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Archive for the ‘Brazilian Championship’ Category

Palmeiras could and should go after every title, every year. The Paulistão is gone (as a trophy, but not as a fight to be fought for transparency and fairness in Brazilian football), with the Libertadores Cup, Brazil Cup and Brazilian Championship still up for grabs. And it’s the latter that kicked off last weekend.

The Brasileirão is the competition Palmeiras are most likely to win this year. Why? Primarily, because of the quality and depth of the squad, crucial in a long and tiring championship as the Brazilian national, played all over this continental-sized country.
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The Brazilian championship is one, if not the hardest to predict in the world, as many football betting sites will tell you. There are normally 7-8 teams seriously in it to win, sometimes more. However, this year, I´d say the usual suspects have been slightly decimated. Current champions Corinthians, heavy-spenders Flamengo, stable Grêmio, well-coached Cruzeiro: any champion other than the aforementioned four and Palmeiras would be quite the surprise. Yes, I am ruling out Santos, São Paulo, Internacional, Atlético Mineiro, and all the carioca teams except Flamengo.

Obviously, Palmeiras are not yet close to peak performance, neither is every position rock solid, with an as-good option on the bench. But things seem to be moving in the right direction and, at least on paper, the Palmeiras squad is clearly ahead of the competition. Add to that an ever-increasing revenue gap, the excellent attendance levels at the Allianz Parque, apparently solid club management, player’s paychecks deposited on time (not a given in Brazil, mind you) and Palmeiras quickly becomes the favourite. The obvious downside to this, the added internal and external pressure.

Below, the 20 teams in this year’s edition, in alphabetical order: 

América Mineiro (up from 2nd division)
Atletico Paranaense
Bahia
Botafogo
Ceará (up from 2nd division)
Chapecoense
Corinthians
Cruzeiro
Flamengo
Grêmio
Internacional (up from 2nd division)
Palmeiras
Paraná (up from 2nd division)
Santos
São Paulo
Sport 
Vasco
Vitória

The round kicked off with three games on the Saturday, five on the Sunday and the last two yesterday Monday, which included Palmeiras’ 1-1 debut away against Botafogo. Although Palmeiras missed a great opportunity to return home with the three points, the result was no disaster: out of the ten visiting sides in the first round, none but Grêmio came out victorious, and only Palmeiras and Flamengo managed a draw. That being said, Palmeiras urgently need to address the squad’s apparent lack of zest and concentration, especially at the end of matches – these last two draws, against Boca Juniors and Botafogo, being clear examples of this. Machado and the squad now have a few days to rest and train ahead of the clash with Porto Alegre’s Internacional on Sunday.

Finally, things are getting serious.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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The debut performance of Palmeiras in the Brasileirão 2018 was below expectations, albeit the team was one of the few that did not lose playing away. The 1-1 scorecard took Palmeiras to their 9th consecutive year without losing in the opening round of the Brazilian Championship.

Borja had to be spared for this game due to a knee inflammation and Roger Machado chose Willian to replace him. This was the only difference compared to the starting-eleven against Boca last Wednesday.

As the game kicked off, the first opportunity was Botafogo’s: Léo Valencia crossed the ball, Rodrigo Lindoso’s header missing the target. Two minutes later, Palmeiras responded: Keno crossed the ball and Willian headed it firmly, Gatito Fernandez showing great skill between the posts to save the carioca team.

In the 13th minute, Diogo Barbosa’s ball crossed the whole area with no one reaching it. Palmeiras exercised superior ball possession, but were again in difficulties to create clear goal opportunities. Botafogo tried twice with long-range shots: the first from Brenner just wide the target and the second from Léo Valencia, provoking a nice save from Jailson. That was all we got in the first half.
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In halftime, Roger Machado made his first substitution: Guerra came on to replace an unassertive Lucas Lima. Already in the 8th minute, the alteration paid off: Keno passed the ball to Dudu, our captain fought for possession with the defender and then, with a beautiful pass, left Guerra face-to-face with the goalkeeper, the Venezuelan calmly concluding to score the opener.

In the 11th minute, Willian almost increased Palmeiras’ lead, but Gatito Fernandez saved his shot. Willian tried again in the 16th minute, again ending up in the keeper’s hands. The game seemed to be in control… But Palmeiras like to play tricks on their supporters.

