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Everyone at Palmeiras – players, directors, even supporters – have the last week adopted the same discourse: our aim in the Brasileirão is the G4, the top four teams that earn a direct qualifying spot to next year´s Libertadores Cup. Never mind that a victory against Cruzeiro followed by another against Corinthians would propel Palmeiras to the lead: coach Alberto Valentim’s approach has trickled down everywhere. “Let’s do this one game at the time”. No doubt, the caution is also a reaction to last year’s pathetic “Can you sense the smell (of the championship title)?” campaign that Flamengo wholeheartedly launched into as they approached the top, only to finish in third, nine points behind the champion.

Yesterday’s Palmeiras vs. Cruzeiro was an excellent game, with two teams honestly looking to bag the three points. That being said, Palmeiras dominated the action start to finish, with superior possession and three times the number of shots taken. The draw was the result of an unfortunate own goal, an incorrectly disallowed goal (which would have taken Borja’s count to three on the night) and one penalty not awarded. Yes, the referee directly influenced the result, and that is a rare consensus, even among sports journalists.
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The steady progress under Valentim is clear, and nothing says that louder than Borja’s recent performances. Cuca did not know how or did not want to use the Colombian striker according to his characteristics. A few weeks under the new coach, including three starting eleven appearances, and Borja suddenly resembles the monster that completely took the Latin-American continent by storm last year. In addition, the team is more compact, has transitioned from individual to zonal marking and improved on triangulations.

Did Palmeiras just blow their chance to the title? On the contrary. The draw took Palmeiras one point closer, as Corinthians on the Sunday lost to relegation-threatened Ponte Preta. It should also serve to keep everyone firmly on the ground, continuing to work hard and improve, while keeping the pressure, the “obligation”, firmly on Corinthians’ side for at least a couple of more rounds. Now, Sunday’s derby is crucial: anything but a victory and the gap would remain at five points or even, God forbid, increase to eight. A victory on the other hand would diminish the gap to two points, with Palmeiras strengthened and Corinthians demoralised after a home defeat to the biggest rival and title contender, with six rounds to go. The finish would be epic. Will be epic.

Sunday. Sunday. Sunday.    

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Alberto Valentim followed up his 1-3 debut victory away against Atlético Goianense with a 2-0 against Ponte Preta and, today, another convincing 1-3 away victory, this time in Porto Alegre against former runner-up Grêmio. Atlético and Ponte are in the relegation zone, and Grêmio today fielded an alternative line-up, as their priority is next Wednesday´s Libertadores quarterfinal. Nevertheless, Valentim has certainly succeeded in implementing some ideas of his own in these last couple of weeks and Palmeiras are faster, lighter, with players less troubled by excessive defensive task involving a lot of running due to Cuca´s man-to-man marking system. Keno, Tchê Tchê and Mayke are pulling the wagon, putting out extraordinary performances. Borja has been given more pitch time and has corresponded accordingly. The long-awaited mesh seems finally to have arrived. And with Mano Menezes a few days back announcing he has extended with Cruzeiro for another two seasons, suddenly the outlook for Alberto Valentim has shifted considerably. Certainly he has the backing of the squad and the supporters. Valentim however states he is solely concentrating on the tasks ahead, one game at the time, which is wise of him.
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With eight rounds to go, Palmeiras are the runner-up with 53 points, 6 points behind Corinthians. Our rival are one game short: tomorrow, they visit Botafogo, currently seventh in the tables. The Brasileirão everyone treated as a done deal two months ago is shaping up to be quite the thing. Trust me: every single corintiano is fearfully gazing in the rear view mirror.

Palmeiras next commitment is on Monday 30 October, at home, against Cruzeiro. After that, Corinthians await at the Itaqueirão… *Thump Thump*.

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After defeating Grêmio 1-0 last Saturday, Sunday was all about resting. Today Monday, only a light training session in the morning before heading off to Ecuador, where Barcelona de Guayaquil await on Wednesday. The Libertadores matchup for the group of 16 is illustrated below, with the second leg taking place in a month’s time.
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Ten days ago, CONMEBOL announced they were changing the rules regarding how many players a team could swap in their Libertadores squad – funny enough only hours after River Plate saw seven of their players fail a doping test. At the wave of a wand, the limit went from two to six players. Palmeiras today swapped four: Bruno Henrique, Juninho, Luan and Mayke replaced Rafael Marques, Vitor Hugo, Vitão (only still at Palmeiras) and Alecsandro.

The additional two swaps Palmeiras can (and certainly will) do up to 48 hours ahead of the second leg. One spot is dedicated to Moisés, who is in the final stages of recovery from his knee surgery. The last spot will probably go to a forward in Mattos’ crosshairs. Could be Diego Souza, currently at Sport. Before the weekend, we will know.

— ooo —

Palmeiras appealed and CONMEBAL revised the absurd rulings following the debacle in Montevideo: Felipe Melo’s ban has dropped from six to three games, and the three-game ban on Palmeiras supporters during away games has been reduced to one game (which will be the one against Barcelona on Wednesday).

