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Yesterday, both São Paulo FC and Corinthians were eliminated from the Brazil Cup – the latter by Internacional of Porto Alegre, who today drew Palmeiras as opponent in the group of 16. First leg at the Allianz Parque in mid-May, second at the Beira Rio a week or two later. The dates mark Palmeiras’ entry into the tournament.

Right-defender Lucas Taylor is back at Palmeiras after having spent 2016 at Paraná and Criciúma, before playing the 2017 São Paulo championship for Red Bull. Palmeiras have kept a steady eye on the 22-year-old, raised at the club’s youth divisions. By the looks if it, Taylor has evolved enough to render him a space in the squad.

U17Speaking of the youth divisions, Palmeiras’ U17 and U18 both recently came out victorious from two international tournaments. The U17 bagged the Scopigno Cup, in Italy, beating Dynamo Kiev 2-0 in the final. Palmeiras midfielder Alan was elected best player of the tournament, Daniel was top scorer (4) and Artur Itiro was elected best coach. The other teams in the Scopigno tournament were Pescara, Rieti, Lazio, Cagliari, Zenit, Ternara, Teramo and L’Aquila.

U18Almost simultaneously, the Palmeiras U18 beat Croatian HNK Rijeka 2-1 to lift the Bellinzona trophy in Switzerland; an impressive feat by Palmeiras, as half of the U18 squad stayed in Brazil to compete in the U20 Brazil Cup. Defensive midfielder Matheus Neris was elected best player of the tournament. This was the third time Palmeiras won the Bellinzona tournament (2007 and 2016). Other teams included Grasshopper, Honved Budapest, Brøndby and Inter Milan.

In the last couple of weeks, Palmeiras extended the contract of three players in the youth divisions: aforementioned Matheus Neris (18) and Patrick (17) – both midfielders – and centre-back Fabrício (17). All three are now on contracts until end of 2018 and will play for Palmeiras U20.

Palmeiras have also announced the signing of forward Yan, from Vitória. The arrival of the promising 18-year-old is part of the arrangement that sealed Cleiton Xavier’s transfer from Palmeiras to Vitória at the beginning of the year. Yan comes as a loan until 31 January 2018, Palmeiras having the option to buy. Yan drew attention in 2015 as top scorer in Vitória’s successful U17 Brazil Cup campaign. He has also played for Brazil in youth competitions.

In addition to the aforementioned players, Palmeiras have strengthened the youth divisions with Chilean centre-back Diego González (from O’Higgins), midfielder Gabriel Menino (Guarani) and, from Paraná, centre-back Willian Galvão and defensive midfielder Gabriel Furtado.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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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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In December, we might look back at this game as a turning point. Or, more correctly: the moment when everyone understood that Palmeiras were in this fight to win. The manner by which Palmeiras conducted the game, at times completely dominating Internacional, was impressive. The meagre scorecard does not reflect the afternoon: 0-3 or perhaps 1-3 would have been more like it.

Palmeiras came in the same formation used in the last away win, against Sport, but with Cleiton Xavier on Moisés (suspended) and Erik on Dudu. Xavier’s precise passes cut like a knife through butter, optimising the velocity of Palmeiras’ offensive trio Róger Guedes, Erik and Gabriel Jesus. But not only the offensive worked well: defence was equally fine-tuned, the midfield marking strong, facilitating the task of the centre-lock. Today, every single player in the staring eleven worked hard, executing with confidence and consciousness. Palmeiras look, more each day, like a champion. A few weeks ago, journalists were claiming Palmeiras had a “problem” playing as visitor. 1-3 against Sport was a first “hush” and today’s victory – Palmeiras’ first in 19 (!) years at the Beira-Rio stadium – carries tremendous weight. Tremendous weight.
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As Corinthians drew 1-1 with São Paulo while Grêmio lost 4-2 to Sport, Palmeiras now have a three-point lead after 15 rounds. With Brazil Cup games taking place in the middle of the week, Cuca and the men have a decent amount of time for training and rest before welcoming Atlético Mineiro to the Allianz Parque on Sunday morning. With Fernando Prass and Gabriel Jesus in the Olympic squad, there will be new faces in the staring eleven: most likely Vagner between the post and Barrios or Leandro Pereira up front (unless Cuca opts for Rafael Marques, which I find unlikely). Once more, expect a full house, hopefully propelling our warriors to victory.     

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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.

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What a game.

Less than two weeks ago, after Palmeiras had beaten Grêmio 3-2, I commented that Palmeiras were increasingly competent in attack but suffering from shaky defence. That Amaral wasn’t cut for the job of replacing Gabriel and that coach Oliveira might opt for Andrei Girotto (Thiago Santos can’t defend Palmeiras in the Brazil Cup, having already played in this year’s edition for América Mineiro).

Marcelo Oliveira might not always get it right from the start, but he has a peculiar talent for picking the right substitute. Yesterday, the goal that qualified Palmeiras was the result of one replacement crossing to another: Allione serving Girotto.