In the 32th minute, a preview of what was about to come: a crossed ball into Palmeiras’ box and Jailson failed to put it away. The ball remained with Kieza, who missed the shot on a first attempt and concluded with little power on a second, allowing for Jailson’s intervention. Four minutes later, the announced tragedy: another crossed ball, this time deflected by Antônio Carlos, remained inside Palmeiras’ box. Jailson did not charge to put the ball away, Felipe Melo did not disputed it with Igor Rabello and Thiago Martins turned his back when the Botafogo player took the shot (and missed the ball) on a first attempt. All the individual errors allowed Igor Rabello to unchallenged have a second go, slamming the ball firmly behind Jailson to level the scorecard with less than ten minutes left of the game.

With both teams chasing victory, the game got very intense in its final minutes. Léo Valencia tried a long-range shot. On stoppage time, Guerra had one off-target and another, where he kicked thin air. And that was that.

The result was not bad for Palmeiras, coming from a difficult sequence playing twice a week, with no time to rest and practice. As the next game is only on Sunday – in São Paulo, against Internacional of Porto Alegre – Roger Machado can look forward to a few well-spent days of practice, addressing some of the visible problems of the last few games, in particular the taking but not holding on to a lead.

 Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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What an awful game that was, Atlético Paranaense vs Palmeiras in the 38th and final round of the Brazilian championship. With the best of intentions, you could put a few percent of blame on the artificial grass, but the rest really came down to uninspiredness, paired with our player’s continuous difficulties in adapting to Valentin’s idea of an advanced defensive line. 3-0 in halftime and Palmeiras were never ever close to react. Pathetic ending to a disappointing season.

That being said, Palmeiras did finish second overall, in a year where three coaches came and went, each with very different styles of play – proof alone the squad is qualified, enduring such stress and still coming out comparatively well. Many a supporter is pissed off, as expectations were sky high. However, one must also remember that in 2014, Palmeiras escaped relegation in the last round; in 2015, bagged the Brazil Cup; in 2016, the Brasileirão. Considering the 2017 campaign a complete failure only serves to illustrate how much Palmeiras have evolved in these last few years. And should continue to evolve.

Final standings: Corinthians (72), Palmeiras (63), Santos (63), Grêmio (62), Cruzeiro (57), Flamengo (56), Vasco (56), Chapecoense (54), Atlético Mineiro (54), Botafogo (53), Atlético Parananese (51), Bahia (50), São Paulo (50), Fluminense (47), Sport (45) and Vitória (43). Relegated: Coritiba (43), Avaí (43), Ponte Preta (39) and Atlético Goianense (36). Next year, the Série A will see the inclusion of América Mineiro, Internacional, Ceará and Paraná.

A more than honourable mention to Chapecoense, who finished 8th and grabbed the last 2018 Libertadores Cup spot. This was Chape’s best result to date in the Brazilian championship and extraordinary when considering that the team, end of last year, overnight ceased to exist. Now, without diminishing Chape’s feat… Chape finishing 8th also says a lot about Brazilian football club’s overall (lack of) planning and managing skills.

If 2017 was rather disappointing for Palmeiras’ A team, the youth divisions had a splendid one. In the São Paulo state championship, for the first time in history, Palmeiras made it to the finals in ALL age groups, with the following results:

U11 – Champions
U13 – Runners-up
U15 – Champions
U17 – Runners-up
U20 – Champions

2017_SUB11On the 25 of November, Palmeiras opened up the lower section of the Allianz Parque for the public, where the U11 and U15 played their finals. The free admission drew a 21.000 strong crowd, every available ticket was handed out. Many a palmeirense, struggling to make ends meet, that day had an opportunity to visit the stadium for the first time. This was reflected in the atmosphere, there was something different in the air, something dignifying. And imagine the emotion of 10-year-olds on the pitch, playing a championship final, with 21.000 people cheering them on from start to finish… Beautiful.

In addition to the aforementioned results in the State championship, Palmeiras’ U17 bagged the Brazil Cup. Indeed, the future is promising, although Palmeiras need to improve player transition from youth to A category. New head coach Roger Machado pays close attention to these details, they say.

Including the timely arrival of Roger Machado, signings are well underway. There will be no revolution, the spine of the squad is solid. Mattos and Machado will rather look at filling specific positions, where there were obvious fragilities this season, starting with the flanks and midfield creativity. On the left, Diogo Barbosa has been signed from Cruzeiro. On the right, Rafinha is speculated but Palmeiras are awaiting conclusion of the player’s negotiations with Bayern Munchen. Lucas Lima is arriving to be the playmaker of choice, with competition coming from Allione, the Argentine returning from his one-year loan to Bahia. In addition, former Botafogo centre-defender Emerson Santos has been signed, and Atlético Paranaense keeper Weverton should be announced within days. Palmeiras are also closely monitoring the situation of left-back Zeca, trying to break free from his contract with Santos due to unresolved issues regarding employer’s fees.

Anything Palmeiras will keep you posted on further developments. 