— ooo — 

Alberto Valentim is back at Palmeiras as assisting coach, after a brief spell at Red Bull. He left Palmeiras in December of last year, after it became clear he was not taking over after Cuca’s exit. Everyone celebrated his return, although Valentim himself recognises he is taking a step back in order to advance two steps in the future.

— ooo —

Someone on the verge of taking a major step is 19-year-old attacking midfielder Vitinho. Seems Barcelona are close to finalising a loan move with an option to buy. Cuca has publicly given his approval: “Good for the player and the club if he goes to Barcelona B. He’s training well but, unfortunately, he can’t get the necessary minutes with us. At the moment, he needs to play”, Palmeiras’ coach recently stated.

— ooo —

English football magazine “World Soccer” annually lists their Top 500 in the World, and the 2017 edition sports six Palmeiras players, more than any other Brazilian club: Felipe Melo, Dudu, Borja, Guerra, Mina and Tchê Tchê.

— ooo —

Saturday, the Allianz Parque hosted Ariana Grande. Already on Sunday, pictures showed the stadium in shape to receive a game, with the pitch apparently intact. For the first time, stadium management had used a technique to anchor the stage not on the ground but using the ceiling, resulting in considerably less strain on the pitch and much shorter disassembling time. Not a day too early.

— ooo —

The Allianz Parque, as first stadium in Brazil, has received the “Guiaderodas” seal of approval. The seal is given to venues that has proven fully accessible to wheelchair users and people with other physical disabilities. Unlike the old Palestra, the Allianz Parque was designed with full accessibility in mind from the start: parking lots, stands, restrooms, snack bars… There are 15 elevators and 26 escalators, and staff have been given specific training to meet the needs of disabled visitors.

As palmeirense wheelchair user Renan Barreiros commented: excellent news; will be even better once Palmeiras implement mechanisms that assure only disabled persons are able to reserve the specially designated seats at the stadium, as well as secure the same discounts that non-disabled, enrolled in Palmeiras’ supporter membership programme, enjoy for certain sectors. Seems Palmeiras are working on solutions; this is something worth keeping an eye on.

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Although not formally announced, Palmeiras have a new coach in Eduardo Baptista, who last Friday announced he is leaving Ponte Preta one year short of fulfilling his contract. The decision immediately triggered Alberto Valentim’s exit from Palmeiras: our assisting coach had been nourishing hopes he would replace Cuca, but is instead taking the reins at Red Bull Brasil. Anything Palmeiras wishes Valentim the best of luck in his career, foreseeing his return to Palmeiras after acquiring more experience as head coach.

So who is Eduardo Baptista? The 46 years old Campinas-born was a physical trainer for 15 years before picking up coaching, following in the footsteps of his father, Nelsinho Baptista. Eduardo initiated at Sport in 2014, followed by a short stint at Fluminense before joining Ponte Preta in April of 2016, being the prime responsible for the club’s solid campaign.
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Baptista is sober-minded, studious and seeks to apply modern concepts. His teams are normally tactically well-defined and obedient, characterised by strong marking and quick reversal from defence to offense: possibly decisive factors to Palmeiras’ decision to give the comparatively inexperienced coach a shot.

Expect Eduardo Baptista to be announced shortly after the end of the championship.

— ooo —

Due to the Chapecoense tragedy, the CBF postponed all football games by a week. The Brazil Cup final between Grêmio and Atlético Mineiro will be played this Wednesday, while the Brazilian championship final round takes place on Sunday. As Palmeiras are already champions and many players had booked tickets to travel with their families, the club granted several of them their vacations as of this week. Neither Cuca has been confirmed for the final game against Vitória. Most likely, Palmeiras will be made up of a mixed bag from the bench and youth divisions. Serves Vitória just about right, the Bahia team needing but a draw to mathematically escape relegation.

Either Sport or Internacional are likely to join América Mineiro, Santa Cruz and Figueirense in the second division next year. No doubt a large majority of Brazilians nourish the expectation of seeing the gaúcho team go down: Inter directors and players have caused outrage in the last few days, directly and indirectly suggesting the last round of the championship be cancelled due to the plane crash, opening up the possibility of declaring an “incomplete championship” in 2016 and, who knows, a 2017 edition of the Brasileirão with 24 teams… Absolutely disgusting.

I know where my sympathies lie on Sunday.

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Alberto Valentim led Palmeiras to a tight 2-1 victory against Fluminense in his first and only game as interim coach at Palmeiras post Oswaldo de Oliveira: yesterday, Marcelo Oliveira was presented as new coach, contract until end of 2016, and has already conducted two training sessions.

lucas_barriosToday, on facebook and twitter, Paraguayan national team striker Lucas Barrios (right), aged 30, announced he will fly Palmeiras’ colours as soon as the Copa das Américas finishes in July: great catch!

28-year-old Coritiba centre-back Leandro Almeida is expected to sign for Palmeiras any day now: the former captain of the team from Paraná has been on the Verdão’s wish list for some time, but Coritiba have refused to negotiate.

New coach, new striker, defender in the pipeline, everything is good except for the disgraceful state of the Allianz Parque pitch: WTorre and World Sports – the two responsible – released a joint statement on Monday, blaming the poor condition of the grass on the “excessive number of events”, without making any future predictions or commitments – pathetic.

