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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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It has been confirmed Cuca will not renew his contract with the club in 2017. That means also Cuca’s brother and assisting coach Cuquinha and Euders Pedro are bidding farewell by the end of the month.

Cuca’s decision comes as no surprise, although both Palmeiras and especially the clubs’ supporters were hoping for a different outcome after the successful 2016 campaign, culminating in club’s ninth Brasileirão title. Cuca is keeping a promise to his family of dedicating more time to his loved ones, at least throughout the first semester of 2017.

“It’s a difficult choice, but I had to make it. In fact, and as I have always said, it was not for me even to come (to Palmeiras) this year. I was going to dedicate myself entirely to my family in 2016, but I was convinced by Alexandre Mattos, by the president, by the project that was presented to me and, of course, by my love for Palmeiras. I’ve been a supporter since I was a kid, I’ve never hidden that from anyone, and last Sunday I ended up being champion twice: as a coach and as a supporter. I exit very happy and with the mission accomplished. I’m sure I’ll be back one day to continue my history at the club”, Cuca told Palmeiras’ official website.

Club president Paulo Nobre added: “Considering his technical capacity, identification with the club and the person he is, we would have loved to have him in 2017. But we understand his choice. Palmeiras will always be open to him.”

Director of football Alexandre Mattos certainly has been anticipating work on plans B, C, and D. Abel Braga and Roger Machado were early speculations, but in the last couple of days, both reached agreements with Fluminense and Atlético Mineiro respectively. Another, less likely, option would be giving assisting coach Alberto Valentim the opportunity, either permanently or on the premises that Cuca could come back to Palmeiras in the second semester. Some supporters are already getting nervous, claiming Palmeiras moved in too late and will now have to settle for leftovers. Personally, I think Mattos has everything under control.

Cuca’s last game for Palmeiras happens Sunday 11th against Vitória, at the Barradão stadium, Salvador. In 52 games for the club, he totals 28 wins, 11 draws and 11 losses. Cuca was also suspended in two games: a victory with Cuquinha and a defeat with Alberto Valentim.

Here at Anything Palmeiras, we wish Cuca all the best. It has been a tremendous pleasure following the work of this very competent, dedicated and charming professional. Cuca, enjoy your family to the maximum, then come back to Palmeiras for many more days of glory!

ABRAÇO AND THANK YOU!
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Playing before 40.986 spectators, a new attendance record at the Allianz Parque, Palmeiras were Palmeiras like throughout most of 2016: confident, in control, sufficiently efficient to secure the three points against Chapecoense and the 2016 Brazil championship title. The only goal was right-back Fabiano’s, and what a beautiful goal. His first for Palmeiras, one that will be remembered forever.

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Who contributed the most to this title, arriving after 22 long years of waiting?

Jailson, the 35-year-old who had never played a first division game in his life and stepped up in August, when Fernando Prass was injured in late July, to support an 18-games-streak of invincibility?

Dudu, the hotheaded forward who matured after receiving the captain’s armband to become the player with most assists in this year’s edition of the Brasileirão?

Tchê-Tchê, who last year seriously considered abandoning football for the lack of opportunities, today a given on the midfield on any Palmeiras starting eleven?

Moisés, “hidden away” in Croatia, ridiculed upon arriving, today considered the greatest surprise of the championship?

Gabriel Jesus, who’s splendid first half of the championship set the pace for the title race?

Jean, the experienced, polyvalent, hard-working leader?

Yerry Mina, who went straight into the starting eleven, scored, was injured, came back to score more and form a massive centre lock with Vítor Hugo?

Zé Roberto, the living myth, at 42 the heart and soul of the squad, always reminding us of the GIANT called Palmeiras?

Cuca, the prophet, the professional, the father, who knows how to create a family not through external enemies but common aspirations?

Alexandre Mattos, the director of football who contracted all the aforementioned pieces and then some?

Paulo Nobre, the club president who in four years took Palmeiras from rags to riches?

Palmeirenses near and far, tirelessly reinventing the art of supporting the team, standing ground against everything and everyone, including friendly fire?

None. All. That is what is so special about this campaign: it is a truly collective effort like seldom seen. And unbelievably well deserved.
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I still need to come down. Pictures and videos of the magnificent celebration – all over São Paulo and all over the world – only in a day or two.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Yet another good article on Palmeiras, this one by Jack Lang for WhoScored.com, dissecting Cuca’s take on the squad and tactics, fundamentally important to shape the lean and lethal machine that has been in the lead of the Brazileirão for the last seven rounds. Enjoy!

