Tite shows loyalty with 25 named to roster for World Cup run-up
When Tite replaced Dunga as Brazil coach, a third of the World Cup qualification cycle had gone by and Brazil were in sixth place, in serious danger of not making it to Russia. Instead, the campaign became a triumphant march. With 10 wins and two draws, Brazil cruised to qualification but there are no prizes for crossing the line first. The World Cup is all about coming good at the right time.
So how does Tite play it now? Clearly there is a need to show some loyalty to those who have done so well under his command. But also there is the trauma of the last World Cup, when then-coach Luiz Felipe Scolari determined his starting line-up a full year before the competition, which proved to be disastrous. Therefore Tite needs to promote competition for places and guard against complacency.
But there are few opportunities for tests and experiments. Next March, Brazil will play Russia and Germany and next month they face Japan in France before going on to face England at Wembley -- matches for which Tite has just announced a squad of 25.
The list makes it clear which side of the dilemma the coach has chosen, placing more emphasis on loyalty than on experimentation. A handful of changes have been made from the squad that concluded the qualifiers against Bolivia and Chile but not a single new face has come in from the cold. All of those called up have previously appeared in Tite's squads.
The immediate reaction in the country has been largely negative. Journalists took to social media to complain about the absences of Malcom of Bordeaux, Allan and Jorginho of Napoli, Richarlison of Watford among others. It is perhaps the most negative reaction that Tite has generated since his first squad when he surprisingly recalled Paulinho, who was then playing his football in China. That decision, of course, proved to be a masterstroke, with Paulinho contributing six goals and earning a move to Barcelona.
As Tite made clear, "The options are closing because of the lack of time available." With just four matches until the World Cup squad is named, Tite's capacity to experiment is limited - and clearly, throwing in eight new faces to the same starting lineup is not fair on anyone. Without collective coherence it is very hard for the individual to shine.
There is the possibility, though, of the team receiving a tactical tweak. Brazil have set up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with the midfield anchored by Casemiro. It has worked wonderfully well but there could be a problem against the best Western European teams, proficient at retaining possession. They might be able to expose the space behind Brazil's attacking full backs. Tite is apparently open to the idea of fielding Fernandinho alongside Casemiro, giving the team extra protection, and these coming games could be used to have a look at that variation.
One other important aspect, though, looks set to stay unchanged. Tite's team have had a revolving captain, with a different player wearing the armband in every game. The coach revealed that he intends to follow this idea through all the way to the World Cup.
The advantage, he says, is that the team takes collective responsibility. The possible downside is that it could leave the team with a lack of a defined leadership structure on the field, which was a problem recently in a disappointing first half against Ecuador when Neymar & Co. appeared more interested in showboating and arguing with the referee than with circulating the ball and winning the game. Tite was not impressed but he clearly trusts his players enough to believe that a repeat performance will not take place when it matters most, next year in Russia.
Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma), Ederson (Manchester City), Cassio (Corinthians)
Defenders: Alex Sandro (Juventus), Dani Alves (Paris Saint-Germain), Danilo (Manchester City), Jemerson (Monaco), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Marquinhos (PSG), Miranda (Inter Milan), Thiago Silva (PSG)
Midfield: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Diego (Flamengo), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Giuliano (Fenerbahce), Paulinho (Barcelona), Phillippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Willian (Chelsea)
Attack: Diego Souza (Sport), Douglas Costa (Juventus), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Neymar (PSG), Taison (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.