From Sweden, with love.

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Atlético Mineiro breezed through to the quarter-finals of the Brazil Cup, once again exposing a Palmeiras squad in shambles. It took the mineiros less than 20 minutes to get the message across to Dorival – placed next to Paulo Nobre in a box at the Independência stadium – in case he had any doubts: your one and only mission is to save Palmeiras from relegation, that’s all there’s left in 2014.

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Some have argued the team has been underperforming as of late in protest of Gareca. Others have anticipated Alberto Valentim’s return as interim coach, imagining he would repeat the success he enjoyed after replacing Kleina earlier this year. Both outlooks proved wrong: resent results is a direct reflection of the squad’s weakness. In fact, today’s squad is one of the worst that many of us have ever seen and even journalists, with access to all sorts of archive information, are hard pressed to come up with a weaker Palmeiras squad.

This coming Sunday, Palmeiras initiate a sequence of “favourable” games against direct contenders: Atlético Paranaense (away), Criciúma (home), Fluminense (away), Flamengo (home), Goiás (away), Vitória (home) and Figueirense (away). 3 or 4 victories, and we can start believing in the firing squad missing their target. Normally, a team with 46 point will escape relegation. Palmeiras thus need to bag 29 points in the remaining 20 rounds.

New players of rank will not arrive, this is the squad we’re stuck with. Dorival must get back to basics with these men, apply the Brazilian “arroz com feijão“, parting from the KISS principle and start rebuilding players self esteem. The now orphan Argentine players are of special concern: it’s crucial that they are embraced, encouraged, given opportunities.

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of keeper Prass and playmaker Valdivia: both recovering from injury and expected back within a week or two. If they perform like we know they can, and if they (read Valdivia) remain healthy, I seriously believe we’ll be “fine”.

“Fine”. Look at what they’ve done to us, done to Palmeiras. How can one even contemplate using “fine” under circumstances like these?

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A fourth and fifth newcomer have already signed and are training with the rest of the squad in Itu, where Palmeiras are preparing for their debut in the Paulistão on 18 January: centre-back Victorino and midfielder William Matheus.

ImageVictorino comes as a bit of a surprise, but a pleasant one. With Luan staying at Cruzeiro, striker Anselmo Ramon was supposedly coming our way in a swap. The Mineiro team however announced that Ramon is leaving for Chinese Hangzhou, and ended up offering Victorino instead. The 31-year-old Uruguayan defender was out of action all of 2013 due to a series of injuries, but is now recovered and more than eager to play at Palmeiras after having talked extensively to fellow countryman Eguren. He has signed a one-year contract, which can be renewed at no cost if Palmeiras so wish. Approved!

Left-back/winger William Matheus, who had a good year at Goiás last season, has signed a four-year contract with Palmeiras.

Also centre-back Lúcio has signed his contract, but bureaucracy hindered an official announcement to be made this Wednesday.

Today we also saw the signing of a four or five year contract with Leandro. Palmeiras had originally plans for a one-year extension with the Grêmio forward, but when Santos indicated they were interested in buying, Palmeiras opted for exercising their priority in the case of a purchase. Together with investors, the 5 million euro price tag has been met. This Wednesday afternoon, Palmeiras and Leandro reached an agreement regarding salaries: Leandro had previously asked for rather absurd US$ 125.000 a month, my guess being that we might be looking at roughly half that amount. When numbers are known, you’ll be the first to know.

Marquinhos Gabriel is expected to sign a one-year contract today (Thursday) after undergoing medical exams in the morning.

Expectations are also high for Bruno César and Jorge Moreira signing contracts in the coming few days. I don’t know what’s delaying Bruno César, as Al-Ahli apparently have agreed to the loan arrangements; hopefully nothing but time-consuming paperwork behind the delay. With Moreira, the difficulty lies in the 50% player’s economic rights owned by a group of investors. Libertad, holder of the other 50%, have already agreed to the conditions but the group of investors wants more money. I believe we’ll have a positive outcome also in these two cases. And a rather complete squad for 2014.

In addition, Palmeiras are contracting professionals to the technical staff: one assisting coach (Alberto Valentim, former Atlético Paranaense) and one fitness coach (Thiago Santi). These are important positions and will be part of the fixed staff of the Club, not coming or going as part of staff brought by each coach. With this follows improved continuity.    

One last thing: Vilson, who didn’t accept a shorter contract neither one based on productivity, left Palmeiras earlier this month and initiated negotiations with Cruzeiro. The incident drew heavy criticism upon the Nobre administration from certain groups within the club, as Vilson is considered a good and dedicated player. Others took a more cautious stance in relation to the whole affair. Today, Cruzeiro announced the signing might not go through, as, in the words of the Club’s spokesperson, “some minor issues” were detected during his medical exams. Certainly these “issues” were also detected at Palmeiras – therefore the offer of a shorter contract and based on productivity – but at no point did Palmeiras publicly mark Vilson, not even when receiving flak for not signing the player. That’s spelled ethics. Congratulations, Nobre and everyone involved.

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