How Tite turned Brazil’s centre-half position into a key source of strength

When Tite took charge of the Brazilian national team, he took up a side in disarray. Without a leader, without a stable, consistent team and most importantly, no direction. Tite also took a team with no fixed defence, a side that was lacking in skill and control at the back, which was in stark contrast to the men in front, an issue that was holding Brazil back. David Luiz’s incapability to handle such a responsibility and Thiago Silva being frozen out by previous coach Dunga led to uncertainties before the World Cup. But two years before the tournament, Tite’s arrival changed it all, and now their defence is one of the biggest sources of strength for the team.

Brazil kick-off their World Cup campaign against Switzerland in Rostov as one of the strong favourites for the tournament, with an all-star roster in Russia having sorted their defensive issue – especially at centre-back. Tite has taken Thiago Silva, Marquinhos – both of Paris Saint-Germain – Inter Milan’s Miranda and Pedro Geromel from Grêmio. Amazingly, this is one of the oldest centre-half setups going to the World Cup, with the average age between the four being at a high 30.5-years-old, but that age shouldn’t be mistaken for vulnerability, as the four have collectively got better with age at their jobs since Tite took over.

Thiago Silva, in particular, has seen a major renaissance and a success in Russia this summer would be nothing short of what his revival deserves, for it seemed unfeasible to take him to the World Cup this summer just a short while ago. Silva garnered a reputation as one of the world’s best centre-halves early in the decade, but after Brazil’s calamitous exit at their home World Cup his stock massively dwindled, despite not featuring in the 7-1 rout by Germany. He was stripped of the captaincy by returning coach Dunga, and went a year unselected by the national team following his disastrous showings at the 2015 Copa América in Chile.

Dunga cited Silva’s emotional instability as the reason for his stripping of the captaincy and subsequent discarding from the roster, but Tite’s arrival ensured that Silva left the demons of Dunga’s era behind. Since the former Corinthians boss took charge, he has give Silva a new lease of life in the national team, first by selecting him, then by giving him a high responsibility in the back. He was influential in moulding the young Marquinhos into the setup and while Silva himself initially played as a reserve, when given the chance, he excelled – especially showing his class in a friendly earlier this year in Berlin against the world champions Germany, who they beat 1-0.

The unity Tite has brought to the backline has been immense. Prior to his arrival, Brazil were constantly changing their defensive options, with the likes of David Luiz, Gil and Rodrigo Caio often being tested, thus, bringing instability and apparently, a lack of confidence in the back. Since Tite’s arrival, Brazil have stabilized themselves and have an identity at the back which complements the prowess the attacking force brings. That has resulted in Brazil drifting away from struggling in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers and being South America’s finest. The stats prove Brazil’s defensive dominance, conceding just five times in Tite’s 21 matches in charge.

A mainstay since the new manager’s arrival has been Miranda, the Inter Milan centre-back who has been a late bloomer on the international scene. Having made his debut in 2009, he rarely featured for the national team until Brazil’s calamity in their home World Cup, but ever since, he has made one centre-half spot his own and is likely to participate in all the minutes he possibly can in Russia. Honed by defensive mastermind Diego Simeone at club level with Atlético Madrid for four years and then making his name with Inter in Serie A, he has risen to become one of the world’s best under the radar and will be a key figure over the next month.

Tite’s defensive shape and structure has also allowed his backline to flourish greatly. Recent friendlies and qualifiers have shown that Brazil setup in a 4-3-3 formation, but when defending, evolve into a rigid 4-4-2 or even a 4-1-4-1 with the back four picking up a low line. Assisted by the defensive midfielder in front, usually Casemiro as well as the sternness of Paulinho, they add this compactness to their side which makes them incredibly difficult to break down. With all three primary centre halves that are on the plane to Russia, they are also difficult to crack from crosses or set-pieces, with one of Thiago Silva’s key attributes being his toughness in the air.

Another key strength that Thiago Silva and Miranda possess is their immaculate reading of the game and quick ability to adapt to facing a counter-attack or offensive transition from the opposition. The pairing has been difficult to catch out, and the recent friendlies, such as the one against Germany in March or Croatia and Austria earlier this month showed that they are ready to face the onslaught at the World Cup and come out on top. The pair have developed a great chemistry together and that is seen in their positioning, anticipation and ability to recognise when to attack the player or the ball, making them one of the toughest and most in-form partnerships in Russia.

It is no coincidence that this impressive form has come at this stage of their careers. So far, with support from their midfield, the Brazilian defence has hardly been caught out and despite their age, it would be a major surprise to see them being in major trouble, especially in the early rounds of the World Cup. Thiago Silva and Miranda are likely to be the starting partnership in the middle of defence, barring any serious injury, and Marquinhos, as well as Geromel have proven to be able deputies. The likes of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus are likely to steal the show, but the centre-halves are just as crucial to Brazil’s success.

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