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Archive for the ‘Brazilian Championship’ Category

As if Melo and Santos in the medical department was not trouble enough, Jean felt a knee discomfort ahead of Sundays’ clash with Ponte Preta. Cuca, having observed the friendly match Palmeiras bench played against São Caetano a few days back, did not hesitate: Gabriel Furtado, only 17 years old, was placed beside Tchê Tchê to protect the centre-backs against Ponte Pretas’ competent strikers. Quite the baptism of fire, if you ask me.

Cuca did not stop there. For the first time, Luan was found in the starting eleven, and as centre-back. Up front, Erik got his shot alongside Guedes and Willian: also a direct consequence of the friendly against São Caetano, where the shorty scored a hat trick. Seems Cuca is willing to bet on those stepping it up during practice.

The approach paid off, to the surprise of many, and yours included. Palmeiras had not beaten Ponte Preta at the Moisés Lucarelli since 2013. With speed, agility and Guerra on fire, bagging a brace, the deserved victory propelled Palmeiras to fourth place, which most likely will turn into fifth after Monday nights’ Botafogo vs. Avaí.
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Ten rounds down, 28 to go. Corinthians have 26 points, Grêmio 22, Flamengo 17. Botafogo likely to reach 18. Palmeiras with 16. Some of our supporters have thrown the towel. Fools.

On Wednesday, different mind-set, welcoming Cruzeiro at the Allianz Parque for the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Brazil cup. Then, on 1 July, also at home (but at the Pacaembu due to the Allianz Parque being booked up for a concert), taking on runner-up Grêmio for the eleventh round of the Brasileirão, without suspended Mina, Guerra and Tchê Tchê. After that, off to Ecuador to battle Barcelona de Guayaquil, on 5 July, in the first leg of the Libertadores Cup group of 16. “Pedreira”, as one would say over here.

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Last week’s signing of Bruno Henrique was met with scepticism. “Palmeiras need no more defensive midfielders”, they said. “Squad already too numerous”, they said.

After losing to Coritiba on 7 June, Palmeiras have played four games and lost three defensive midfielders due to injury: Palmeiras 3-1 Fluminense (Felipe Melo, thigh and hand, 4-6 weeks); Santos 1-0 Palmeiras (wounded pride, as Santos’ goal was an assault and Palmeiras was denied a clear penalty in the dying minutes); Bahia 2-4 Palmeiras (Thiago Santos, thigh, 3-4 weeks) and yesterday’s Palmeiras 1-0 Atlético Goianense (Tchê Tchê, thigh, awaiting confirmation).

Both against Bahia and Atlético, centre-back Luan came on in the second half to populate the midfield. Out of necessity, rest assured Bruno Henrique will make his debut sooner than expected.

Dudu spent three weeks with the medical department, coming back yesterday in the second half. Others Palmeiras players have been serving their national squads. Cuca’s task has not been easy. Nevertheless, the team’s performance has progressed in a consistent manner, as also reflected in the numbers: two thirds of Palmeiras’ points were collected in the last four rounds. Before playing Bahia, Palmeiras had not scored a single away goal, while the baianos had won their three home games.

The Verdão currently rests in seventh place at 13 points, 7 behind leader Corinthians, one game short.

With the international transfer window now open, football director Alexandre Mattos is certainly scanning the market. A forward with characteristics similar to Borja – who scored the winner yesterday – is a priority. The flanks are also a concern, in particular the left: Egídio has been inconsistent and Zé Roberto is increasingly suffering with keeping the pace up.

On a positive note, Guerra has evolved tremendously, and so has Roger Guedes: both are in splendid technical and physical form, being decisive in every game as of late.

On Sunday, Palmeiras travel to face Ponte Preta. Another away victory, and we could certainly say the tide has turned.

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With five rounds of the Brasileirão, Palmeiras have already filled half of last year’s quota of defeats. Hovering just above the relegation zone with four points – a full nine points behind the leader – some palmeirenses are already throwing the towel. Might seem absurd, considering only 13% of the championship has been played, but indeed a recovery must come strong and immediately should Palmeiras stand a chance. Not much hope in that direction though, rather on the contrary: Cuca is using the Brasileirão to try out formation and rotate the numerous squad, certainly with the chancellery of the club’s directors. The priority seems to be the Brazil Cup and the Libertadores Cup.

Under normal circumstances, nothing would justify abandoning the Brasileirão this early. Nevertheless, swapping Baptista for Cuca, combined with a full two-games-a-week schedule – including decisive games in both aforementioned cups – have created serious restrains on Cuca’s possibilities to train and shape the squad to his liking. Libertadores enters the knockout stage in a months’ time, so Cuca uses the Brasileirão as his laboratory.

