Série A 2017 preview

Will Diego recover from injury and lead Flamengo to the title? (Mowa Press)

Brazilfooty is back and the Brazilian 2017 Série A kicks off this weekend. To mark both of these highly auspicious events in global football, Brazilfooty has prepared an in-depth Série A review. It has been a herculean effort for a part-time blogger: social plans were cancelled; reluctant support from an unimpressed girlfriend was obtained; football almanacs were dusted off and scanned from cover to cover; match reports read; team rosters inspected; fan forums observed; journalists interviewed; hours of TV footage reviewed; player dossiers complied; and an excessive amount of stroking of the chin while looking ponderously into the air and uttering ‘hmmmmm’ was done. The result is a thorough review of all 20 Série A teams.

The Brazilian domestic championship is like no other. There is no top two like there is in Spain. No top six like there is in England. Its anybody’s game. Look at Palmeiras: relegated in 2012, promoted in 2013 and league winners in 2016. I attempted to explain why the Championship was so hard to predict back in 2011. And since it is so difficult, I thought I would give it a shot anyway.

But before we get to that, let me add that the SérieA is exotic, it is exciting and it is unpredictable. Fans are passionate. The atmosphere at games can be amazing. Stars of the future are unearthed every year. So what’s in store this time around?

Reining Champions Palmeiras will be the team to beat, but teams in Brazil often find it hard to sustain success. Palmeiras have a very good squad, but I do not think that they will win it. After losing their star player Gabriel Jesus at the end of last year, and losing their coach Cuca, who resigned in December only to be reappointed last week, their preparation has been far from ideal. The additional burden of Copa Libertadores matches will also be tiresome for their squad.

The usual big guns of Corinthians, São Paulo and Cruzeiro don’t have Libertadores commitments this year and may fancy their chances due to that. Corinthians were the most impressive out of those three this season’s state championships. São Paulo have potential, but it is taking time for their new coach Rogerio Ceni to get his ideas across. Internacional, one of Brazil’s big names, were relegated last year and will play in the Série B in 2017.

In terms of potential stars of the future, the big name to look out for this year is Vinicius Junior, of Flamengo. This kid is just 16 years old and subject of an apparent 45 million euro bid from Real Madrid. Yet he hasn’t even kicked a first team ball in anger in his fledgling career to date. Expect that to be change soon though after he was promoted to the first team squad this week. Expect him to be unleashed on unsuspecting defenders this year. And and when he does get his chance he is likely to partner Paulo Guerrero (Peru and ex-Bayern Munich) in attack, while Diego (seleção and ex-Athletico Madrid) will supply the ammunition to them both.

Diego was in great form before he got injured a few weeks ago. The latest report was that he would be out for six weeks. Assuming he does make a swift recovery, I think that Flamengo will be the Champions this year. For a preview of Flamengo and all of the 19 other clubs in the competition; prospects, probable starting line up, key player and one to watch, read on.

Flamengo

My prediction: 1st

Bookies odds: 9/1

Position last year: 3rd

Coach: Zé Ricardo

Talisman: Paolo Guerrero

One to watch: Vinicius Junior

Possible starting XI:

Alex Muralha; Pará, Réver, Rafael Vaz, Trauco; Márcio Araújo, Willian Arão, Mancuello, Diego; Paulo Guerrero, Everton

My thoughts:

This could be Flamengo’s year. The club have been steadily improving and have now assembled a strong squad . Their talisman Diego recently got injured, but assuming he recovers soon they will be in with a shout. Paulo Guerrero is one of the best strikers in the league and they have several full Brazil internationals (Leandro Damião, Rômulo, Juan) who cannot even make the team. Argentine star Conca is in their tanks although is out injured at the moment. Exciting young prospect Vinicius Junior, who is subject of a 45 million euro bid from Real Madrid, is only 16 and hasn’t even made his professional debut yet. But I expect Flamengo to unleash him this soon. (His supposed transfer to Madrid would only happen when he turns 18).

