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Are Brazil's full-backs cause for concern at Qatar 2022?

Posted on November 23, 2022

Brazil are the overwhelming favourites to win the 2022 World Cup, and it is easy to see why. There is a raft of talent within the Selecao squad, notably in attack with Tite able to call upon the likes of Neymar, Vinicius Junior, Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, to name four, in what is arguably the most impressive array of offensive personnel in the game.

In midfield, Casemiro and Fred are the go-to pairing to anchor the backline, while Bruno Guimaraes and Lucas Paqueta are handy third options in the middle of the park. Fabinho is another able to deputise for Casemiro should needs must. Famed for the rampant attack, in defence Brazil are strong. Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Eder Militao and Bremer are top quality centre-backs to protect number one Alisson between the sticks. His reserve? A certain Manchester City shotstopper named Ederson.

Not too many weaknesses in that crop... right? Well... in what can be considered the key areas of the pitch, Brazil are well stocked. There is ample cover for the defence in the middle of the park, and that allows the attacking stars the license to do what they do best - put opponents to the sword. And yet... the full-back position is an area that can be exploited.

Now, Alex Sandro, Alex Telles, Danilo and Dani Alves are all fine full-backs at Tite's disposal. They each bring winning experience and attacking verve to a Brazil side that does rely on its full-backs to help stretch opponents when the wingers do cut inside from the right and left flanks. The issue is whether they have what it takes to up their game accordingly to help Brazil to a sixth World Cup.

Both Sandro and Danilo for example have hardly been imperious for Juventus in Serie A this season. The pair have registered just three assists between them for the Old Lady in Italy's top tier this term, those coming from a combined 13 key passes for Max Allegri's side. For this current Brazil side, Tite would be expecting a higher return of chances created from the full-backs at his disposal, though it is worth noting that Danilo has spent a significant chunk of his season at centre-back for the Italian side.

Sandro doesn't quite have the same excuse having featured predominantly at left-back for the Old Lady, and as Brazil's starting left-back, this should be a worry for Tite. The 31-year-old has at least been sound defensively when he has had to get stuck in having been dribbled past just twice across 13 league outings this term, yet even so; he hasn't even been a first team regular under Allegri this season.

Sandro's competition at left-back - Alex Telles - hasn't featured much either following his move to Sevilla from Manchester United. Indeed, Telles has started just seven of 14 league games for the La Liga side this season, and has returned a WhoScored rating of just 6.49 for Jorge Sampaoli's team. Of course, Sevilla's dire start to the campaign hasn't helped matters, with the Spanish outfit currently 18th in La Liga. That said, the 29-year-old, despite a lack of game time, has still made the third most key passes (13) for Sevilla, and Sampaoli's return to Seville has certainly aided Telles, with six of his seven league starts coming on the back of the Argentine's appointment last month.

Rounding off the full-back contingent is Alves, who at 39 years of age, is unlikely to start for Brazil in Qatar. The legendary right-back is widly considered one of the best to have played the game in his position, and while he did feature frequently for Mexican outfit UNAM following his move to the Liga MX side earlier this year, his season effectively halted at the end of September as Pumas ended the Apertura in 16th, well short of the playoff spots.

"Alves definitely needed a couple weeks to adjust to the elevation of Mexico City, and clearly looked winded in his first few games, but I think he actually had a decent season," ESPN's Liga MX guru Cesar Hernandez said of Alves' spell in Mexico so far.

"There was plenty of criticism towards his Pumas squad that were incredibly underwhelming with their spot at 16th in the table, with many wondering if the signing of Alves was a massive flop, but he was arguably one of their best players of the season.

"He also started to pick up steam in his final matches. Whether that was enough to justify a call-up to the World Cup, I'm not sure. Clearly he's a figure with status and importance that transcends far beyond what he's done over just the last few months in Mexico, but it would be a stretch to say he has been brilliant since he arrived.

"I am curious to see how next season goes though. It's not out of the ordinary for foreign stars to need more than just a season in Liga MX to adjust to the country and style of play, especially when you consider that Mexico plays a short-season format with two per year. It's also worth noting that he played as more of a midfielder with Pumas and occasionally moved further back to right-back."

The call up, then, is perhaps understandable, even at his age and playing outside of one of Europe's top leagues. Yet a lack of competitive action for the best part of two months does weigh against him and with Danilo, or even Militao, the only other right-back options in the Brazil, Tite's in-form, and match fit, options are fairly thin on the ground.

Brazil get their World Cup campaign underway this week when they take on Serbia on Thursday night in the final game of the first round of fixtures, and they are perhaps deserved favourites to secure glory in Qatar. Yet with the full-back issues, getting in behind the left and right-backs could well be opponents' best route to goal when they take on the five-time world champions in the coming weeks. It's a far cry from years gone by where the likes of Marcelo, Roberto Carlos, Cafu, Carlos Alberto and Nilton Santos would provide a quality offensive threat from deep.