Against Coritiba, Cuca again presented a mixed bag due to injuries, fatigue and national squad absentees. Only four regular starting-eleven players in the line-up: Prass, Tchê, Felipe Melo and Willian. Nevertheless Palmeiras came out flying, the first ten minutes looking very promising, with Keno again drawing most of the attention. The game however quickly levelled, with all he action concentrating to the midfield.

Early in the second half, Coritiba found the net and Palmeiras suddenly lost all confidence and initiative, the level dropping vertically both collectively and individually. Tchê Tchê has not played well for weeks, but yesterday was exceptionally bad even by his recent standards. Michel Bastos, Keno, Guedes… No shimmer of light anywhere. And Fernando Prass… Perhaps a few games on the bench would do him good, letting Jailson have a go between the posts.
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Cuca is not being eaten alive exactly because he is Cuca and has plenty of credit due to last year’s campaign. Most supporters feel confident he will get it right in the end, but for that to happen he must react, rattle the squad into position, find ways to extract quality from all those good to excellent players. He has a few weeks before things get really serious.

Players taking flak, Cuca taking flak. But not only these. Increasingly, Palmeiras football director Alexandro Mattos is feeling the heat. Elected four years in a row Brazil’s most successful football director will not guarantee you anything, especially not at Palmeiras: the seedy and influential consiglieri – kept low during the Paulo Nobre years – have reflourished with surprising vigour. Mattos’ success stings in the eyes of those who used to call the cards at Palmeiras at the beginning of the decade. With meritocracy being challenged, we are one step closer to the pre-Nobre abyss. Add to that the now constant leaking of inside information to the press and the dramatic increase of hang-arounds, and you perceive some fundamentally important things have changed.  

There is this Brazilian expression, “I was happy but didn’t know it”. Some of us knew. Some of us recognized the enormous effort and saw the bigger picture in what Nobre was implementing. Let us hope it did not stop there.

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Palmeiras’ recent games serve as the ideal backdrop for a discussion regarding results vs perception of evolution. Clearly, in terms of points won, Palmeiras are not where expected: the initial victory against Vasco was followed by two away defeats – against Chapecoense and SPFC – and yesterday’s goalless draw against Atlético. Four points in four games, 12th place in the tables, six points behind leaders Chapecoense.

Add last week’s defeat against Internacional, that nevertheless qualified Palmeiras to the Brazil Cup quarterfinals, and it would be safe to assume Cuca is lost, right? Wrong. The squad and Cuca seem confident it is just a matter of time for pieces to fall into place, and there are indeed indicators of progress. Both against São Paulo and yesterday against Atlético, Palmeiras exercised control. What is lacking is more verticality, more objectivity, and more finalising power. All these components are improving slightly, game by game. Cuca is not afraid to try out the pieces at his disposal, including the newcomers Juninho and Mayke, the latter doing a good job at the right flank. Keno is another one eager to grab a spot in the starting eleven, yesterday’s performance strengthening his shares.

In particular three key players are underperforming: Tchê Tchê, Dudu and Jean. All these are crucial for a good transition between defence and offense, which partially explains why few balls reach Borja, the forward struggling to regain the confidence so important for a striker. With a bit more overall mesh, and the aforementioned four players snapping back to the levels of performance we are used to, Palmeiras will turn lethal. Not least if starting to convert penalty shots…

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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A curious game, that was. Looking at the highlights, you will not grasp how very much in control Palmeiras seemed to be. Patiently constructing, advancing, retreating when necessary, alternating from flank to flank, rarely giving up possession. If something is to be criticised, it was the lack of verticality and the few efforts on goal, in particular medium/long distant shots; no minor issue though, as Palmeiras came without a man of reference in the penalty area, Cuca resting Borja and instead promoting Willian. He also centralised Jean, allowing for the debut of Mayke – just arrived from Cruzeiro as a loan until end of 2018 – on the right flank.
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The “seemingly in control” aspect makes defeat much harder to swallow. Many supporters would claim our players were arrogant, that they believed they could win at the turn of a key. Others identified a lack of will or even laziness in the squad.

Although there might have been a bit of hubris involved, I believe the outcome was primarily a result of individual failures: Fernando Prass let two very defendable balls slip through, and Jean blew a penalty shot. SPFC were more vertical, more objective, and also lucky. When SPFC opened up the scorecard with 15 minutes on the clock in the second half, Cuca and Palmeiras quickly responded and things would have been very different had Jean converted. Instead, the bucket of cold water took the edge of Palmeiras’ aggressiveness.

This year’s Brazilian championship is likely to be a level affair. After three rounds, no team is 100%. Moreover, if we look at the ones still in the Libertadores Cup, four out of six are found in the bottom half of the Brasileirão tables.

