ANALYSIS - Raisa Simplicio & Rupert Fryer
On an evening where the Selecao displayed more balance and a more ruthless touch in front of goal, the five-time world champions once again improved from their previous showing.
While yet to hit the heights they reached both in qualifying and in their Brasil Global Tour friendlies since Tite’s arrival, Brazil appear to be growing into the tournament.
Below, we look back at five talking points from a successful night in Moscow.
Neymar suffered a lot of criticism for his frequent discussions with the referees during Brazil’s first two matches, but on Wednesday was spent much less time engaged with the officials. His best showing of the tournament so far, he also held onto the ball less and focused solely on being decisive in the final third.
Despite his best efforts, he was unable to find the net himself, but did cap his performance by whipping in a corner for Thiago Silva to head the second goal – a move the defender later revealed had come straight off the training field.
Ahead of the World Cup, coach Tite became increasingly concerned by his team’s ability to break down deep-lying defences who would look to protect their goal in numbers. To combat this against Costa Rica last week, full-backs Marcelo and Fagner were asked to adopt an approach made famous by Pep Guardiola, by tucking into central midfield positions when their team are in possession.
We saw this trend continue against Serbia before the opening goal arrived. It was yet another sign that Tite’s Brazil is continuing to evolve tactically – a defining trait of his tenure so far. The coach also made a tactical tweak as Serbia pushed on in the second-half, introducing Fernandinho to offer greater protection to a defensive line that was finding it increasingly difficult to hold firm.
Philippe Coutinho arrived at the World Cup asked to play a new role, albeit one that Tite trialled for a year by the time they arrived in Russia. Keen to add more dynamism and invention to the centre of the pitch, the Barcelona man replaced Renato Augusto and has been one of the stars of the World Cup so far.
He once again flourished in the position, floating left to link up with Neymar and Gabriel Jesus as we saw a return to the lop-sided Brazil that has appeared each time Coutinho has been moved centrally. Coutinho was unable to find the net, but it was his magnificent through ball that led to Paulinho’s opener.
It was only in March this year that Thiago Silva ended a three-year wait to be a first-team Brazil player again, and the PSG stopper is repaying his coach’s faith. He has formed a sold partnership with Miranda at the heart of a defence that has conceded just one goal so far at the World Cup.
His powerful header that secured the victory over Serbia capped a fine individual performance from Thiago, who was frequently called into action during a brief period of the second-half when the Selecao were forced to weather a storm.
After two games in which he would have been disappointed with his contributions, Paulinho showed the brilliance that saw him singled out as one of the stars of the Tite era. The former Corinthians man scored what has become a trademark goal, timing to perfection his late run from deep to penetrate the Serbian defence.
His cool finish provided the all-important opener and will certainly have quelled any criticism of his performances so far from those watching back home. Paulinho has a huge role to play this month and could yet be one of the stars of the World Cup.