In a World Cup filled with upsets, one factor stays constant: Brazil is one of the best soccer workforce on the planet. The Selecao got here into the event enjoying like one of the best workforce on the planet. By means of 4 video games in Russia, they’ve performed like one of the best workforce within the event — each in the way in which they assault and in the way in which they defend. As different favorites have fallen by the wayside, Brazil simply retains getting it achieved, and there’s motive to consider the workforce hasn’t peaked but.
However since its opening draw with Switzerland, the workforce has been largely been the topic of damaging press (a few of which is warranted), which makes it simple to miss the truth that that is nonetheless very a lot the workforce to beat in Russia, as is the case in most World Cups.
There’s loads of motive to criticize Brazil. As an example, some really feel the workforce is enjoying the incorrect striker. The workforce’s beginning striker, Manchester Metropolis’s Gabriel Jesus, has but to attain a aim, and whereas his Brazil teammates are defending him, Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino scored late within the sport towards Mexico and has appeared harmful in his restricted appearances. Jesus is simply taking 1.72 pictures per 90 minutes. That’s virtually a full shot lower than the two.71 per 90 minutes he took throughout World Cup qualifying video games. His anticipated aim numbers have dropped accordingly. He was a serious scoring menace when Brazil was on its path to the World Cup with zero.59 anticipated targets per 90, however he’s now down at zero.14.
Brazil has additionally gotten a number of negative press associated to this now-universal opinion: Neymar is a flopper. After Brazil eradicated Mexico within the spherical of 16, Mexico supervisor Juan Carlos Osorio was livid over Neymar’s antics, specializing in a sideline incident the place Neymar rolled on the bottom theatrically after contact from Mexico’s Miguel Layun. Extra broadly, Neymar, who’s coming off a long injury layoff, has obtained blended evaluations for his performances over the primary 4 matches. He has an undeniably flamboyant and ball-dominant fashion, which continuously signifies that even when Brazil wins, because it has in three out of its 4 video games to date, questions get asked about whether or not what Neymar brings to the desk is price sufficient to make up for what he takes away.
Regardless of Jesus’s struggles and the criticism directed at Neymar, Brazil has been one of the best, most balanced workforce at this event. In assault, the workforce scored a comparatively modest 1.61 targets per 90 minutes, a decrease fee than all of its fellow quarterfinalists besides Sweden, however its anticipated targets whole is a sturdy 2.05 — solely Belgium is greater, with 2.44. It’s probably that the one motive Brazil hasn’t scored extra is that the ending gods haven’t smiled down upon them. That anticipated aim whole is constructed on a excessive quantity of pictures — 17.66 per 90 minutes — a fee that trails solely Germany (who fell behind in three separate matches and was desperately chasing targets on its technique to crashing out of the event) and Belgium.
On the defensive aspect of the ball, Brazil’s dominance has been much more apparent. The workforce has conceded one whole aim, a set piece header towards Switzerland of their opening match. Brazil’s zero.23 targets conceded per 90 minutes is tied with Uruguay for the fewest of any workforce within the event, and its zero.64 anticipated targets conceded ranks third, behind France and Uruguay. Brazil is the one workforce within the event that has carried out at elite ranges on each the attacking and defending aspect of the ball.
No matter issues Jesus and Neymar is perhaps having, they merely aren’t slowing Brazil down. The truth is, Brazil is enjoying higher to date on the World Cup than it was throughout qualifying. Regardless of scoring half a aim much less per 90 minutes — 1.61 throughout the World Cup, versus 2.16 in qualifying — the workforce’s underlying statistics have all improved. Its anticipated targets have elevated from 1.59 to 2.05, its pictures per sport has jumped from 14.15 to 17.66, and its pictures heading in the right direction rose from 5.54 to six.65. Defensively, it’s the identical story. The workforce is permitting fewer targets (zero.23, down from zero.58), fewer anticipated targets (zero.64, down from zero.73), fewer pictures (7.57, down from eight.76), and fewer pictures heading in the right direction (zero.92, down from 2.32). It is a workforce that got here into the event ranked No. 1 on the planet, in response to FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index, after which upped its sport.
As for Neymar, whereas the way in which he performs may draw criticism, it’s necessary to not confuse his fashion with what he truly produces on the sector. His numbers have been merely astounding. And it’s not simply his backside line of two targets and one help: His zero.80 non-penalty anticipated targets per 90 minutes is second within the event behind solely Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku (amongst gamers with at the very least 135 minutes of enjoying time). It’s additionally double the zero.40 non-penalty anticipated targets he averaged per 90 minutes throughout qualifying. He’s additionally an ample creator, primarily due to his set piece skill. He’s created three.67 probabilities per 90 minutes, fifth most within the event amongst certified gamers,1 with 1.38 of them coming from corners (third most amongst certified gamers) and zero.69 coming from free kick passes (tied for sixth most). And Neymar is doing all that whereas getting the snot kicked out of him. He’s being fouled 5.27 instances per 90 minutes, the very best fee of any participant who noticed at the very least 135 minutes in any of the final three World Cups — he might have a behavior of exaggerating the severity of the contact, however there’s no denying that he takes a number of hits.
Scratch the floor of the criticism towards Brazil and also you’ll discover it’s all stylistic. Certain, possibly Jesus is taking pictures much less, however it isn’t hurting the workforce. It’s true that Neymar is spending a number of time rolling round on the grass, however it’s additionally true that he’s getting fouled greater than anyone else and he’s nonetheless placing up large numbers. The criticism of how Brazil is enjoying is obscuring simply how properly it’s enjoying. No person else pairs a top-notch skill to suppress opponent’s pictures with the flexibility to generate a boatload of their very own. And no one else has Neymar, probably the most harmful winger on the planet.
Brazil are clearly favored to win the World Cup. The one query left is, in the event that they do, will the trophy lastly put a cease to the criticism?