Serie A kick-off: A fans’ preview

Can reigning Champions Corinthians juggle Libertadores and Serie A? (Getty)

It’s the big kick off in the Brazilian Serie A (also known as Brasileirão) this weekend. And we’ve got some inside track, fans’ opinion and the local angle on some of the main teams below. So read on and get all the inside scoop.

Sadly, the idiots who run Brazilian football have put the big date slap bang in the middle of the season. Yes, that’s right, the national championship kicks off in the middle of the season. Brazilian football is strange (see an explanation here). We had a few months (and around 20 games) of State Championships and we are in the latter stages of the Copa Libertadores and Brazilian Cup and so sadly, on this big afternoon, some teams will be fielding their B teams. For example, the clash of the round sees Corinthians take on Fluminense but both teams are likely to play their reserves since they have decisive Libertadores matches this week.

After working in Brazil for two years I did notice a Brazilian habit of leaving things to the last minute. And that seems to be the mentality of some teams in this competition. It used to be alright when the top eight of the league went into a knockout phase but it doesn’t always work so well now in the accumulated points system. The result is that teams that do well in the Brazilian Cup or Libertadores normally are playing catch up in the league. I don’t remember a team winning the Libertadores and the league in the same year for a long time. Anybody? Last year’s Libertadores winners Santos finished way down the table. The art of squad rotation leaves a little bit to be desired.

There is a bright side to all of this though and it’s almost like the form teams or good teams are starting the competition with a handicap. That means you get surprise packages every year and you never know who is going to win. Plus there are things like the Olympics in the middle (Serie A doesn’t stop for that or the World Cup) so the best teams lose their best players for about 8 games (Santos will be losing Neymar, Ganso and Rafael this year) in the middle of the season. Then there is the European transfer window which causes havoc to Brazilian clubs in mid-year. Muricy Ramalho loves to have a moan about things and occasionally he is right.

It may be slightly disorganized but the Brazilian Serie A is the most exciting and unpredictable in the world and I love it! So without further ado, here is what the people that count think about their team’s prospects. One or two have been translated from Portuguese by me, hopefully nothing lost in translation. Here they are, in no particular order:

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Cruzeiro and Atletico-MG – by Christiano, a Cruzeiro fan who also gives (a mainly impartial) view of their local rivals Atletico-MG

CRUZEIRO

It was a worrying start to 2012 for Cruzeiro. After the scary moments at the end of 2011, when the team was almost relegated from the Série A for the first time, the fans were hopeful for a fresh new start.

They kept coach Vagner Mancini from 2011 for the Minas Gerais state championship and the team reached the semifinals, but without playing very well. And they lost to América in semi-final. Of course, in Minas Gerais, the two biggest teams are Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro, and not reaching the final to face the local rivals was a disaster. That and the elimination in the Copa do Brasil to Atlético-PR was too much for the fans and spelt the end for Mancini.

Now, Série A is all that is left for “Raposa” (The Fox, Cruzeiro’s nickname). Coach Celso Roth, the leader of Internacional’s victorious campaign in the Libertadores 2010, was signed this Wednesday, and his mission will be — at least for the fans — to keep the team in the top division of Brazilian football. Yes, “cruzeirenses” are not very confident with the team. Personally, I think it’ll fare better — let’s say fight for a Copa Libertadores spot at most.

It is a little difficult to preview what tactics Cruzeiro will use in the start of the competition, but judging by his first training session today (Thursday) morning at Toca da Raposa 2, coach Celso Roth will field his team with 5 men on the midfield, including key player Montillo, who also played as a second striker. Very different from Vagner Mancini’s era, when the Argentinean played as an attacking midfielder, sometimes behind three forwards or sometimes in the tip of a midfield diamond. The new coach tested Wellington Paulista as a lone striker and also used three holding midfielders. Also, goalkeeper Fábio is the team’s captain and one of the best in the position in Brazil. Cruzeiro’s weakness lies in the fullback positions, where all of the players tried so far this year haven’t looked convincing.

