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The game destined to be the turning point for Palmeiras, cementing the chase for the championship title, took a different direction. Although Palmeiras effectively blocked Santos throughout the game, not enough was achieved offensively, partially due to the heavy rains that soaked the Allianz Parque pitch. Nevertheless, the second half was basically Santos against the ropes, Dudu missing an open goal shot and then… The ice bucket.
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Palmeiras did not deserve defeat, but that is irrelevant. Corinthians drew against Cruzeiro and Grêmio beat Fluminense. As it stands, Corinthians lead at 55, followed by Santos 47, Grêmio 46 and Palmeiras 43. That is a 12 point gap, with 12 rounds to go. The top six get a spot in next year’s Libertadores. Or the top seven if Cruzeiro – who already secured their spot through the Brazil Cup title against Flamengo earlier this week – are among the top six.

The Brasileirão title is a far, far shot but not impossible: the last five rounds rendered Corinthians five points, while Palmeiras bagged ten. If that pattern is maintained, we’d go into the last two rounds with a two-point difference. Optimism is my middle name.

The championship now takes a ten-day break due to WC qualifiers. Thursday the 12th, Palmeiras receive Bahia at the Pacaembu stadium, home venue as the Allianz Parque host a number of music concerts. If Cuca is serious about remaining in 2018, better continue showing evolution.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Right after the draw with Atlético Mineiro at the Independência stadium some ten days ago, coach Cuca set a partial goal for Palmeiras: win the upcoming six games in order to keep the Brazilian championship title in sight. After two consistent 1-0 victories – at home against Coritiba and last Sunday away against Fluminense – the first third of the plan has been successfully fulfilled. “We are looking for those 18 points. It’s a partial goal. Against Santos, it will be difficult, but we’re growing in the competition and need to believe. We were 15 points behind the leader and we’ve shaved four off”, Cuca explains.
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Palmeiras currently rests in fourth place with the same 43 points as Grêmio, with Santos in second, one point ahead of the duo. Cuca believes the next four games will define the championship: Santos (home), Bahia (home), Atlético-GO (away) and Ponte Preta (home). “After this sequence of six games, we will make another mini-project. These partial goals make everything more fragmented and we can mobilize a little better”, the coach argues.

Palmeiras play Corinthians on 5 November. Out of the six rounds before the derby, Palmeiras play four at home, while the rival play only two. Add to this the rather different phases the teams are in, are we are likely to see the gap diminish further.

Palmeiras pre derby
30/9 – Palmeiras vs Santos (Allianz Parque)

12/10 – Palmeiras vs Bahia (Allianz Parque)
15/10 – Atlético-GO vs Palmeiras (Olímpico)
19/10 – Palmeiras vs Ponte Preta (Allianz Parque)
22/10 – Grêmio vs Palmeiras (Arena do Grêmio)
29/10 – Palmeiras vs Cruzeiro (Allianz Parque)

Corinthians pre derby
01/10 – Cruzeiro vs Corinthians (Mineirão)

11/10 – Corinthians vs Coritiba (Itaquera)
15/10 – Bahia vs Corinthians (Fonte Nova)
18/10 – Corinthians vs Grêmio (Itaquera)
21/10 – Botafogo vs Corinthians (Nilton Santos)
29/10 – Ponte Preta vs Corinthians (Moisés Lucarelli)

These next few weeks should be enjoyable. There’s nothing like the hunt, especially when unpretentious and rather relaxed. Not at all like being hunted…

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Atlético Mineiro 1-1 Palmeiras
Cuca used the two weeks to tweak defence and midfield creativity. Yesterday’s first test against Atlético Mineiro was an interesting albeit frustrating experience:  individual errors and a biased referee saw two Palmeiras players – Luan and Willian – sent off, not permitting the game to evolve organically. Still, the end result and, in particular, the way Palmeiras occupied spaces and to a certain extent controlled the game at the Estádio Independência – even one and later two men short – are good indicators the team has evolved. How much, possibly we will learn more about on Monday the 18th, when Palmeiras receive Coritiba.

Monday, Palmeiras are issuing a formal protest against Leandro Vuaden. On two occasions, both crucial, he failed to do the right thing: award a penalty for Palmeiras as a shot was blocked with open arms, and have a converted Atlético penalty go repeat after an Atlético player grossly invaded the penalty box. In addition, criteria for distribution of yellow and red cards were inexistent throughout the game.  
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Is there anything left for palmeirenses to enjoy this year? Sure. The Libertadores Cup spot needs securing. And seriously… Palmeiras are 14 points behind Corinthians, but the skunks have lost three out of last four games, with 15 rounds to go. Then there is the deliciousness of São Paulo FC’s desperate battle against relegation…

— ooo —

Felipe Melo has been reintegrated into the squad. Not meaning Cuca will take advantage of the new-old addition. During an unfortunate press conference, the loose cannon was allowed to take centre stage and the habitual stream of bombastic bull followed. Just for starters, Melo alleged categorically not having apologized to Cuca… I expect Melo to train with the squad and, occasionally, make it to the bench. And negotiated as soon as an opportunity arises.

— ooo —

Palmeiras’ youth divisions are doing well. Three athletes – midfielder Alan, centre-back Vitão and left-back Luan – have been selected for Brazil’s U17 squad playing the World Cup in India 6-28 October.

So far this year, 15 Palmeiras players have represented Brazil in one of the youth categories: nine in the Brazil U15 (keepers Mateus and Bruno Carcaioli, centre-backs Henri and Renan, defender Garcia, midfielders Fabinho and Gabriel Silva and forwards Vinicius and Gabriel Veron), another five in the U17 team (defenders Lucas Rosa and Luan Cândido, centre-back Vitão and midfielders Alan and Bruno Tattavito) and forward Léo Passos for the U20. Promising for the future.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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“Regardless of Sunday’s result, Cuca stays until the end of the year”, Palmeiras president Galiotte declared the other day. A firm statement with a feather’s weight: anyone remotely familiarised with Brazilian football knows Cuca was under substantial pressure ahead of today’s derby against relegation-prone São Paulo FC.

