One of the hottest rivalries in football takes centre stage on Thursday night as Brazil host Argentina at the Mineirão in Belo Horizonte.
Tite’s side sit on top of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualification as the new manager’s appointment has seen a dramatic upturn in the side’s performances and results.
Argentina, however, have not been as positive. Their over-reliance on star player Lionel Messi has been brutally exposed in this campaign as the Barcelona star’s recent injury absences have seen results suffer. Indeed, Edgardo Bauza’s side have won just once in their last four qualifiers and now sit in sixth, outside even the playoff spot.
There may still be eight games to play but Argentina need to start winning soon to ensure that confidence doesn’t drop – luckily for them, Messi is back in the squad and is confirmed to start on Thursday.
Despite the contrasting form recently, the preferred starting eleven of both sides is relatively similar in overall quality, making the composition somewhat challenging…
Alisson (Brazil & AS Roma)
The 24-year-old Brazilian number one earned an €8m move to Serie A side Roma over the summer, and although was he subsequently demoted for the returning Wojciech Szczesny, he retains the position for the Giallorossi’s Europa League campaign. Alisson has kept three clean sheets in four matches for the seleção, conceding just once in that time.
Right-Back: Dani Alves (Brazil & Juventus)
Centre-Back: Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina & Manchester City)
Centre-Back: Miranda (Brazil & Internazionale)
Left-Back: Marcelo (Brazil & Real Madrid)
Considering Brazil’s defence has been watertight in recent games, it stands to reason that they would dominate the backline. Moreover, former captain Thiago Silva can’t even get into the starting eleven anymore, such has been the form of PSG teammate Marquinhos and Inter Milan’s Miranda.
Nicolas Otamendi has been in fine form for Manchester City this season and has seen his reputation ascend as a result, unlike Pablo Zabaleta at right-back who has been showing signs of decline.
Dani Alves remains one of the best right-backs in the world, while the only competition Marcelo had for the left berth in this team was from compatriot Filipe Luis.
Centre Midfield: Javier Mascherano (Argentina & Barcelona)
Centre Midfield: Fernandinho (Brazil & Manchester City)
Attacking Midfielder/Number Ten: Philippe Coutinho (Brazil & Liverpool)
Mascherano and Fernandinho, it could be argued, are two sides of the same coin such is their style of play. However, both are fine players in their own right and each offers something different. Mascherano, for example, is a better tackler while Fernandinho possesses greater passing ability. That said, there is a definite case for the inclusion of Zenit’s Giuliano, such is the form that he has been displaying in the Russian league and Europe (perhaps Lucas Biglia too).
Philippe Coutinho, meanwhile, has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season with Liverpool, picking up five goals and five assists. He has shown signs of being able to transfer that form to the international game and there are few number tens in better form right now.
Right Forward: Lionel Messi (Argentina & Barcelona)
Left Forward: Neymar (Brazil & Barcelona)
Striker: Sergio Agüero (Argentina & Manchester City)
Messi and Neymar are the two easy ones, they are simply two of the best players on the planet and any combined starting eleven that didn’t include both would be disingenuous and deeply flawed. (That said, any couple of nations that can can call upon the likes of Ángel Di María and Roberto Firmino has little to worry about in terms of strength in depth.)
The striker position was harder to call. Agüero has been in great form for Man City in the league, but Bauza has already confirmed that Gonzalo Higuaín will start ahead of him on Thursday. The 28-year-old’s Premier League form this campaign gives him the edge but it’s a toss-up in all honesty.
For Brazil, Gabriel Jesus (yet more proof that Man City are starting to dominate this fixture) is likely to partner Neymar up front, the 19-year-old has scored four goals in his first four games and already looks like having a huge role in the next generation of Brazilian superstars.
Subs: Sergio Romero (ARG), Thiago Silva (BRA), Lucas Biglia (ARG), Giuliano (BRA), Ángel Di María (ARG), Gonzalo Higuaín (ARG), Gabriel Jesus (BRA)
Incidentally, the last time Brazil played at the Mineirão, this happened…