ATLÉTICO-MG

Atlético Mineiro won the Minas Gerais state championship undefeated. But that was not enough for Atlético’s fans to forget the big 6-1 loss to rivals Cruzeiro in the last round of Brasileirão 2011. The thing is that they haven’t won a big title for at least 40 years (Atlético was the first Brazilian champions back in 1971), and the state championship are just not enough anymore for the “atleticanos” (Atleico-MG fans). Rumor has it that coach Cuca – the same that won last year’s Minas Gerais state championship with Cruzeiro – asked to resign after being knocked out of Copa do Brasil by Goiás. But he was convinced to stay until the Mineiro finals. With the title, he will now conduct “Galo” (the Rooster, Atletico’s nickname) again in Série A this year. The fans hope that Atlético at least do not have to fight against relegation again. I think they are likely to stay mid-table, in the Copa Sudamericana spots, maybe a little better. But definitely not a title contender.

Cuca is very fond of the 4-2-3-1 system, using André as a forward with the creative support from Danilinho, Guilherme and Bernard. The latter two are the key players of the team, with Guilherme (naturally a forward) being fielded a little deeper. Bernard is doing a brilliant season so far. Also, Pierre is very solid in the holding midfield role. This is the formation that is likely to start, with some variation to a 4-4-2 by advancing Guilherme as second striker. The centre-backs are having a good season so far, along with right-back Marcos Rocha. Left-back Richarlyson is being criticized, even after the good performance in Campeonato Mineiro final game. Their biggest problem, though, is beneath the bar: keeper Giovane was promoted to the starting XI after Renan Oliveira failed in the draw against Cruzeiro earlier this year, and is having good performances so far.

More generally, my pickings for the title would be Santos (if they play with Neymar and not save energy for an eventual World Club Championship run as last year) and Fluminense. Corinthians has consistency, but the players lack the talent that the former two have. After that I see Internacional and São Paulo fighting with the top dogs. For relegation, I I’d bet on four out of Portuguesa, Atlético-GO, Náutico, Sport, Bahia (too bad, because I like it a lot when we have teams outside Southeast and South playing in Série A). All the other ones will be a mess in the middle of the table.

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Gremio and Internacional – by Gino, a Galatasaray fan living in the South of Brazil.

GREMIO

Gremio have had three bad seasons in a row and it looks like it won’t get any better this year. They lost Rochemback, Douglas and Mario Fernandes and the players who came to replace them – Moreno and Bertoglio – sadly, won’t fill their shoes. They have a weak defence. The only good player they have at the back is Para (ex-Santos). He has been playing really well. They also bought Ze Roberto, the famous player (ex-selecao). He is old but with his experience the fans believe he can be an asset to the team. Also, I shouldn’t forget the Gladiator Kleber (ex-Palmeiras), the main signing. He was doing great but got injured. The fans hope he comes back soon so team can get better.

The coach this year is Vanderlei Luxemburgo. The goal of the team this year is Copa Do Brasil, they won against Bahia on Thursday and i believe they will get Palmeiras in the next round and Sao Paulo in the final. If Gremio wins the cup in June the season will be over for them because they will already be qualified to Libertadores and there wont be any goals left for the team. The goal is Copa do Brasil, if not it will be a hard season for Gremio.

It is their last year in Stadio Olimpico. On December 9th after a Madonna concert they will tear the stadium down and the next season the team will start playing in the Gremio Arena. It will be the best stadium in Brazil!

INTERNACIONAL

Internacional has the better team and their goal this season is to win the Serie A. They won the Libertadores in the past years but it has been thirty years since they won a league title. If Damiao and his friends can get it right they have the team to win it this year, the fans are hoping for this.

There is a rumour going around that Damiao will be sold in the summer.  Juventus and PSG are lined up but the president has been asking 25 Milion euros, which makes it very complicated.

The coach is Dorival Junior, if the results dont come soon, he will be gone as there is not much confidence in him and Dunga is waiting in line. New players this season are Dagoberto, Jaja, Dattolo, they are all great players and will be great assets.

One thing that is bothering the team this fight with Sao Paulo regarding Oscar’s situation, fans are hoping it will be solved soon so the player can concentrate just football nothing else, no courts, no headlines from the press. Inter has the team to make it happen this year finally, we will watch and see.