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Palmeiras’ penultimate game this season was also Zé Roberto’s last, the 43-year-old midfielder a few days earlier having announced his retirement from professional football. Naturally, the chosen stage was the Allianz Parque, with Botafogo co-starring and correctly suffering a 2-0 defeat, goals by Dudu and Keno (really worth checking out, highlights below). The result propelled Palmeiras into second place.
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Zé Roberto’s career has been extraordinary. 961 club football games for Bayern Munchen, Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburg, Grêmio, Flamengo, Santos, Portuguesa, Al-Gharafa and, of course, Palmeiras. In addition, 84 caps for Brazil.

At Palmeiras, he played 133 games as midfielder, sometimes as left defender, and scored 10 goals. He was instrumental in the 2015 Brazil Cup title and the 2016 Brazilian Championship title, exercising supreme leadership on and, in particular, off the pitch. His personal determination to contribute to the elevation of Palmeiras’ grandeur and self-esteem to that of previous glorious decades was surprising, touching and very necessary: like few others, Zé Roberto in a short time fully understood and incorporated Palmeiras into his very self, and in the most professional of ways. Mind you, Zé Roberto is oldest player to pull on our jersey and the oldest to score for Palmeiras. The oldest to score in a Libertadores game and the second oldest to ever have participated in the tournament.

His farewell at the stadium was emotional and worthy. Today, he summed up his life until now with the words “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have remained faithful. And I have left a legacy.” Indeed you have, Zé Roberto. Indeed you have. Thank you!
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Upcoming Sunday, against Atlético Paranaense, Alberto Valentin commands the men one last time. Closely observed by Roger Machado, who no doubt is contemplating the squad’s strengths and weaknesses and how he in 2018 will make the best out of Lucas Lima’s arrival.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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— ooo —
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UPDATE: Zé Roberto will be Technical Advisor at Palmeiras as of January 2018. In his new role he will work alongside director of football Alexandre Mattos and his aid Cícero Souza on a number of administrative functions. More importantly, Zé Roberto will also have direct contact with players and coaching staff, facilitating their interaction with the management and vice versa. Alexandre Mattos considers this an important function, much used in European clubs but practically unheard of in Brazil (at the announcement, he gave but one reference: Tinga at Cruzeiro).

This is excellent news. Much good could potentially generate from this arrangement. Congratulations to everyone involved!

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With Grêmio’s draw last Sunday, a victory against relegation-prone Avaí would propel Palmeiras to second position in the tables, a position worth roughly US$ 1,2 million extra in prize money at the end of the championship. It would also increase Alberto Valentim’s chances of remaining as Palmeiras’ coach in 2018. At least slightly, at least in theory.

Once more, Palmeiras became the victim of Valentim’s attempts to implement an advanced line of defence. The idea is not at all revolutionary, but a satisfactory level of implementation is only possible to achieve with time. Clearly, Palmeiras are not there yet: as against Vitória, Palmeiras’ defence at times looked like on a suicide mission, allowing Avaí to score twice, minutes apart, at the beginning of the second half. Palmeiras’ much superior ball posse resulted in many attempts at goal but desperately few on target. Valentim also looked desperate, promoting Guerra with only a few minutes remaining on the clock. 

At the press conference after the game, Valentim voiced the opinion that Palmeiras had played a good game and lost due to two unfortunate moments. He also asserted he will act as coach, at Palmeiras or elsewhere, in 2018.
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Today, Palmeiras announced they will offer Valentim the assisting coach position he held before Cuca’s dismissal. In other words: Palmeiras have no intention of keeping Valentim in command next season. Valentim says he will respond to the offer after the championship has ended.

Palmeiras are clearly seeking to sign a new coach a.s.a.p. With Mano Menezes out of the picture, nine out of ten believe current Fluminense coach Abel Braga is the chosen one. The 65-year-old carioca is experienced, emotional, old school. With Internacional he won the Libertadores Cup and the World Club Championship in 2006 and in 2012 he won the Brasileirão with Fluminense.

A second option is 42-year-old Roger Machado, most recently at Atlético Mineiro, from where he was fired last July, after only six months at the club. As coach, Machado has no national titles on his CV.

What are the odds Abel would be successful at Palmeiras? Machado? Conrado Cacace of the Verdazzo argues it does not really matter, for as long as Palmeiras do not come up with a footballing identity.  

Palmeiras might have achieved excellence in many areas off pitch, including superior economic firepower and top notch training facilities, but the club has not yet established itself as a School of Football. The professional team is mutant: the style of play is a truthful mirror of the coach, a coach who on average lasts five months.

