Without Neymar, Brazil tests its options against Venezuela

SAO PAULO (AP) — Not having star playmaker Neymar or midfielder Casemiro available for selection will allow Brazil coach Tite to experiment with his lineup in Thursday’s World Cup qualifier at Venezuela.

Neymar is serving a suspension after picking up two yellow cards in Brazil’s game against Peru last month and Casemiro has a tooth infection.

Starting for the Seleção will be Alisson, Danilo, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Guilheme Arana, Fabinho, Gerson, Everton Ribeiro, Lucas Paquetá, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Barbosa.

A win in Caracas will give Brazil 27 points from nine matches. Brazil’s coach rarely publicly confirms his starting lineup before matches but he made an exception on Tuesday.

The selection hints that Brazil’s lead in South American qualifying makes Tite comfortable enough to try new players and formations.

“Our campaign allows us to open for opportunities. It wasn’t possible in the campaign for the 2018 World Cup,” Tite said in a news conference. “We are trying to grow and have players with different characteristics. Gerson, for example, is different from Fred. It is all about how you assemble.”

Fred has had a strong defensive partnership with Casemiro, but the team has lacked flair and passes between lines from those two. Gerson, who is more of a box-to-box player, is likely to be tested in Brazil’s next three matches against Venezuela, Colombia and Uruguay.

“What matters is balance,” Tite said, adding that he wants to test players who are capable of more than one function. “With Arana on the left, for example, we will have two options; either he’ll be wide or will build. If we want a fifth player up front, he gives us that option.”

Arana’s recent predecessors have not inspired Brazil fans. Renan Lodi made a crucial mistake in the goal that gave Argentina the Copa America title in July and Alex Sandro has been criticized for appearing to lack attacking DNA, a key feature for Seleção supporters.

Much of the focus will center on how Brazil performs without Neymar.

Tite has used the Paris Saint-Germain striker and Gabriel Jesus up front, with Paquetá often playing as a winger who switches positions frequently with both of them. Against Venezuela, the coach will start with Gabriel Barbosa, who has played mostly as a target man for his club, Flamengo.

That could mean more freedom for right-back Danilo and especially 24-year-old left-back Arana. It could also mean Paquetá and midfielder Everton Ribeiro will move up front in support more frequently.

César Sampaio, one of Tite’s assistants, said another long-awaited trial will be seen against Venezuela.

“We couldn’t use Fabinho in the (latest) Copa America. And this is a position for which we have two great references,” Sampaio said. “(Casemiro and Fabinho) are world-class players for their performances and because of the clubs they play for. This time Casemiro is not available.”

Venezuela has scored only four points in World Cup qualifying and will be missing several players because of injuries and requests from their clubs for them not to travel to South America due to COVID-19 protocols.

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