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Brazil need to balance experimentation and Copa America preparation in stateside friendlies

Neymar looked like he was enjoying being back with the Brazil squad, as he celebrated in the style of Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring in a shooting drill.

Brazil currently find themselves in a slightly different situation from that of the other South American national teams.

For all the others, the pressure is off. There are nothing but friendlies for the next few months, with the new cycle of competitive games kicking off with next June's Copa America -- and even that is considered primarily as a preparation tournament these days, the main objective being to form a side ready to go into the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

But Brazil are the 2019 Copa America hosts. Every country wants to put on a good, triumphant show in front of its own fans, and that will be especially true of Brazil next year. The glory of their tradition demands nothing less than victory -- as does the paucity of their recent past. In the last three World Cups and the last three Copa Americas, Brazil have only once reached the semifinals -- the embarrassing 7-1 defeat to Germany a result that no one will forget soon. Coach Tite, then, is well aware that for him the 2019 Copa America is much more than a warm-up tournament. It is a competition that will place his job security on the line.

His squad for the coming FIFA friendlies reflects this duality. On the one hand, there is a clear intention to build for the long-term. Plenty of new faces have been introduced but they will likely have to wait until Tuesday's game against El Salvador to win a place in the starting lineup. Then, in Landover, Maryland, Richarlison could be given a chance to play at centre-forward, Lucas Paqueta and Andreas Pereira may get the nod in midfield, Dede could make his return at centre-back after years of injury problems and Eder Militao might get his chance to show he can be the new right-back.

But Friday's game in New Jersey against the USA will not be so experimental. The coach has been training with an experienced starting unit that includes just one player who was not part of the World Cup squad, and that through necessity. With right-backs Danilo and Fagner both injured, recent Liverpool signing Fabinho comes in.

Fabinho's inclusion is something of a strange one; he has not played in the position for some time, having successfully been converted to a midfield role at club level. In fact, before the World Cup, Brazil's current coaching staff explicitly ruled him out of contention for a right-back berth on these very grounds. But with a sudden dearth of riches in the position, he has been called up and will have a chance to show he can do a job there if needed. The other right-back, Porto newcomer Eder Militao, was a late inclusion, and has been featuring at centre-back for his new club.

After a disappointing exit at the World Cup, Tite and Brazil have areas to address before June's Copa America.
It may just be a friendly but Friday's contest vs. the United States is an opportunity Tite and Brazil can ill afford to waste.

Fabinho aside, the likely lineup has a familiar ring to it: Alisson in goal, with Fabinho, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva and Filipe Luis across the back four. The fact that the latter two are both 33 is the most eloquent illustration of Brazil's short-term necessities. Neither is likely to last all the way to the Qatar 2022, but both could still be very useful next June.

Casemiro is the likely holding midfielder, with Fred and Philippe Coutinho completing the midfield trio, and Douglas Costa, Roberto Firmino and Neymar operating up front.

It is interesting that Brazil seem willing to persist with Coutinho as a genuine midfielder, an idea that was not a conspicuous success in the World Cup. There is a chance, though, that he could feature wide in a 4-4-2, with Neymar more centralised alongside Firmino. Brazil occasionally switched to this formation in Russia, and given the disappointing tournament of Gabriel Jesus (conspicuously dropped from the squad) this could be a way to get around the absence of a top-class centre-forward.

There could be space for one other player who did not go to the World Cup. Recent Barcelona signing Arthur, extravagantly praised already by the likes of Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, could replace Fred in the midfield. If this does not happen, then Arthur will surely make a second-half appearance.

Superbly balanced, with the technique to give and receive a pass in a complete arc of 360 degrees, Arthur promises to be the midfield general that Brazil have missed for decades. Being in the stadium for his first steps as an international player, even if they come off the bench, is reason enough to pay attention to what happens in New Jersey this Friday.

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