The Premier League pair are both gunning for a regular place in Tite’s first XI, but the former’s fine recent form should give him the edge in the coming games
Philippe Coutinho or Willian? It was one of the biggest questions facing Tite as the new coach put together his first team for the World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Colombia during September.
Under Dunga’s tenure the Chelsea man was preferred for his excellent technical abilities, but since Tite has taken over Coutinho has proved a more effective presence and helped change the course of those two games, both of which ended in valuable wins for the Selecao.
Ever since the coach took the bench, he has preached “meritocracy” in the Brazil ranks. He has also insisted on his players being involved heavily in their club sides, something which weighs heavily when he puts together his team.
And in Tuesday’s training session Tite hinted that, after a string of fine performances, Coutinho will be starting Thursday’s game against Bolivia. At the end of practice, in a curious gesture, the coach brought both players together for a talk.
Each player, it is true, brings something different to the team, with their distinctive abilities and style of play.
Willian is a tireless presence on the pitch, continually pressuring his opponents in their own half and with a talent for opening play on the right-hand side while also breaking through the middle. At the current time, however, the Chelsea midfielder is far from his best form. In the season so far he is scored twice and failed to contribute a single assist under Antonio Conte.
Coutinho, on the other hand, is a reliable creative presence in the middle of the pitch, despite his fondness of boring down the left. The Liverpool star has already notched three goals and two assists for his club, and laid on a goal in each World Cup qualifier to help Tite to a perfect start as Brazil coach and make a big case for his inclusion.
While competition for places will remain faces, this must be Coutinho’s opportunity to shine, after waiting so long. Having made his debut way back in 2010, the midfielder failed to convince Mano Menezes, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Dunga he merited a regular spot, but now he has matured and he will surely push on to take a first-team place under the new man on the bench.
Brazil are likely to line up with Alisson, Daniel Alves, Marquinhos, Miranda, Filipe Luis; Fernandinho; Giuliano, Renato Augusto, Philippe Coutinho, Neymar; Gabriel Jesus against Bolivia, as they look to keep up the chase on World Cup qualifying leaders Uruguay, who sit one point ahead of the Selecao with 16.