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Coritiba – by Coritiba fan Diogo

The only thing predictable about the Brasileirão is its unpredictability. Year after year the media “specialists”, all kitted out in their badly cut suits and adopting a serious academic pose, give their unfounded predictions which invariably prove wrong. It’s always that way, ever since I can remember at least.

My first memory of the Brasileirão is 1986. I remember the Couto Pereira packed: me, still young going with my Dad to watch the opening match of the Championship that year. It was a sunny day and the match was being screened on TV live to the whole country. I remember the national anthem and opening ceremony for the tournament, presented by the CBF. Good times and Coritiba were a prestigious team in those days, the reigning Champions.

We lost that match: one nil against Sao Paulo with a goal from Careca, the best player of those days and selecao centre forward. A long time ago, I know. Since then, a lot has changed, but a lot of things haven’t changed. The surprises in the Brasileirão, for example, are still there. That is permanent. In that year, my Coritiba, then state champions and hoping to win the national league for the second time in two years, had a disastrous year and finished last. Just “one of those things in football”. But who could have told that?

This Saturday, the Brasileirão starts. Magazines, newspaper and TV stations are going to have their predictions. Who will be the Champion? Who will be relegated? And who will qualify for the Libertadores? Loads of people are going to have their say and they’ll all get it wrong. But some things are certain: two or three teams that nobody is expecting will do well; one or two big clubs with big budgets and famous players will finish near the bottom of the table, to the despair of their fans. Another thing is certain. All the specialists will put my Coritba between 11th and 16th. Too good for relegation but not good enough for anything else. It’s always like that….

It must be fair: I agree with the prediction for Coritiba. That is our place, at least for now. Things were different. Until 1989, the sad year when we were relegated, we were a big club in Brazilian football. In 1985 when we were Champions, Corinthians, Santos, Cruzeiro and Botafogo hadn’t even won a national title. In the rankings at the time we were right up there. Unfortunately wow were an average club, destined to the bottom half of the table. This year should be like that. Next year too.

But I’m a fan. And that means that I have that irrational tendency to be optimistic. Despite thinking Coritiba will make up the numbers, I’ll always dream of a big season, a Libertadores spot, or fight for the title. The sensation is stronger than me. The images of glory are stuck in my head, hypnotising me, making me imagine glorious victories even though nothing says they will come. What to do? That’s what being a fan is all about…

If in 2012 I don’t have many reasons to feed my ambitions, in the next few years I do. The economy and demography are on my side. Curitiba is the fourth richest city in Brazil. In 2025, the city is forecast to have 4.5 million inhabitants, 35% more than today. That’s a lot of people, and a lot of earnings potential for the club. In 2011, Coritiba had good financial results and surpassed Botafogo. That’s not to be underestimated. The club has 27,000 members and the directors are talking about a new stadium. Hopefully! I think that the club is on the right track and soon, we’ll have the money to compete near the top of the table. Then, the Brasileirão would be more fun for me again!

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Flamengo – by Andrew, Carioca and Flamenguista who lives in the US

Flamengo enters this year’s league after an extremely disappointing first semester. They almost managed a miraculous qualification to the knockout rounds of the Libertadores until Emelec accomplished something truly miraculous – they came back from a 2-1 deficit in Paraguay in a matter of minutes to win the game 3-2 in the final minute. In the Carioca, which Flamengo tends to do very well in on a yearly basis, they were knocked out by rivals Vasco in a thrilling match. Flamenguistas have not since convincing football from their side since the first half of last year’s league.

In goal, Felipe will get the nod for his second straight season at Flamengo. Recently, he has come down with a virus and that opens up an opportunity for a good backup in Paulo Victor. He’ll likely see some work throughout the course of the year. Marcelo Lomba’s loan is coming towards an end at Bahia, and if he does not renew, he could be another option in goal. He’s become a fan favourite for the Salvador side during his time there.