This situation is in stark contrast with, for example, Corinthians, who, even while enduring financial problems, maintain a well-defined playing style, as implemented by coach Tite in 2010 and adapted by his successors Mano Menezes, Tite (during his comeback) and most recently Fábio Carille. Cristóvão Borges tried to change that identity and was very short-lived. Cacace argues that one may question the beauty of the formula but not its efficiency: Corinthians have reaped excellent results even as coaches have changed and the squad has featured players of only satisfactory technical level. With doubt, this is due to the footballing identity created and implemented over time.

Creating a footballing identity takes time, and balls, because the coach needs to be maintained until that identity consolidates, even in the face of poor performance. Eduardo Baptista is a recent example of the opposite: at Palmeiras, he was securing some 60% of points at play and slowly deploying a system that could have been quite solid today. However, after the São Paulo Cup elimination, Baptista was fired and the ongoing identity development went down the drain.

There are no certainties in football. Keeping Baptista could have resulted in a team peaking in the last months of the championship, securing our tenth Brazileirão title. Or he could have remain stuck in the search for the balance between attack and defence, unable to secure even a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup. We will never know.

Regardless, Palmeiras need to create an identity, an identity that should serve as a mark also for the youth divisions. So, who to pick to implement this identity?

The name of the coach is not that important, Cacace argues. Palmeiras can assign a technical director, a position to be occupied in the long term by a deep connoisseur of football, who will be the reference, shaping the identity and securing that players that fit the model of play are signed. Something similar to what Paulo Autuori does at Atlético Paranaense and what Tite, although today not formally, continues to do at Corinthians. With a technical director in place, the importance of and the pressure on the coach will diminish.

No coach currently speculated at Palmeiras obtains more than a 30% approval rate among supporters, meaning any of them would face resistance of more than two thirds. Just like Alberto Valentim. Our current interim coach had a head start in relation to any newcomer, but is now out of the picture. Whichever successor is chosen will need the unrestricted backing of the club’s directors, resisting as hell breaks loose, over and over again, until that identity has been forged.

Without a footballing identity – or the will to create one – it matters little who takes over as coach: he will feel the moving sand at the first sequence of defeats, and be gone at the beginning of the second.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Ahead of today’s game against Flamengo, the key question was whether the squad would have soaked up the disappointments of recent weeks and bounce back. The answer is yes. With an alternative line-up sporting Luan alongside Edu Dracena in defence, Felipe Melo protecting the duo, Michel Bastos on the left flank and Deyverson up front, Palmeiras controlled the action from start to finish, showing much consistency in defence while maintaining offensive power. The thirty thousand spectators at the Allianz Parque joined forces, understanding the moment and responding to the call made by coach Valentim and the wholes squad present at last Friday’s press conference: stand by us. Not the same can be said for parts of the organised supporters, who ahead of the game protested in front of the training facilities and threw food items against the bus carrying players and staff en route to the stadium, breaking a window and putting people’s safety at risk.
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Now, with some kind of normality restored, Palmeiras are in decent shape to end the season among the top four and, consequently, a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup. With four rounds to go, the gap to the closest contender is six points. Palmeiras’ sequence is composed of Sport on Thursday at the Allianz Parque, then Avaí away, then Botafogo at home before rounding things off against Atlético Paranaense away. Two victories out of four, and the target has been reached.

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Two weeks back, things looked on track. Took only two games to spin everything out of control. The disappointing results against Cruzeiro and Corinthians did not only kill the championship aspirations but also the spirit of the group, feeling tired of the constant, uphill battle against all and everything, including the refereeing and outrageously biased media. The early mesh we sensed has dissolved into chaos, Palmeiras defensively leaking like a sieve and offensively depending on individual burst of creativity. Vitória had not experienced victory at the Barradão stadium for months but hit the locker rooms at halftime leading 3-1; a result that stood the test of time, partly due to an incorrectly disallowed goal by Palmeiras midfielder Guerra. Keep counting how many times the refereeing has disfavoured Palmeiras in 2017. Disheartening.
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Alberto Valentim now finds himself needing to conquer exactly what he was mocked for vocalising: a spot in the top 4. With five rounds to go, Palmeiras are in fourth, with 54 points, three ahead of Botafogo and four ahead of Flamengo. Santos in third with 56, Grêmio second with 57 and Corinthians, nine fingers on the trophy, heading the tables with 65.

Can Valentim pick up the pieces and glue them back together, saving what’s left of the season? There is no other option available.

Flamengo at home on Sunday, then relegation-threatened Sport, then another relegation candidate – Avaí – away, then Botafogo at home and Atlético Paranaense away. That is the sequence which will define whether Palmeiras’ 2017 was a failure or a disgrace.  

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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