With Internacional awaiting on Wednesday, there is no time for anything but hard work and focus. A draw at the Beira Rio, and Palmeiras are through to the quarterfinals in the Brazil Cup. Our opponent sacked their coach last weekend, putting an even stronger spin of unpredictability on the whole thing.

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Having “många järn i elden” is a Swedish expression for doing several things at the same time, stemming from how blacksmiths in ancient times carried out their work. Palmeiras are currently administrating three rods: Libertadores Cup, Brazil Cup and the Brazilian Championship.

Yesterday, Palmeiras concluded the Libertadores group phase beating Atlético Tucumán 3-1 to finish top in group 5, with 13 points. Among the 16 advancing to the knockout stage, Palmeiras are likely ending up in 5-7 place overall, a rather modest +4 goal difference being the determining factor.

Again, the transformation in team performance due to Cuca’s return was evident: Palmeiras came out smoking and opened up the scorecard at the 15 minutes mark through a splendid set piece identical to one successfully executed against Coritiba last year. Perfection through practice, as Mina pushed the ball into the back of the net after Dudu, Zé Roberto and Roger Guedes had played their parts in the sting.
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Shortly after halftime, Atlético equalised. Cuca sensed he had partially lost the midfield and made some swift changes, promoting Fabiano on the right so that Jean could take up a centralised position, and swapping Borja for Willian. The changes quickly yielded and Palmeiras controlled the action, with Willian and Zé Roberto decreeing the final score. At 42 years and 10 months, Zé Roberto is the oldest ever to score in a Libertadores Cup game and the second oldest player in the tournament’s history (number one is Peruvian Vicente Villanueva, forward for Sporting Cristal in the 60ies, 43 years and 10 months old at the time).
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Brazil Argentina Soccer Copa Libertadores.
Cuca now has 41 days to prepare for the knockout stage, time he will need: Palmeiras must become more consistent in order to survive the stiffer competition.

— ooo —

Last week, on the Saturday, Palmeiras followed up their excellent 4-0 Brasileirão debut against Vasco with a 1-0 defeat away to Chapecoense. The game was poor in every aspect, Cuca opting for an highly alternative line-up, already eying yesterday’s decisive Libertadores bout. Under ordinary circumstances, a win or at least a draw would be acceptable. Actually, these are ordinary circumstances. But OK, the tournament has just started and so has Cuca. Let us hope these three points will make no difference in December. Next up, this Saturday, are SPFC away.

— ooo —

Finally, the Brazil Cup. In the group of 16, Palmeiras played the first leg against Internacional of Porto Alegre, winning at home by the odd own goal signed Léo Ortiz. That being said, Palmeiras did play well and controlled the action most of the time. The result leaves Palmeiras with a good advantage, as a draw will suffice upcoming Wednesday. Moreover, should Palmeiras score at the Beira Rio, Inter must bag trice.

Two teams are already ready for the quarter-finals: Santos and Flamengo, having eliminated Paysandu and Atlético Goianense respectively.

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Sure, Vasco struggled in 2016 to secure promotion back into the first division. And sure, Vasco have not made any significant signings for the 2017 season.

Nevertheless, Vasco have played several major teams this year and never been beaten this thoroughly. Moreover, Cuca had only five (5) days to get the team ready.

What impresses the most is the almost full reversal to Palmeiras anno 2016 that Cuca was able to implement in the short amount of time available. Clearly, the defence needs tweaking, Vasco in the first half wasting several excellent opportunities to drive it home, but otherwise, Palmeiras were fast and furious, the characteristic initial blitz altering the scoreboard within four minutes through a penalty converted by Jean. Halfway through the first half, Vasco had levelled the action and only Prass kept Palmeiras in the lead. Cuca realised he had lost the midfield and instructed Tchê Tchê and Jean to swap positions, which immediately reversed the overall performance, again placing Palmeiras in the driver’s seat. Shortly before halftime, Guerra increased the lead.

Any hope Vasco nourished died within one minute of the second half, Borja making it 3-0 through a diving header peixinho-style. What followed was a walk in the park, Palmeiras blowing several opportunities before closing the scorecard with another penalty converted, this time by Borja. Both penalties bore Dudu’s signature, the “little giant” on fire. Also Tchê Tchê, Borja and Jean showed a lot more than in recent games under Eduardo Batista. It is undeniable: Cuca has this squad in a firm grip and should be able to extract truly great things given a month or two.
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Impossible ask for a better debut in the Brasileirão. However, there is a natural barrier to progress, which is time. Or, rather, the lack thereof. Going into a period with two games a week, space available for training is limited. Already this Wednesday, Palmeiras receive Internacional for the first leg of the knockout phase in the Brazil Cup group of 16. A few minutes of inattention and Palmeiras can say goodbye to the tournament, just as recently against Ponte Preta in the first leg of the Paulistão semi-finals.

Not that Cuca would allow that.

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