Flamengo’s biggest weakness since the 2009 campaign has been its backline. Marcos Gonzalez was signed this year coming off an excellent season with Universidad de Chile. He was voted by a Uruguayan magazine as the best defender in South America last year. Since his time at Fla, he has alternated good and bad performances. Unfortunately for Gonzalez, Flamengo does not have any quality centre backs to pair with him. Welinton is well known for his constant blunders over year, but due to the lack of quality options, he continues to see time. Gustavo is set for a loan spell at Atletico-GO, after helping blow big leads in games in the Libertadores. David Braz, who never established himself during his time here, was dealt in part of the deal for Santos’ Ibson. Flamengo attempted to sign Juan from Roma, but was unable to convince him to get out of his contract early. The only possible help on the horizon is Criciuma’s Anderson Conceicao. Flamengo is expected to use some players from their youth system at centreback, such as Frauches and Marllon.

At wingback, Flamengo has the reliable Leo Moura returning for his 8th season with the team. On the left, the situation is uncertain. The media outlets have been reporting a possible transfer or Junior Cesar to Atletico-MG. If that materializes, Flamengo may recall Egidio from his loan with Goias. That would leave Flamengo with two unproven players in Egidio and Magal. To backup Leo Moura, Flamengo signed the Carioca’s revelation of the year – Wellington from Resende. Galhardo, who has had spells with Brazil’sUnder-20, has gone to Santos in the Ibson deal.

With his loan expiring at the end of June, Flamengo was ableto renew Airton’s deal for one year. This move was critical because Flamengo lacks a defensive midfielder who is a strong marker. Flamengo has been rumoured to sign Paraguayan defensive midfielder Caceres from Libertad. Willians has accepted a transfer move that will send him to Italy to play for Udinese. He was a top ball winner in the league in previous years, but many felt, including me, that his time has come to an end. Flamengo also have Luiz Antonio and Muralha, who have shown signs of promise and some growing pains. In the attacking roles, Flamengo have a plethora of options. The most obvious name that comes to mind is Ronaldinho Gaucho, whose spell at Flamengo has been up and down. He hasn’t shown the consistency to justify his high salary. Flamengo have acquired Ibson from Santos, who has been quite successful at Flamengo in the past. Other options include: Bottinelli (who was almost dealt to Cruzeirofor defender Victorino), Renato Abreu (a fans favourite, although plenty of fans dislike him), Camacho, Kleberson (has shown good form in the Carioca) and Adryan (Flamengo’s most promising youth player).

To headline Flamengo’s attacking option is Vagner Love. In his last passage for the Rubro Negro, he established himself as a lethal scorer. Earlier this year, Flamengo went out and spent a considerable chunk ofcash to bring him back. He’ll be expected to be near the top of the goal scoring charts this season. His strike partner will most likely be Deivid. Deivid had a decent campaign last year, scoring 15 goals; however, he is remembered for the easy goals he has missed. He didn’t do much to help his case this year after missing a point blank sitter vs. Vasco in the Taca Rio semifinals. Flamengo fan favourite Adriano may sign on later during the year, depending on how well his recovery goes from his Achilles’ tendon. Other attacking options include: Diego Mauricio, Lucas and Negueba (a Joel Santana favourite coming off the bench).

Joel Santana will be leading the squad in the league, but I have my doubts that he will last the whole season. He was almost fired prior to the league because of Flamengo’s performance in the Carioca and Libertadores. Depending on how well Flamengo starts off, he may see an early exit.

In conclusion, it wouldn’t be crazy to say that Flamengo could possibly fight for one of the top spots in this upcoming league, if they can acquire a quality defender and fix some issues. At the same token, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say they may finish a few spots above the relegation zone either.

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Corinthians – by Corinthians fan Andre who lives in the US @lebrazil

Corinthians certainly is one of the favorites in the Serie A point system. The returning 2011 champions have continued their impressive run as the only unbeaten squad in the Libertadores cup and the best regular season campaign in the state championship (until their unusual loss in the first round of the playoffs). The big question will be transfers: who stays, who goes and who comes?