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Palmeiras’ gameplay excels in rapid transitions from defence to offense, but without suspended Gabriel Jesus and Róger Guedes, it did not work very well against Santos, although Dudu and Erik worked hard. None of them had a good night yesterday, in Dudu’s case partially explained by a rough challenge early in the game, the player visibly uncomfortable throughout the night, frequently massaging his hip.

The setup saw Barrios fairly isolated up front: he did what he could, but without teammates approaching, he renders little.

Nevertheless, Palmeiras got off to an excellent start, pressuring a nervous Santos and opening the scorecard at six minutes after a header by Colombian centre-back Yerry Mina: his first brace in his second game for Palmeiras. Palmeiras controlled the action until suffering a first blow as midfielder Moisés felt a sting from last week’s thigh injury and was taken off. Moisés is strong in both offence and defence, and no option on the bench could do both parts: Cleiton Xavier would be the offensive bet, while Arouca the more defensive (Thiago Santos also suspended; Matheus Sales, Jean and Tchê Tchê already on the pitch, Gabriel not called up for the game). This early in the game, and Palmeiras in control and in the lead, Cuca understandably opted for Arouca, even with the seasoned player only just out of the medical department.

The game levelled quickly, with few chances created in the first half. Just before halftime, the second blow: Mina carried off, in tears, with a muscle injury to his left thigh. Such a shame: the youngster had every expectation to be called up next week to join the Colombian Olympic squad and later this week we will learn the severity of his injury.

UPDATE: a muscular injury has been confirmed, Mina’s recovery time estimated at 6-8 weeks. Olympic aspirations unfortunately up in smoke.

The second half had Edu Dracena replacing Mina, Cuca with just the one substitution left and a team gradually losing control to Santos, who reached the equaliser through a deflected shot with ten minutes on the clock. Again, Cleiton Xavier could have been an option to regain control and creativity on the midfield, but Barrios was tired and Cuca opted for maintaining a reference attacker, swapping the Paraguayan for Leandro Pereira, who made his debut in his second spell at the club. Equally isolated, the substitution rendered little, except for a hail of criticism from the stands. No, Cuca did not experience one of his best nights either.
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Considering the troublesome context, the draw ended up being a rather good result for Palmeiras, the Verdão now sustaining a one-point lead to Corinthians.

There are 40.035 other reasons to celebrate: a new attendance record at the Allianz Parque. The expressive number also saw Palmeiras overtake Corinthians in the top of the average attendance ranking, with 31.854 against 31.011 for the skunks.

Now, focus is redirected toward Sunday’s difficult task. Palmeiras have not beaten Internacional at the Beira-Rio since 1997, but odds look better due to last week’s exit of coach Argel, this afternoon replaced with Paulo Roberto Falcão. This is the former defensive midfielder’s third spell as Inter coach and Falcão was reportedly not the club’s first choice (he has been unemployed since leaving Sport in April) but was offered the position after Abel Braga and Mano Menezes declined Inter’s offer. With Jesus, Guedes and Thiago Santos back in the squad, I believe we break that taboo on Sunday.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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When Cuca claimed Palmeiras would bag the title this year, many a palmeirense cringed. Then, sports journalists started expressing the view that the Verdão were indeed a major contender. With the squad training hard and key players staying out of the medical department, even the most skeptic supporter started to believe the hype.
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“We stand together, heading for the title”

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In recent times, we have seen expectations grow then being crushed before a large and incredulous home crowd. Would Saturday’s debut in the Brasileirão prove to be more of the same, or would Palmeiras actually deliver, delighting the 33.000 supporters at the Allianz Parque?

