of the world cup. If anything, his absence will make Brazil better. Next Tuesday, Oscar will probably play in his natural central position, you bring in Hernanes, Willian or Ramires and that’s already a huge step either on the decision making end on offense or on the defensive end. I bet you Fred won’t be as isolated as he has been in past games and actually gets some great looks. Maybe Hulk gets more looks… Overall, the team will be a little bit more balanced.

I have Germany winning anyways in my bracket, (objectively) I think Brazil’s run ends on Tuesday. But if they are going to beat Germany, it’s going to take team play rather than individualism. It’s going to require a solid defense with their best player David Luiz playing at the finest level he can and he should be. Most importantly it’s going to require balance and realism.

Not having Neymar in there actually puts them in a better position, at least against Germany.

Tuesday should be fun. Let’s hope I’m right on this one.

Oh and let’s hope Scolari doesn’t play Bernard wide instead of having of having Willian or Hernanes.

 

BD

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Benjamin Dalusma
Ben is a senior analyst at Nielsen's quantitative marketing modeling group. He graduated from Cornell University double majoring in Biometry/ Statistics and Applied Economics. Passionate about social impact, sports, technology and statistics, Ben has been engaged in multiple projects/ventures over the last few years, most notably Discussion Football (2010-2012, founder), Education Haiti (2013-Present, co-founder) and "The Liebero Project" (2014-Present, co founder). He currently hosts the Chroniques Sportives Podcast which is a Haitian Kreyol show about sports. Ben comes to AyiboPost with past experiences with FootballSpeak.com, Inside Spanish Football Magazine, Seri A weekly, The False 9, and Nerazzuri World. Ben will be writing mainly about football philosophy, tactics, and possibly analytics (if the data can be easily be found and crunched in a timely matter). Feel to reach him via email or on twitter.

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