The group is largely intact and that means consistency as long as that remains true. One of the secrets to their success is their time playing together along with strict adherence to coach’s strategy. This is an extremely competitive squad much to coach Tite’s credit.  His unusual style of benching any player regardless of status and putting only the best player at that moment in the field created an extremely competitive environment where every player appreciates and works hard for every opportunity because “you never know when your chance will come up”. Despite the potential for antagonism they are an unified, serious and professional group. To some, coach Tite seems to have the magic touch but when you get it right so often luck can’t be the reason. A winning team, a smart coach and a consistent performer make this squad one to watch as a likely top contender for a 6th title.

Corinthians also has lots of weaknesses. This Corinthians team is notorious for having a low goal scoring average. Many argue that since Ronaldo’s departure they have not had an offensive reference. While on one hand goals are scored by a lot of different players, on the other there is no star offensive player that can decide a game. Last year’s acquisition of Portuguese national Liedson (born and raised in Brasil) paid off in 2011 but he hasn’t been the same since his knee surgery and is at a low point in his waining career to the point of being benched.

Big names linked with a potential sale to Europe include national team level players like defensive midfielders Ralf and Paulinho as well as defender Leandro Castan all of which contribute to Corinthians’ best in country defense (they are unbeaten in the Libertadores).

Aging players Liedson, Alessandro, Emerson, Danilo, Fabio Santos become potential liabilities because of injuries and a tough schedule.

Edenilson, the defensive midfielder who was improvised as right back during Alessandro’s absence has undergone foot surgery and is expected back in 2-3 months

The lack of a strong sponsor and difficulty hiring great new players may be a big problem too. So far this year we’ve had 3 low impact signings:

– forward Adilson comes from XV de piracicaba

– right back Guilherme comes from Ponte  Preta on loan

– and how could we forget 陈志钊, aka Chen Zhizhao from china who is largely a marketing stunt

Look for a shaky start for as long as they are in the running of the Libertadores, their number 1 priority this season. Until then coach Tite is likely to use the reserve team for the Brasileirão. Keep in mind that Corinthians B team played many state league games and won. Since the first game is against Fluminense it is quite possible that this will be a bench derby since both teams have “do or die” return games for a spot in the semis of the Libertadores.

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Sao Paulo – by Tricolor fan Thiago

The Tricolor do Morumbi (Sao Paulo’s nickname in Portuguese) are coming in strongly to this Championship. The coach, and ex-selecao goalkeeper Emerson Leao, seems to have given confidence to the team (the only one who has won it three years in a row). The team has a distinct style with tighter marking than last year.

With Lucas in charge of playmaking and goalscorer Luis Fabiano up front, Sao Paulo are hoping to improve on their position last year and qualify for the Copa Libertadores this team round, a competition they are used to playing in.

Sao Paulo does in theory have a good team but lacks strength in depth like Corinthians and Fluminense who are favourites for the tournament this year.

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Palmeiras – by Kristian Bengtson, a Swede who lives in Brazil and writes the excellent blog http://anythingpalmeiras.com/, @AnyPalmeiras

The Brazilian Championship anno 2012 is taking off this coming Sunday, but there’s not much optimism in sight for a Palmeiras supporter. 2012kicked off pretty well with the team reaching April without knowing defeat, but suddenly confidence was out the window and the Verdão were eliminated from the São Paulo championship by Guarani already in the quarter-finals.

We’ve seen it before: Palmeiras’ biggest enemy are Palmeiras. Internal political disputes and an amateurish management create tension that flourish at any moment, directly influencing team spirit and confidence, throwing everything into a flat spin.

In addition to Scolari at the moment not having good enough options on the bench to survive a long tournament like the Brasileirão, he doesn’t quite seem the coach he used to be. Criticism is also increasing in relation to his reluctance to give promising players from the youth academy a shot, especially now in times of financial restrictions. Current fix stars in the squad include playmakers Valdivia and Daniel Carvalho; forwards Barcos and Maikon Leite, and centre-back Henrique. Unwritten cards include recently signed forward Mazinho and midfielder Wesley, recovering from knee surgery. Goalkeeper Deola is in the freezer, giving second keeper Bruno the opportunity of a life time. Let’s hope he grabs it in every way possible.