With Prass between the posts, Cuca initiated in a 4-4-2, repeating Moisés and Guerra together on the midfield, joined by Tchê Tchê and Bruno Henrique.  Michel Bastos on the left flank, Jean on the right. Dracena and Luan centre lock. Willian and Deyverson up front.

Palmeiras were vastly superior throughout the 90 minutes, with three times as many shots fired. Nevertheless, the game was a cardiac test, with The Enemy opening up the scorecard early in the first half, Palmeiras turning the tables after two quick ones by Willian, then the equaliser just before halftime.

Cuca promoted three substitutions during the second half: Keno for Bruno Henrique, Thiago Santos for Deyverson and Hyoran for Guerra. Keno and Hyoran scored the winners. Highlights below.
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After 22 rounds out of 38, Palmeiras rest in fourth with 36 points, 14 points behind leader Corinthians, who are finally showing signs of fatigue. Too bad Palmeiras, and not only Palmeiras, threw in the towel early in the Brasileirão, giving priority to the Brazil Cup and, in particular, the Libertadores cup. Kicked out of both, there are obvious lessons to be drawn from Palmeiras’ 2017 campaign.  

The Brazilian championship now takes a two-week pause due to World Cup qualifiers. Today’s victory brings a certain level of peace to Cuca and the squad. Training and rest, with the right mind-set, will hopefully do wonders. Brushing up on defence is a priority: it has been shaky for weeks and today was no exception, to state it mildly.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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On one side, a rested bunch, eager to show improvement after a week of training. On the other, a team that played in Japan on Tuesday, returned to Brazil on Thursday after a 30-hour ride, daydreaming about getting out of the relegation zone.

Nothing but a perfect setting for Cuca and Palmeiras to show evolution, pleasing the crowds with Moisés and Guerra together for the first time on the midfield, and with Willian back in offense after four weeks in the medical department.

As expected, Chape played defensively, exploring the occasional counter-attack. Palmeiras showed their habitual difficulty in penetrating two compact lines of four, not helped by Chapecoense taking every opportunity to delay the game, including the use of excessive force. We were heading toward a goalless first half, but a badly positioned defence accepted a set piece from Chape, leaving Fernando Prass to scoop the ball out from the back of the net.

Palmeiras came back more aggressive, with Tchê Tchê and Keno replacing Thiago Santos and Roger Guedes respectively, and things improved somewhat. In the last 20 minutes, Borja came on for Willian. It was play against one goal, pressure a plenty, but with a pinball feel to it, the fluke factor reigning. Far from impressive.

In the dying minute, another moment of inattention from our defense to further drive the point home.  
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The result is unacceptable. Palmeiras’ performance is unacceptable. Nine months ago, there practically was no Chapecoense, team and staff wiped out in the dreadful plane crash in Colombia. Palmeiras’ excuse for less than expected performance throughout the year has been the coach swap, Cuca for Baptista, in early May (mind you Chape swapped coach some two months ago). Put those two club realities – Palmeiras and Chapecoense – into perspective.

Cuca has no credit left, no more fat to burn. Next Sunday, Palmeiras receive relegation-threatened São Paulo FC at the Allianz Parque. Anything but victory against the archenemy will see Cuca in a very uncomfortable position. And yes, that is quite the understatement.

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An early exit from the Brazil Cup combined with an overall decent performance in the Brasileirão – albeit nowhere near Corinthians’ splendid run – have funnelled down Palmeiras’ year to Wednesday night’s clash with Barcelona de Guayaquil.

Palmeiras created a bit of momentum after the Brazil Cup elimination to Cruzeiro, beating Avaí 2-0 and Botafogo 1-2 in the Brasileirão. Yesterday, welcoming Atlético Parananense at the Allianz Parque, Cuca fielded a completely alternative line-up, correctly opting for resting all his strongest players. The game turned out a lame affair, Palmeiras’ long streak of undefeated home games interrupted. Only positive aspect was the return of Moisés after close to six months of rehab due to a severe knee injury. Yesterday, the midfielder showed surprising vigour, making him a force to reckon with possibly even on Wednesday, if necessary.

Halfway through the Brazilian Championship, the table stands as below. Snatching the title from Corinthians will be extremely hard: they are surprisingly consistent this year – in part a consequence of not having any other competitions to worry about. Grêmio might still put up a fight, but for the rest it is all about finishing in the top six (and preferably top four) in order to secure a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup.
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Cuca and the squad are secluded in Atibaia, seeking that little extra level of concentration ahead of Wednesday’s task of reverting the 1-0 score from the first leg, advancing to the quarterfinals. Any victory by a margin of two goals does the trick. Another 1-0 and there will be a penalty shootout. Naturally, not conceding a goal to Barcelona is imperative.

Expected line-up on Wednesday: Jaílson; Egídio, Luan, Mina and Mayke*; Bruno Henrique, Thiago Santos and Guerra; Dudu, Deyverson and Roger Guedes.

*Mayke twisted his ankle on Sunday’s practice and will be under observation for the next couple of days; Jean, Fabiano and Tchê Tchê are options.

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Sold out, pulsating, but not for long; lions turned into cubs before halftime.

Palmeiras, seven men short, turning in the A game true Cuca 2016 style.

Souza? Zipped up and pocketed by Santos, alpha of the midfield.

21 games undefeated with Jailson; hero of the masses hardly broke sweat beneath the crossbar.
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