Marcelo Oliveiras’ intelligent squad rotation and sensibility has been highlighted by Euan Marshall, journalist and blogger, who recently noted that substitutes score an incredible 20% of Palmeiras’ goals. Even more impressive: roughly 50% of Palmeiras’ second-half goals come from Marcelo Oliveira’s hand-picked replacements. We saw it in the first leg against Internacional (Rafael Marques), and yesterday again.

Marcelo himself plays down his role, claiming there’s nothing to it but “noticing when one of our players is relaxed and happy”. Is he noticing through a crystal ball?

Not since 2010 had Palmeiras beaten Internacional. Six defeats in nine games, three draws. It was a close call also this time around, our players feeling the pressure and loosing positions as the 2-0 lead constructed in the first half melted away early in the second, Inter twice over benefited from the referee’s ruling. Luckily, the team bounced back immediately after the equaliser, then were able to hold on to the result. Again: what a game. Enjoy the highlights (if the video below is unavailable, try this link).
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It’s in Palmeiras’ DNA to be offensive, something not to evident in the last decade. The arrival of Oliveira brought about change. He rarely settles for the draw, which pleases supporters. Not for nothing Oliveira turned Cruzeiro into top scorer by a wide margin both in 2013 and 2014: he secured the titles without sporting best defence. Palmeiras are on the right track, but Oliveira urgently needs to update his take on man-to-man vs. zonal marking, among other things.

Three additional comments regarding yesterday’s game: a) Dudu received the rough treatment by Inter’s defence, but the referee turned a blind eye. He was however all ears: upon Dudu’s first complaint, he immediately booked the player. Corporatism, anyone? b) Gabriel Jesus had another bad night, the kid apparently feeling the pressure. A game or two on the bench might do him good. c) Robinho felt discomfort in his left groin and was taken off the pitch halfway into the first half. He’s out for Sunday’s game against Chapecoense, but should be back training next week.

As for the continuation of the Brazil Cup, Palmeiras face Fluminense in the semi-finals. The carioca team eliminated Grêmio following up a goalless draw in Rio with a 1-1 draw in Porto Alegre. First leg will be played 21 October, the return game taking place a week later. In the other semi-final, Santos and São Paulo battle it out. Early next week, a draw will define which two out of the four teams will have home advantage in the second leg.

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Seems we’ve gotten our Palmeiras back. After a few bleak performances and oscillations, yesterday’s game against Internacional confirmed what we saw in the second half against Fluminense and again against Grêmio: good, offensive football. This time, with the additional bonus of having Dudu, on fire, back in the starting eleven (his six-game ban does not apply to the Brazil Cup). The vivacity and virility that was lost have been found.

Palmeiras have not beaten Internacional at the Beira-Rio stadium since 1997. Unfortunately the taboo remains. Still, there’s something different to it when Colorado coach Argel celebrates a home draw with the words “we played Brazil’s currently best team”. Yesterday, the victory was only details away – like Barrios’ badly executed penalty or Jesus Gabriel’s double-wood finish. The Inter keeper, Alisson, was spectacular. No wonder Brazil national coach Dunga has locked his sights on him.
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The result forces Internacional to score at the Allianz Parque next Wednesday, when the second leg is played: a goalless draw and Palmeiras are through to the semifinals.

But before anything else, it’s back in São Paulo and the Morumbi, where SPFC await on Sunday afternoon for the 28th round of the Brazilian championship. There’s a neat little taboo involved in Sunday’s derby as well: not since 2002 have Palmeiras beaten SPFC at the Morumbi stadium. Last time it happened, a certain Alex scored a certain goal…
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Not since 1997 have Palmeiras beaten Internacional at the Beira-Rio stadium. Never have Internacional done so little to maintain such an expressive taboo.

This Wednesday’s game was in stark contrast to last Sunday’s derby. Against Corinthians, Palmeiras three times took the lead, always conducting and pushing forward, being punished by that which has become the stigma ever since Palmeiras lost Gabriel and – from time to time – Arouca on the midfield: aerial balls. Nevertheless, the game was highly entertaining and one of the best so far in the Brasileirão, although for Palmeiras leaving with only one point was a major setback.
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Against Internacional, a completely different ballgame. The Palmeiras squad was eleven players short, computing injured, suspended (against Corinthians, the referee managed to surgically book all four Palmeiras players with two yellows already: Lucas, Robinho, Gabriel Jesus and Dudu) and otherwise left out (most notably, Victor Ramos). You can imagine what that starting eleven looked like.

The game was horrible and sleepy. As such, less annoying, as no one really expected anything much. But when the weakness of Internacional became ever so apparent, the urge to break that taboo grew stronger. With roughly 25 minutes on the clock, Inter got a one-off goal through a beautiful header. With two minutes in the second half, Leandro Almeida was sent off (why is he allowed to wear our jersey?) and Palmeiras’ mission became much harder. Nevertheless, as Allione and Mouche came on, it seemed as Palmeiras had the numeral advantage. Jackson had the best opportunity in the final minutes, but the scorecard remained unchanged.
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The results from the round naturally pushed Palmeiras further down in the tables, to eight place, three points from fourth place. Upcoming games are Figueirense home and Fluminense away: both teams rather rocky right now and exactly the kind of games Palmeiras need to win (but haven’t) in order to realistically compete for a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup.

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