Considering the above, palmeirenses are instead betting their chips on the Brazilian Cup, as this is the shortest route to the Libertadores Cup. Palmeiras are in the quarter-finals, having drawn 2-2 agains tAtlético Paranaense last Wednesday , playing the second leg on the 23rd.The winner goes on to face either Grêmio or Bahia. If Palmeiras fail to bring the Brazil Cup trophy home, fighting for the top four positions in this year’s Brazilian championship might ultimately prove a little bit too optimistic.

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Santos – by Santos fan Giuliano

Muricy recently said in an interview “In the Brasileirao, teams compete absolutely on an equal footing. We often see a team which was deemed to be among the favorites at the beginning, struggling to avoid going to Série B in the end. Unlike La Liga and Premier League, it is not realistic to expect a long series of wins, so you must sum points as soon as possible.” I totally agree with that. Due to the extensive number of games in the first half of the year, many teams that get to the final stages of Copa do Brasil and Libertadores (so it is reasonable to assume they are the best teams around), perform poor at the national championship. When those cups end, they usually have lost many points for using substitutes in Brasileirao. That applies exactly to Santos this year. Of course the fans hope to win this title as well, but besides the Libertadores period, we will miss Neymar, Ganso and Rafael during the Olympics as well. If the substitutes manage to maintain themselves within the first 7 or 8 teams until august, I really see ourselves as favorites. With Felipe Anderson and Renteria/Borges replacing Ganso and Neymar, we will lose much, but I think we will still be at a good level to compete in Brasileirao.

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So there you have it, the inside track from Brazil. Thank you kindly to all of the contributors. That’s all I’ve got I’m afraid. If I haven’t done your team and you’ve got something to say about them, leave a comment below or get in touch I we can arrange a follow up post!

My predictions? Well, I was horribly wrong last year (like most other people to be fair) but here’s my punt for the top five this year: Santos, Fluminense, Corinthians, Sao Paulo, Internacional.

Also see my old post: Why the Brazilian Championship is so hard to predict.

For a bit more history on the Serie A, there is always Wikipedia.

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And in case you haven’t voted yet, have your say:

13 thoughts on “Serie A kick-off: A fans’ preview

  1. Nice post indeed. Good work, Brian. It’s good to see how other fellow fans look at the tournament.

    Cruzeiro started off with a goalless draw against Atlético/GO. But we improved from the last games, so that gives me a little hope. 🙂

    • Thanks Christiano and thanks for your contribution. Yeah, not the best result for Cruzeiro on the opening day. Lets hope the fans give Celso Roth some time.

      So I had Montillo in my FC Cartola team this week and he didn’t do very well at all 🙁

      Are you playing? http://cartolafc.globo.com I’ve got a league going called Brazilfooty – if you’re playing why dont you join!

  2. Its a shame the CBF is such a joke of an organization. How can they start the Brasileirão so soon after the state championships? Not to mention the final stages of the Libertadores are underway! The fans deserve more and the teams that are doing well shouldn’t be penalized. They should really rethink the schedule

    • hahaha, that Jorge Henrique clip is hilarious!!!

      What a surprise that Ronaldinho went to Atletico-MG. Might work out well for him since the nightlife in Belo Horizonte isn’t that good – perhaps he’ll focus more on playing football. They have a really impressive team now: Rever, Jo, Ronaldinho, Richarlyson, Andre, Pierre just to name a few.

  3. I can’t wait to see the next wave of stars in Adryan, Mattheus, Douglas Baggio, Frauches (Flamengo), Emerson (Santos), Ademilson (Sao Paulo), Andrigo, Nathan (Internacional), Andrey (Fluminese), and Leandrinho (Santos).

    • You clearly look deep Jasinhosa – Ive heard of just three of those guys (Adryna, Mattheus and Ademilson). Looking forward to seeing any young talents emerge in Brazil. I saw Adryan and Mattheus play for Flamengo today. Adryan in particular looks very promising. Very young but not afraid to try things, even in a Fla-Flu (Flamengo vs Fluminense derby) match.

      Wellington Nem was very impressive for Flu.

      • Also watch for Ely from AC Milan… he should be breaking through to the first team next season.

        A very promising center back.

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