What we saw was Palmeiras’ best championship debut in 20 years. The 19 days Cuca has had at his disposal shone through as Palmeiras came on stronger, faster, more technical and tactical than in a long time. Ball possession at 61%, over 500 passes, the players radiating confidence and determination, every one of them knowing their tasks and executing them well. 4-0 against the Paraná state champions Atlético Paranaense. No one could have asked for a better start. Highlights below.
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In an afternoon marked by collective strength, a few players nevertheless stood out. Cleiton Xavier is back with a vengeance, dominating the midfield like a true playmaker. Tchê Tchê alternated between defensive midfield, offensive midfield and right-winger, constantly swapping positions with Jean: the kid has been at Palmeiras less than a week and is just killing it. Barrios is not scoring (yet) but plays a fundamentally important role, keeping the defenders busy and opening up spaces for Gabriel Jesus and Róger Guedes, Palmeiras’ mortal strikers. In the second half, Alecsandro, Rafael Marques and Moisés came on: tough luck for anyone wanting to see Dudu, Arouca, Gabriel, Allione, Thiago Santos, Cristaldo, Zé Roberto, Erik… Not even mentioning Mina, who only arrives in June.

A special nod goes to Barrios who asked the Paraguayan national coach not to call him up for the Copa America competition, outright expressing his desire to remain at Palmeiras in order to obtain a sequence of games and acquire rhythm. That’s commitment. As also displayed by Alecsandro, giving the referee a nasty look as he blew the final whistle 20 seconds before stoppage time, adding no injury time to the clock: Palmeiras were 4-0, but Alecsandro wanted more.

This squad, under Cuca´s command, has huge potential. It’s for everyone to see. Even those visually impaired.

Saturday, a group of 21 blind persons, each with an accompanying assistant, got a special treat: first, a guided tour of the Allianz Parque, then, seats right behind one of the goals, enjoying a specialized, live descriptive transmission through headphones during the game. The video below is in Portuguese, but I assure you that you will find that completely irrelevant. Congratulations Palmeiras and everyone involved: fingers crossed this beautifully moving experience can grow into something more than a one-off event!
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Palmeiras now enjoy another week of rest and training before heading to neighbouring city of Campinas and Saturday’s game against Ponte Preta.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Coach Cuca and the squad Monday afternoon left for Atibaia, some 70km outside of São Paulo, where the men will remain until Friday afternoon. Cuca explained the transition: “There, it’ll be just me and the players. Morning, afternoon and night, nothing but interaction, knowing each other better. There we’ll work two daily session and is where my ideas will be presented, worked on, and understood by the players”.
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Judging by the picture, the squad is not yet using the new training uniform launched a few weeks back. Perhaps they are waiting for the start of the Brasileirão.
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The coming and going of players continues, as Cuca tweaks the little universe to his liking. Victor Luis and Régis are not with the squad in Atibaia, having been negotiated with Botafogo and Bahia respectively.

Just a month ago, 19-year-old Róger Guedes signed with Palmeiras and is already a frequent starting eleven player under Cuca. Today, in a test match against Guarani, not only Guedes but also Tchê Tchê – with the club as of this week – went into the starting eleven. Tchê Tchê (yes, seems like his nickname stays) was elected the revelation of this year’s São Paulo championship, his former team Audax losing the final to Santos by the difference of a goal. Róger Guedes was elected the revelation of this year’s edition of the Santa Catarina championship, playing for Criciúma. The Palmeiras squad already contains last year’s Brazilian championship revelation Gabriel Jesus, and the previous year’s as well in Erik. No doubt, Palmeiras are looking at today with an eye on the future.

The test game ended 6-2 with braces by Jean, Matheus Sales, Barrios (2), Rafa Marques and Cristaldo. Three assists by Gabriel Jesus.   

Speaking of Jesus, the forward is closely coaching his friend Vitinho, an 18-year-old midfielder recently given the opportunity to integrate the main squad. The promising player is fast and light, with a technique that is easily noticed, something which rendered him a Bellinzona “player of the tournament” award in the Swiss competition won by Palmeiras’ U20 squad last March. This kid will be interesting to follow in the years to come.

Today, Colombian Yerry Mina signed a five-year contract with Palmeiras. The player also visited the Allianz Parque for the first time, slowly walking barefoot on the grass, apparently taking it all in. Mina is the sixth Colombian to wear our jersey and the first fullback: before him, there has been Rincón (1994, 1996-1997), Lozano (1995), Asprilla (1999-2000), Muñoz (2001-2004, 2006-2007) and Pablo Armero (2009-2010). The 21-year-old joins the squad as soon as the international transfer window opens in mid-June.

A quick mention before we sign off: the TV Palmeiras youtube channel this week reached the impressive number of 400.000 followers, reinforcing its position as Latin America’s biggest. Congratulations to everyone involved! If you haven’t yet subscribed, here’s the link.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra! 

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