How ironic this beautiful game can be. After overcoming all the odds to win the Copa Libertadores and São Paulo State Championship, Santos have all but thrown their Serie A title hopes out the window with three losses in the space of a week.
During the Libertadores and SP State Champ campaigns, Santos’ squad was truly stretched to the limit. As both competitions reached their final stages, Santos were playing two matches a week often involving mammoth round trips (to places like Mexico and Colombia). They were without playmaker Ganso and their all-action midfielder Arouca for long periods. Zé Eduardo and Barcelona flop Keirrison were the two main striking options and neither one could hit a barn door if they tried. Neymar and Elano also missed crucial games. As a result, they were forced to play most of their games with Zé Donkey up front and a makeshift midfield of three defensive midfielders (Adriano, Danilo and Arouca – when he was fit – or Rodrigo Possebon). Despite the adversity, time and again they found a way to grind out results. Their defensive resilience was the key.
Santos’ results had suffered at the start of the Serie A due to their Copa Libertadores involvement; Muricy rested key players in the opening matches to protect them for the Libertadores ties. Then came the Copa America and Santos lost Neymar, Elano and Ganso for several matches. But despite being without their stars, the team picked up a respectable 11 points from 8 games. With a host of new signings (Ibson, Henrique, Borges and Alan Kardec) and all of their big names back from international duty, Santos were expected to finally get their title challenge under way. But what an anti-climax it turned out to be.
With a full stregnth team for the first time this season, Santos lost all three of their matches (against Flamengo, Vasco and bottom of the table Atlético PR) conceding 10 goals in the process. Without their big names they had conceded 10 goals in eight games. Come back their stars and enter new signings and their defensive solidity has gone out the window! Why is that? Does the team now have too many stars and attacking players? Did Muricy buy the wrong players (ie. More attackers instead of defenders)? Is he now sacrificing unsung heroes like Adriano to accommodate all of the big names he now has at his disposal? Is this just a blip and can he turns things round? Whatever the answer to these questions, the fact of the matter is that Santos are now languishing in 18th spot (20 points behind leaders Corinthians) with their title hopes looking all but over.
At the other end of the table, after losing two in a row league leaders Corinthians got back to winning ways by beating América MG 2-1 at home. Vasco are bulldozing all that stands before them; they have won five out of their last six matches including wins over São Paulo, Internacional and Santos. They are now in 4th position. Flamengo are also looking extremely dangerous and finding ways to win all sorts of games. After a spectacular 5-4 win against Santos, they showed their defensive solidity and grit by beating Grêmio (2-0) and Cruzeiro (1-0).
Finally, Julinho Camargo is the latest casualty of the coaching merry-go-round and has been sacked as coach of Grêmio after just one month and three days in the job. 1 win, 3 draws and 2 losses. Not great form but surely not sackable either. He has been replaced by Celso Roth (the coach that lead rivals Internacional to the Copa Libertadores title last year and was sacked by them at the beggining of this year).