ANALYSIS - Raisa Simplicio & Rupert Fryer
For a long time, Philippe Coutinho’s international career was one of false starts and disappointments.
His Brazil debut arrived back in 2010, but Coutinho was left out of Luiz Felipe Scholari’s squad for World Cup 2014, having earned just six caps in four years.
Dunga’s arrival was supposed to kick-start his journey with the Selecao, but instead came more ups and down as he failed to earn himself a regular starting spot.
That his preferred position was also the role reserved for Neymar – cutting in from the left – saw Coutinho face a persistent uphill struggle for international recognition.
Indeed, it looked to be going the same way immediately following the June 2016 appointment of Tite, as the then Liverpool man had to make do with another place among the supporting cast.
But then came a change. Willian – who was struggling through personal problems at the time – suffered a dip in form and found himself increasingly isolated out on the right wing during the early stages of the Tite era.
After two substitute appearances, Coutinho was handed a starting role in an October 2016 World Cup qualifier against Bolivia. He’s been first choice ever since.
The former Vasco and Inter man grew considerably over the next few months, making himself one of the protagonists of a new dawn for Brazilian football as he formed a deadly triumvirate alongside Neymar and Gabriel Jesus.
And he is now being trusted with what is arguably the biggest task of any member of the squad that will travel to Russia this month.
Last year, Tite began experimenting with Coutinho in a central midfield role, slotting him in place of Renato Augusto as the playmaker charged with knitting the midfield to the attack.
Renato had been hugely impressive in the role, but the fact that he was now playing his football in the less challenging world of Chinese football, which also operates on a very different calendar, became a problem. The role now appears to be Coutinho’s for the taking.
With Barcelona star Coutinho in the side, the plan was to inject a little more dynamism to a balanced midfield anchored by Casemiro, who sat behind the shuttling Paulinho.
Initially, this appeared to be a ploy that Tite would use solely against teams that sat deep and looked only to stifle the Selecao.
Immediately after #Brasil's squad announcement last month, our very own @simpraisa caught up with Brazil's favourite Englishman, @Tim_Vickery.— Brasil Global Tour (@BGT_ENG) June 7, 2018
Here's the first of four short videos coming your way. pic.twitter.com/laYb5H8Cw8
But Willian’s return to form has made the Chelsea man increasingly difficult to leave out and, with Renato having played almost half the number of minutes of his international colleagues in club football during 2018, Plan B could well become Plan A for Tite's Brazil.
With Coutinho in the side, Brazil can morph mid-game from their customary 4-1-4-1 to variations of 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2.
And a knee injury for Renato means that the experiment will continue on Sunday against Austria as the Brasil Global Tour arrives in Vienna.
The one change from the side that defeated Croatia last weekend will see Fernandinho drop out and Coutinho return to central midfield, with Willian wide right and Neymar playing from the left – the same system we saw in the second half of the match at Anfield as the Selecao recovered from a tricky first-half to score two unanswered goals after the break.
Brazil meet Austria on Sunday June 10 at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion in what will be their final World Cup warm-up match before departing for Russia.