There has been a lot of criticism of Dunga’s Brazil (mostly from other Brazilians) that their midfield is too functional. Gilberto Silva has become the player singled out most as representing this new Brazil, that allegedly relies on counter attacks and set pieces and does not look to dominate possession. I don’t agree with any of these criticisms and believe that Gilberto is an important part of Brazil’s patient build up play and isn’t just a destroyer.
Gilberto Silva the Playmaker ??
If you look at the World Cup passing statistics you will see that Gilberto Silva has an 87% pass completion ratio. To put it in context , Xavi is at 80% and Xabi Alonso is at 83% (Figures correct before the quarterfinals). In fact, there are only 6 players who have played more than 200 minutes of World Cup football who have a better passing percentage(one of them being his midfield partner Felipe Melo). Gilberto Silva’s role in the build-up play is to make himself available for a pass, then play the simple short pass to an open player. He plays this role perfectly and a lot of other players can learn a lot from him(I am looking at you England). According to FIFA passing statistics. the majority of his passes are to Maicon and Melo, the two players closest to him. It is not his job to try through-balls or Hollywood passes across the field because if he loses possession then there is very little cover behind him to deal with the counter attack. Brazil play a high line and both their fullbacks get forward at every opportunity along with Lucio. If Gilberto Silva lost possession it would be a disaster because the opposition would have a clear run at goal. He has attempted more passes than players like Frank Lampard, Mark Van Bommel and Rafael Marquez but has a better passing percentage than those players. The claim that he is a detriment to the passing game and an offensive liability is ridiculous when you realize that HE ALMOST NEVER GIVES THE BALL AWAY. Chile are the only team to try to close him down and force him into passing errors but he coped with it very well. Dunga deserves the credit here as according to Santapelota, he prepared his team to deal with this type of pressing strategy.
Gilberto Silva the plug.
Of course Gilberto Silva is not just in the team for his passing ability. As shown here by Zonal Marking, Gilberto Silva moves to the right and forms a 3 man defense, plugging the gap left by Maicon’s forward runs. This allows Maicon to play as a winger and not worry too much about his defensive responsibilities. Even though Gilberto Silva does not have much pace, he covers for Maicon very well and is rarely caught out of position. He has only conceded 6 fouls in 4 games with no bookings, again proving that he is not a “destroyer”, just a very good player. Gilberto Silva also covers for the forward runs of Lucio, a tactic that gives Brazil an unexpected extra man in midfield. This is possible because Gilberto Silva is comfortable playing as a center-back so this switch in positions does not hurt the team.
If Brazil are defending deep, which often happens at the end of games when they feel that the result is secure, Gilberto Silva defends THE HOLE, the gap between midfield and defense. He shields the center-backs so that they do not have to leave their positions to try and close down the opposition’s attacking midfielders. Therefore in the game against Holland, he will be tasked with closing down Wesley Sneijder, a key part of Brazil’s defensive strategy.
Gilberto Silva is also a big reason why Brazil almost never concede from set pieces. His aerial and marking ability ensure that Brazil are not physically dominated from these situations.
Gilberto Silva is not the big lumping destroyer he is believed to be. He keeps possession very well and is tactically astute, plugging gaps where they appear. His versatility allows Brazil to attack in many different ways without losing their defensive shape. No matter what happens in today’s game, he is a brilliant player and deserves some recognition and love.