2012 revisited

Coach Scolari took us through the emotions a few years back. Love and hate. Glory and shame. The unlikely combo comprised of the Brazil Cup trophy with a Brasileirão relegation.

It’s not quite the same this year. For good and for bad, Marcelo Oliveira has not the ability to stir the blood of palmeirenses like Scolari. And Palmeiras suffer no risk of relegation. Now, had the championship been another 5-6 rounds…

Today’s 0-2 against Coritiba was as depressing as ever, Palmeiras using nothing from the starting eleven except right-back Lucas, suspended from the last match in the Brazil Cup. Coritiba on the other hand threw in everything they had and through the three points  very close to secured their spot in the first division next year.  The 15.000 strong crowd at the Allianz Parque endured the rain and the poor football, showing loyalty beyond belief, collectively aware of the only thing that matters: the 90 minutes coming Wednesday against Santos.

Palmeiras need revert the 1-0 defeat from the first leg at the Vila Belmiro. And work around the biased refereeing. It’s curious the clear penalty on Barrios, denied by the referee, didn’t even make this otherwise excellent compilation below. But this is how it has always been and how it must always be in order for it to be Palmeiras, against all and everything. 

True, Palmeiras played badly against Santos. And true, the scorecard could have been much more in Santos’ favour at the blow of the final whistle. But it is what it is. And just like in 2012 – against all odds – Palmeiras on Wednesday lift the Brazil Cup trophy. For the third time in history.

Do not ask me to explain how. I do not even care how.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

After losing to Sport, I lamented Palmeiras were specialising in the worst kind of predictability: defeat after defeat against opponents who should tremble when stepping on our pitch. Sadly, the feat of giving Sport their first away victory in this years’ Brasileirão was followed by defeat also to Santos, then yet another pathetic display at the Allianz Parque, 0-2 against bottom-feeders Vasco da Gama. After that, the insane 90 minutes against Atlético Paranaense, where Palmeiras were losing, winning, and then losing again before finding the equaliser on stoppage time. And yesterday, after trailing behind Cruzeiro, Lucas Barrios averted a third humiliation at home, closing the scorecard at 1-1. Leaving Palmeiras parked in tenth, six points from the Libertadors Cup spot with only two rounds to go.

It is hard to pinpoint individuals or specifics. The collective is not clicking, everything seems slightly off, in a peculiar way. Lines are not compacted, movements between segments uncoordinated. A certain and growing frustration is noticeable among players, which of course is problematic for a team two games away from a national title. That being said, in the last two games, at least the heat was there.

It’s Marcelo Oliveira’s fault, essentially. No secret our coach is struggling with forming a cohesive and minimally reliant pattern of play. It is almost as if he tosses a jersey to each player in the locker room and tells them to go out there and do their best. True, a team is not built in a day and the Palmeiras squad was remodelled from scratch at the start of the year. But none other than Alexandro Mattos did the remodelling, and Oliveira has had time enough to put something better out there. He needs to step it up.

“Too late for that”, many say. After all, this is Brazil, where coaches are chopped on a weekly basis. Doriva was dispatched from São Paulo FC a couple of weeks ago after only seven rounds with the club: his fourth A-league teams this season. Are Palmeiras’ directors determined to break the paradigm?

They should be. As has been stated numerous times here: in the last few years, Palmeiras have had Luxemburgo, Scolari, Muricy Ramalho, and now Marcelo Oliveira in command. Upon arrival, these were all considered top of the crop. They all failed (Oliveira, not yet). No need for brains to figure out the coach is not the problem. Now, how do you discover and address root causes, if the coach is never allowed to stay on?

How much time is sufficient time to evaluate the work of Marcelo Oliveira? Let us consider a few things before answering the question.

Marcelo Oliveira obviously knows football. No one becomes champion of the Brazilian league by fluke, much less twice in a row. And do not think Oliveira received a winning machine to work with upon arrival at Cruzeiro: he and Mattos built it up from the ground. Moreover, football has not seen a revolution in the last year or so: if Oliveira’s methods worked a couple of years ago, calling him outdated today is nonsense.

Considering the above, we’re left with four hypothesises: 1) Oliveira isn’t doing his job; 2) Oliveira’s lost the confidence of the squad; 3) Oliveira’s methods are inapplicable on this squad; 4) Other factors are influencing progress.

Number two and three are out the window: Oliveira is respected, and there are no reasonable arguments for the claim that this particular squad cannot be made to work under his command.

Is Oliveira doing his job? Some claim he is not, or not doing it well enough. Too little training, wrong kind of training, insisting on maintaining certain players in the starting eleven even as mounting evidence suggests they should not be. One thing is the average frustrated supporter, with his “more training is always good” mentality. Another is the comments surging from people following training sessions with certain regularity. In addition, sources must be carefully assessed, as some of the noise is coming from individuals (read investors/agents) with vested interest in the career of certain players.

