England host five-time World Cup champions Brazil in a massive friendly fixture at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday night and it’s not a stretch to say the hosts are major underdogs.
For Brazil have dominated the South American qualifying zone to book their berth for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and possess several world-class stars in their squad while England have seen the vast majority of their big names withdraw from the squad citing various injuries.
Having said that, the Three Lions managed to hold the defending World Cup champions Germany to a creditable 0-0 draw despite fielding a weakened side and they will not go down quietly on Tuesday. So what are the individual clashes too look out for?
The Statesman has outlined the five mini-battles that are likely to decide the outcome of the tie at Wembley below:
John Stones vs Gabriel Jesus
Stones and Jesus, who both play for Premier League side Manchester City, will be forced to cast aside their club loyalties as their respective national teams take precedence.
Jesus, despite being just 20 years old, is seen as Brazilian football’s next big thing and his displays for the Sky Blues have backed up his burgeoning reputation.
Extremely hard-working, fast and with an eye for goal, the 5’9 forward packs plenty of punch. Despite his relatively slight stature, he’s shown he isn’t shy of a physical battle and very rarely does he not come out on top.
Up against him is a man who arguably, looks more accomplished when passing the ball than when he is trying to win it back. Stones hasn’t quite had the ideal start to life at Manchester City and despite the Citzens’ sensational form, doubts remain over the 23-year-old’s defensive qualities.
Shackling Jesus, who is in fine fettle, won’t be easy and Stones will have to go back to the basics if he is to keep hotshot quiet. A big performance against the Selecao is what Gareth Southgate will demand of him and should Stones deliver, even his harshest critics will be forced to eat humble pie.
Kyle Walker vs Neymar
After Neymar’s mind-boggling €222 million transfer to PSG in the summer, all other transfers were put in the shade and Kyle Walker must have felt relieved the Brazilian was the focus of all media outlets.
For he switched from Tottenham Hotspur to Manchester City for a then-record fee of £50 million. Briefly the world’s most expensive defender, Walker’s fee may have paled in front of Neymar’s, but for a right-back who is yet to deliver on his immense potential, City perhaps paid the price for the highly-inflated transfer market.
At Manchester City, Walker has been in fine form but like his teammate, John Stones, seems better suited to attacking than defending. Whether he plays as a wing-back on Tuesday or as a traditional fullback, he will be up against Brazil’s resident trickster: Neymar.
Regardless of whether he’s a prima donna or not, Neymar has undeniable footballing quality and consistency ranks among the top three footballers in the world (behind you know who!). His record for Brazil (and PSG) speaks for itself and there can be no denying that the 25-year-old is their talisman.
Occupying the left flank in Brazil’s free-flowing 4-3-3- system, Neymar loves to cut in and shoot with his favoured right foot and England’s pacy fullback will have to track his runs.
Is Walker up to the challenge? His robust style isn’t anything new for Neymar and people often forget his dribbling skills can flummox even the best of defenders. If the England right-back can man-mark Neymar out of the game, England have a solid chance of claiming a massive win.
Marcus Rashford vs Thiago Silva
In the absence of Harry Kane, England’s hopes will fall on Manchester United man Marcus Rashford. The United Academy product, who turned 20 in Octoebr, has shown he isn’t fazed by any occasion in the past and will be relishing his challenge against the Brazil’s veteran centre-back.
At 33, Thiago Silva is on the decline but the PSG defender will desperate for a final hurrah with the Selecao at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But, against the jet-heeled Rashford, has he found his match?
Rashford hasn’t been starting regularly for the Red Devils, yet has managed to score seven times and that just underlines his obvious threat. With the star-studded Brazil team expected to dominate possession, supply to Rashford won’t be ideal and the Three Lions are expected to play a counter-attacking game to suit their side’s young players.
Silva has played against some of the best to have ever played the game during his career and will be calling upon his vast reserves of experience to keep a hold of England’s centre forward.
England’s aspirations rest on Rashford’s young shoulders for if he can manage to sneak in a goal or two, an upset is likely to be on the cards.
Paulinho vs Eric Dier
What a remarkable few months it’s been for Paulinho.
After failing to make the grade at Tottenham Hotspur, Paulinho chose the cash-rich Chinese Super League in 2015 and looked set to see out the rest of his career with a fat pay check before Barcelona swooped in bring him back from the footballing wilderness in August.
Many people scoffed at La Blaugrana’s acquisition of a player who was 29 at the time but fast forward three months and it seems like Barcelona and Paulinho are having the last laugh. His club displays have been seriously impressive and he looks like a player far different than the one who failed to hold down a starting spot with the Lilywhites.
Paulinho is a proper box-to-box midfielder for Brazil and the man tasked with keeping in check will be current Tottenham midfielder Eric Dier. The young Engilshman was given the captain’s armband for the Germany tie and will be flying high after a competent display against Die Mannschaft.
Dier may not be spectacular, but the 23-year-old gets the job done with minimum fuss.
Brazil have a potent front three, perhaps the best in world football and supplying them with ample ammunition is Paulinho’s job. Dier will try his best to make sure that doesn’t happen and this might just be the most important battle on the Wembley pitch.
Danny Rose vs Philippe Coutinho
Danny Rose, after a lengthy injury lay-off, is back in the England set up and will be raring to go against the irrepressible Brazilians.
After being rested for their 3-1 win over Japan, Coutinho has declared himself fit to play and the Liverpool man will start on the right-hand side of the Selecao’s front three.
With Neymar and Jesus for company, Coutinho is expected to wreak havoc and as is the case with most Brazilians, possesses excellent dribbling skills. While he isn’t exactly fast, his low centre of gravity allows him to glide past defenders before unleashing a hammer of a shot with his right foot or find a teammate with an exquisite pass.
Rose, like his former club mate Walker, loves to bomb down the flank but will have to keep his attacking tendencies in check as foraying into the opponent’s half will leave the door open for Coutinho.
Reports of a move to Barcelona in the January transfer window refuse to go away and with the world watching, Coutinho will be desperate to make a statement at Wembley. He’ll be seeing a lot of Rose and their duel will be an interesting one without a doubt.
Coutinho doesn’t get the credit he deserves for Brazil, with the focus mostly on Jesus and Neymar, but he remains a vital cog in their flair-filled attack and if England are to emerge victorious in front of their home support, Rose will have to bring his A game to silence Coutinho.