Copa America final: Is Brazil better without Neymar?

Brazil has marched to the final and is yet to concede a goal at the Copa America, so is it missing star forward Neymar or not?

Neymar has had to watch the Copa America from the sidelines   -  Getty Images

Neymar missing the Copa America due to injury was widely expected to be a major blow to Brazil's chances of winning the tournament on home soil.

But instead, Tite's side has reached its first final since 2007 and looked the strongest, most consistent team in the competition.

There have been wobbles — Brazil needed penalties to see off Paraguay in the quarterfinals and was similarly held to a 0-0 draw by Venezuela in the group stage.

The Selecao are overwhelming favourites to beat Peru in Sunday's final, however, especially as they hammered the same opposition 5-0 in their final round-robin match.

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Tite has been able to address the loss of the Paris Saint-Germain star seemingly without any great difficulty, which poses an obvious question: Is Brazil better without Neymar?

NO GOALS CONCEDED

Neymar plays in attack, but his presence still has an impact on teams defensively. It is hardly controversial to say the 27-year-old is no fan of tracking back to help out his team-mates.

PSG's controlled 2-0 win away to Manchester United in the Champions League was notable for the way coach Thomas Tuchel was able to get wide forwards Dani Alves and Angel Di Maria to work hard at both ends of the pitch.

READ | Brazil's Willian ruled out of Copa America final

Something similar has been evident at this year's Copa America, with Neymar's direct replacement, the effervescent Everton — linked with a lucrative move away from Gremio — shining in a free role off the left wing.

Gabriel Jesus has got through a huge amount of work on the right, even though he was without a goal before finding the net in Brazil's clinical 2-0 semi-final defeat of Lionel Messi's Argentina, a game in which the Manchester City striker was superb.

However, Opta data suggests Brazil's defensive resilience at the Copa is not necessarily linked to Neymar's injury-enforced absence.

Since the 2014 World Cup, Brazil has conceded an average of 0.8 goals per game when Neymar has not played, compared to 0.4 per game when he features.

DRAWING A BLANK

Brazil is in the final even though Tite's men have failed to score in two of their past four games at the Copa America, with Jesus and Roberto Firmino netting three times between them during the tournament.

Goals have been shared throughout the team with Neymar missing and five different players were on the scoresheet in the rout of Peru.

Perhaps, then, Neymar's absence could mean others are stepping up to take responsibility, with Philippe Coutinho among them despite coming off the back of a poor individual season at Barcelona.

But again, Opta data seems to show Brazil remain a slightly more compelling attacking force when Neymar is available, compared to when he is not.

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The team has scored 100 goals in 48 games played with Neymar since the 2014 World Cup, while without him they have found the net 52 times in 26 games.

Arguably the most telling statistic is Brazil's win ratio with and without its talisman.

When Neymar has played for his country in the past five years, it has won 79 per cent of its matches for a points-per-game record of 2.5. Without him, those figures drop to a 58 per cent win ratio and two points per game.

Brazil may have made it to the final of the Copa America without Neymar, but it will still hope the forward is back at peak fitness for next year's tournament, which is being co-hosted by Argentina and Colombia.

Neymar remains the Selecao's star.

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