At last, the enigmatic “other factors”. The peculiar bundle of characteristics of the club, its members and its supporters – be they static or not – that originate comments similar to Alex de Souza’s – undisputed #10 at Palmeiras and Fenerbahçe: “If you can take it as a Palmeiras player, you can take it anywhere”.

Why is it so hard to play for Palmeiras? We will only learn why, by maintaining certain things static while observing others. Oliveira must be given more time, time that will allow us to identify and address some of those “other factors”, while he tweaks his training and tactics. This is my firm belief, and the same reasoning that had me oppose the swap from Oswaldo de Oliveira do Marcelo Oliveira in the first place.

Now, that is all aiming the Brasileirão, Copa do Brasil and Libertadores of next year. This year, it is all about 180 minutes – this upcoming Wednesday and the next – of distilled fury and determination. Take note, Santos: the trophy is ours, and convincingly so.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

The result surprised no one. It’s notoriously hard to play at the Vila Belmiro. And we all know Palmeiras must progress if they are serious about winning the Brazil Cup. The almost four weeks between now and 25 November, when the first leg of the finals is played, serve that purpose: tweak Palmeiras into something better.

A game of missed opportunities, this one. The rain justifies some of it, for example Dudu’s slip. Other blown opportunities, like Robinho’s poor shot and moments with Ricardo Oliveira and Gabriel, can be blamed on nervousness and arrogance. Highlights below.

Arrogance. A key word in this context. Personified in veteran striker Ricardo Oliveira. Twenty goals so far in the Brasileirão, well on his way to become the golden boot of the season, which also has rendered him renewed attention from Dunga and a place in the Brazil squad, ending a ten-year absence. A pastor he is, Ricardo Oliveira. Always on his high horse. No different today, and especially after scoring, making faces and pointing toward Prass.

Ricardo Oliveira is just being himself. Which is excellent. If there’s one thing with potential to bring that extra geist into the Palmeiras squad, it’s his stuffed up arrogance. That, and the overall “Santos has got this one in the bag”, commonly transmitted by sports journalists. 2012, anyone?

A week of rest and training before Palmeiras receive desperate bottom-dwellers Vasco da Gama. Then, two games against middle-of-the-tables teams that theoretically have little to fight for: Atlético Paranaense away and Cruzeiro at home. These three games are crucial for Palmeiras’ aspirations for a place in the G4. Anything lesser than seven points and the Brazil Cup becomes our only hope.

For the upcoming sequence, Arouca and Cleiton Xavier should be at Marcelo Oliveira’s disposal. Mind you, Matheus Sales has been very convincing, putting out another solid performance today, this time beside Thiago Santos. Arouca will for sure face some healthy competition. As for Xavier… Better keep expectations low. Actually, might as just forget he even exists.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Nerve-racking, as could be expected, and a closer call than needed be, had the referee been better positioned to signal that second penalty which most likely would have seen Palmeiras 3-0 in halftime.

Never mind. It was a terrific game, frank and fought just like the away game previous week. Difference this time, Palmeiras completely dominating the first half, every single man stepping it up, not least Amaral, Jackson and youngster Matheus Sales, freshly promoted from the youth academy and as of day one showing surprising maturity. Robinho, back after injury, immediately restoring a good level of creativity to Palmeiras’ midfield. Barrios, the author of two goals that should have been an authentic hat-trick. Last but not least, man of the match Fernando Prass, with decisive saves in the dying minutes of the game, then a giant during the penalty shootout. Enjoy, just as the close to 40.000 palmeirenses in the stands did yesterday.

In the other corner, Santos effortlessly beat SPFC 3-1 to advance to the finals.

“The Fish” certainly are on a roll and many a sports journalist consider them favourites to win the finals. I would have to agree, were the games to be played on the 4th and 25th of November, as originally planned. However, Santos thought better the games be delayed, received support for the idea from the other three semi-finalists, and convinced the Brazilian Football Federation to change the dates to 25th November and 2nd December respectively. There is no doubt in my mind the three extra weeks will do more good for Palmeiras than Santos, allowing the Verdão to recover both Arouca and Cleiton Xavier, while Marcelo Oliveira continues tuning the machine.

Sunday, the same Santos await at the Vila Belmiro in the 33rd round of the Brasileirão. Depending on other results, a victory – although of course difficult – is enough to propel Palmeiras from 8th back into 4th position.

There you go. With a squad completely reassembled at the beginning of the year, Palmeiras reached the finals in the São Paulo championship, the finals in the Brazil Cup, and are two points shy of a spot in the G4. Any Palmeiras supporter telling you this year is a failure you put over your knee and give a good spanking.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Palmeiras are specialising in the worst kind of predictability: defeat against opponents who should tremble when stepping on our pitch and weep upon leaving it.

So far in the 2015 Brazilian championship, SPORT HAD NOT WON A SINGLE AWAY GAME. Palmeiras took care of that, with their “take from the rich and give to the poor” predisposition, slumping down to seventh in the tables instead of securing a spot in the top four.

