Bring an image of Brazil to your mind and it is almost certain you will think of free-flowing attacking moves, samba skills and o jogo bonito. Not debates about defensive midfielders.
Over the last few decades Brazil have rarely lived up to the stereotype that comes with those famous yellow shirts, but they have truly gone against it over the last few months.
Tite, the manager who led them to winning the Copa America in the summer, has recently decided defensive considerations take priority and their football is reflecting it ahead of their clash against South Korea.
Brazil’s team that lost to Argentina lacked much of the creativity you would expect to see. They started (top, left-right) Alisson Becker, Eder Militao, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Roberto Firmino, Danilo, (bottom, left-right) Willian, Arthur, Lucas Paqueta, Alex Sandro and Gabriel Jesus
Brazil manager Tite seems like he is some way away from settling on what his best XI is
He has good reason to think primarily about grinding out results. They have a veritable smorgasbord of good defensive-minded players in the centre of the park.
In fact, neither Fabinho nor Fernandinho has got into the side over the last few games ahead of Casemiro or Arthur. And given how that Premier League pair have performed recently for their clubs, it says a lot about the options available to Tite.
It is not only in the centre of the park that conservatism takes priority. The 58-year-old has also decided that he wants his full-backs to be more defensive-minded.
Where Roberto Carlos and Cafu used to bomb down the flanks, he would now rather his wide defenders tucked inside and helped out their midfield to provide more stability.
Casemiro (right) and Arthur (left) are currently keeping Fabinho and Fernandinho out of the XI
That is why Dani Alves, 36, has recently been his preferred option on the right – although Danilo started last week in the 1-0 friendly defeat by old rivals Argentina. Alves’ years of experience means he can be trusted to focus on defending when asked.
That solidity is what Tite wants to see, more than anything else.
Tite does have also problems in forward areas that justifies this. For example, he has consistently struggled to get the best out of Roberto Firmino.
While he has established himself as the preferred player through the middle, Firmino is not hitting his Liverpool level.
Dani Alves’ experience is the main reason why he is the preferred option at right-back
Part of the problem is that he has become a brilliant knitter of play at Liverpool and looks to drop deep and bring those around him into the game.
Yet when he plays that position for Brazil, he tends to occupy the same spaces as Philippe Coutinho, the one true playmaker in Tite’s thinking.
That could be why the Bayern Munich midfielder has been in and out of the team in the last three matches.
Jurgen Klopp was happy enough to jettison Coutinho to get the best out of his system at Liverpool and it might just be the case that Tite has decided he needs to do the same.
It could be the best way of bringing Firmino up to his usual level when he plays for the Selecao.
Tite has consistently struggled to get the best out of Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino
Ederson has also very much got the nod ahead of Alisson, although the City goalkeeper is currently out with injury.
The problem is Brazil have not won any of their last five matches – the defeat by Argentina means they have drawn three and lost two. Whatever decisions Tite is making, they are just not coming together in terms of results.
There are some caveats before the blame is put squarely at Tite’s door.
Neymar is once again absent with injury and, while there are always problems there, he is still fundamentally Brazil’s most talented player.
Having him out of the team with injury is becoming an ongoing problem for Tite.
Another Premier League name, Richarlison, seemed to be growing into an important player for Brazil — earning comparisons with the original Ronaldo.
Having PSG star Neymar out of the team with injury is becoming an ongoing problem for Tite
Yet his form has been up and down for Everton and he has a long way to go and some serious consistency to find before he reaches that level.
Gabriel Jesus is being used somewhat out of position on the right, although he did not give Tite any selection headaches over the central berth after missing a penalty against Argentina.
The lack of genuinely impressive forward players probably explains why Tite called up Aston Villa’s Wesley Moraes after a series of injuries.
Wesley has just four Premier League goals this season, which feels like a low number to justify a Brazil call-up.
Philippe Coutinho (left) and Firmino seem to get in each other’s way in the forward positions
The reality is that Tite is just grabbing up what he can, especially in forward positions.
So, if you are tuning in to Tuesday’s friendly against South Korea on Tuesday in the UAE, cast those grand old images of Brazil out of your mind. This cycle, ahead of the next World Cup, could be all about establishing the best defensive set-up.
Brazil to grind their way to victory in Qatar, as they did in 1994? It would not be a surprise.