As the debate about the correctness of the CBF's decision to fire Mano Menezes continues, Menezes’s successor, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has remained tight lipped about his tactical plan for the future of the Brazilian national football team. Meanwhile, speculation proliferates about the kind of team that Scolari will field on the pitch in light of his work with Gremio, Palmeiras, the Brazilian national team from 2001-2002, Chelsea, Portugal and Bunyodkor. Predicting the strategy and tactics of any coach of the Brazilian national team at the World Cup itself is invariably a difficult exercise, but we can say how Scolari is likely to commence his tenure as coach of Brazil, particularly if we operate on the premise that he is likely to begin with a tactical strategy that is familiar to him qua Brazil 2002, and then adapt that strategy based on the performance of the team. Whether Scolari ultimately chooses the formation he deployed in Korea and Japan for World Cup 2002 for World Cup 2014 is anyone’s guess, but for now, we should expect the following from “Big Phil”:
Greater freedom for the fullbacks
Expect Scolari to unleash the fullbacks and restore Brazil’s wide play. Menezes had focused on attacking down the center by nurturing creative midfielders such as Oscar who would orchestrate attacks from the center of midfield. Under Menezes, wide play from Marcelo and Alves supplemented the Brazilian attack but was never fully a pivotal component of the formation. Scolari, however, had the luxury of Roberto Carlos and Cafu as his fullbacks, and he is likely to expect the same attacking contribution from Marcelo, Alves, Adriano, Rafael and company. In other words, expect to see more wide play from Brazil.
The return of Hernanes
Scolari himself has said that he has been watching Hernanes carefully in recent games, and, given the recent human cry in Brazil about Hernanes’s absence from the national team, it would make sense to see the Lazio playmaker in the yellow jersey again soon. Hernanes is known for his ability to play on both the left and right sides of midfield, as well as for his dead ball prowess and skill in the air. If Ronaldinho, in particular, fails to step up to the plate, Hernanes is likely to command the attacking midfield and may well inherit the famed number 10 jersey from Oscar.
The return of Ronaldinho
In recent interviews, Scolari repeatedly stresses the importance of bringing more experienced players into the squad to partner with those who have never played in a World Cup. Big Phil has a deep and well known professional relationship with Ronaldinho, who—as we all know—played a crucial role in Brazil’s success in 2002. If the choice were between Ronaldinho and Kaka, Scolari will surely go for Ronaldinho, whereas Carlos Dunga took the other path and went with Kaka in 2010.
A holding midfielder such as Sandro
It’s hard to imagine who Brazil’s holding midfielder might be, particularly given Leiva’s prolonged layoff due to injury. One option would be Tottenham's Sandro, who played at the Olympics and did a decent job of keeping the defensive end of midfield tidy and free from worry. Paulinho or Ramires represent other options, though both are not classical holding midfielders in the vein of Gilberto Silva or Carlos Dunga.
A classical centre forward such as Leandro Damiao
Scolari has explicitly said that he is not “enamored” of the false number 9 formation favored by Spain and an increasing number of club and international teams. He feels the false number 9 formation, which lacks a target striker or two up front, fails to play to Brazil’s strengths and footballing tradition. Expect Leandro Damiao to be given the lion’s share of the attacking responsibility while being flanked by Neymar and Hulk. We should also expect to see Wellington Nem join the first team on a more regular basis as well.
In his initial phase as coach, we should expect Scolari to restore width to the Brazilian attack and transfer significant responsibility for the attack back to the strikers as opposed to the midfield. Whereas Menezes focused most of his attention on the Brazilian midfield, Scolari will initially focus on attacking down the flanks and getting the ball to a target striker such as Leandro Damiao. The recalibration of attention on wide play and pure strikers should complement all of the work done on Brazil’s midfield by Menezes and set the foundation for a highly offensive-minded team. The key question, however, concerns the ability of the current set of fullbacks to pose a consistent and varied attacking threat as well as the ability of Neymar, Damiao and Hulk to score goals against highly defensive minded teams.