Palmeiras sum four defeats in the last five games. Two consecutive defeats at home. Pressure is mounting fast and Wednesday’s second leg against Fluminense is transforming into a potential turning point for Marcelo Oliveira’s future at Palmeiras.

Not that Palmeiras played that bad today, but it was one of those nights when the game can last 180 or 270 minutes and the ball will not find the net. Egídio, Allione, Mouche wasted heaps of opportunities. Cristaldo idem, but at least showed tremendous fighting spirit. On the whole, it’s hard to pinpoint specific players: the collective isn’t clicking – not in offense and particularly not in defence. And although Palmeiras are experiencing unusual high absence of key players due to injury, one cannot deny that Marcelo Oliveira is struggling. As this is Brazil, the script is clear: fast results or walk the plank. I already see sensible palmeirenses discussing who should be the club’s next coach.

In the last few years Palmeiras have had Luxemburgo, Scolari, Muricy Ramalho, Marcelo Oliveira. Upon arrival, they were considered among the best. They all failed (not Oliveira, yet). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the coach is not the problem, but as the coach is never allowed to stay, the root causes never become evident, much less properly addressed.

Wednesday, everything is on the line.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

As we enter a decisive couple of weeks, my glass is always half full. I have no patience for discussions on what our squad lacks, who should be given the boot and who should be signed for 2016. I am here and now, only interested in what can be done to extract the outmost of our squad – on an individual and collective basis. Marcelo Oliveira’s time is now. Palmeiras’ time is now.

As for classicos, this was one of Palmeiras’ worst in 2015. Fluminense dominated the first half fair and square, although things could have been different had Gabriel Jesus’ header been on target. With 2-0 on the scorecard, Oliveira regrouped in halftime, as habitual promoting Egídio on the left flank, allowing Zé Roberto a more centralised playmaker role. Victor Ramos gave way to Jackson (Vitor Hugo and Jackson must be our central lock) and a little later, Rafael Marques went on for Allione, Palmeiras already having diminished the gap through a penalty converted by Zé Roberto. With a much more open affair as of that, both teams created numerous chances. At the whistle, supporters from both sides cried foul – ours due to a goal by Amaral ruled out for offside, theirs for that penalty they claim never existed. Personally, I found the end result in compliance to what the two teams brought to the game.

Expect a feverish Allianz Parque upcoming Wednesday. By the regulations of the Brazil Cup, yesterday´s away goal means Palmeiras are through to the finals if beating the tricolor carioca 1-0. If the end result reads 2-1, penalties. Should Fluminense score twice before fulltime, Palmeiras need to brace four. Expect Robinho back in the starting eleven. For Fluminense, the major question mark concerns striker Fred, yesterday leaving the pitch just before halftime with severe discomfort to the knee.

However, first Palmeiras welcome Sport on Saturday and Marcelo Oliveira has already signalled his intention of using a mixed squad. Sport have struggled with away games, showing a much better track record at home, as for example last week’s 4-1 thrashing of runner-up Atlético Mineiro. Oliveira has some difficult decisions to make, striking the right balance. It worked against Avaí. Sport is a much tougher nut. But then again, we have the theoretical advantage of playing at home. I can nothing but look at that half-full cup and smile.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Just like cholesterol, there’s good and bad predictability. We want our rule of law to be predictable, as well as our bureaucrats. Our collective transport. Our investments.

We don’t want our Saturday nights to be that predictable, neither our love life. And we don’t want to be predictable when we face an opponent. Although we want to be predictably good.

Palmeiras are not predictable as in “easy to read”. But neither are Palmeiras predictably good. Actually, on the contrary: it has never been harder to predict which Palmeiras will come on the pitch. And we’re not talking names and positions, but performance: to some extent individually but in particular collectively.

After the humiliating 5-1 defeat against Chapecoense, Palmeiras had ten days exclusively for rest and training. Result: 0-1 at home against Ponte Preta. True, the team from Campinas are on a roll, with five victories in the last six rounds, but Palmeiras also played very poorly, showing no progress at all. Last Saturday against Avaí, coach Marcelo Oliveira’s response: a starting eleven with João Pedro, Leandro Almeida, and Argentine trio Allione, Mouche and Cristaldo. Almeida was just as horrible as always, but the rest shouldered the responsibility, leading Palmeiras to a no-thrills albeit very important 1-3 victory after goals by Gabriel Jesus, Cristaldo and Dudu. At the conclusion of the 31st round, with another seven to go, Palmeiras are in fifth with 48 points, very much alive in the battle for that fourth place and a Libertadores spot.

Now, the shorter route is also much more pleasant, as it entails a title: the Brazil Cup. Tomorrow, the first leg of the semi-final against Fluminense, at the Maracanã stadium. Palmeiras will… Who the hell knows? Gabriel Jesus says “with all respect for the opponent: we’re going for it”. Palmeiras have indeed played their absolute best against stiffer competition, against traditional teams. In this year’s edition of the Brazilian championship, Fluminense has only tasted defeat, Palmeiras winning 2-1 and 1-4. Would another victory be predictable?

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!


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