Watch out for this kid (Mowa Press)

Grêmio

My prediction: 2nd

Bookies odds: 10/1

Position last year: 9th

Coach: Renato Gaúcho

Talisman: Léo Moura

One to watch: Lincoln

Possible starting XI:

Marcelo Grohe; Léo Moura, Kannemann, Pedro Geromel, Marcelo Oliveira; Ramiro, Maicon, Jailson; Luan, Pedro Rocha, Lucas Barrios

My thoughts:

A ninth place finish last year is slightly misleading since the club spent the last few weeks of the season focusing their energies on the Brazilian Cup, which they won. The evergreen Léo Moura is their star man, in my opinion. I have selected him at right back, but he may well end up playing further forward and is capable of creating chances and scoring goals like the most self-respecting of Brazilian full backs. Their most marketable player is Luan, who is 24 years old and said to be attracting attention from Barcelona. I’m not quite sure whether he is a genius or overrated. Either way, there is a good chance that he ends up moving to Europe this year, which would be a blow to Grêmio’s hopes of winning the league. Lucas Barrios knows where the net is and is firing on all cylinders at the moment and they also have Pedro Rocha who can put the ball in the net. Overall, the team has a very healthy mixture of youth and experience and the squad has depth. The team even looks very strong without playmaker Douglas, who is out injured.

How do Palmeiras replace Gabriel Jesus? (Mowa Press)

Palmeiras

My prediction: 3rd

Bookies odds: 61/10

Position last year: 1st

Coach: Cuca

Talisman: Felipe Melo

One to watch: Yerry Mina

Possible starting XI:

Fernando Prass; Jean, Yerry Mina, Vitor Hugo, Michel Bastos; Tchê Tchê, Felipe Melo, Alejandro Guerra; Willian, Dudu, Borja

My thoughts:

Last year’s winners have got strength in depth and one of the best squads in Brazil. Nevertheless, they have lost their star player Gabriel Jesus, who moved to Manchester City in December. Cuca, their coach, is a fans favourite after winning the Série A last year, but preparations for this campaign have been far from ideal. Cuca resigned at the end of last season, citing personal reasons, only for his replacement, Eduardo Baptista, to be fired in May, and for Cuca to return to the club. They lost miserably to Ponte Preta in the São Paulo State Championship semi final (3 – 1 on aggregate), but have had a good Libertadores campaign to date. Felipe Melo has become the team’s talisman. The front three of Dudu, Willian and Borja know where the back of the net is, but it remains to be seen whether they can gel as a unit. Now that Gabriel Jesus has gone, I feel that the team is missing a star.

 

Corinthians

My prediction: 4th

Bookies odds: 10/1

Position last year: 7th

Coach: Fábio Carille

Talisman:

One to watch: Léo Jabá

Possible starting XI:

Cássio; Fagner, Balbuena, Pedro, Guilherme Arana; Maycon, Gabriel, Rodriguinho, Jadson; Jô, Ángel Romero

My thoughts:

After a very disappointing season last year, this Corinthians team looks more solid and more like the Corinthians teams of previous years. (They were Champions in 2011 and 2015). Rodriguinho and Jadson are a quality attacking midfield pairing and the signing of Jô has reinvigorated the attack. But the squad looks to be lacking in quality replacements if either of them get injured. A few quality young players are breaking into the team including Guilherme Arana, Maycon and Léo Jabá. They won the São Paulo State Championship, but were knocked out of the Brazilian Cup by Internacional.

 

Santos

My prediction: 5th

Bookies odds: 10/1

Position last year: 2nd

Coach: Dorival Júnior

Talisman: Ricardo Oliveira

One to watch: Lucas Veríssimo

Possible starting XI:

Vanderlei; Victor Ferraz, Lucas Veríssimo, David Braz, Zeca; Renato, Thiago Maia, Lucas Lima; Ricardo Oliveira, Bruno Henrique, Vitor Bueno

My thoughts:

As ever, top quality young talent continues to roll off the Santos academy’s production line. The current batch of top quality young players includes Zeca, Thiago Maia and Vitor Bueno, all of whom helped Santos finish second in the league last year. Lucas Lima is a first-class playmaker and current Brazil international. Meanwhile, Ricardo Oliveira is fit again and although he is 36 years old, he remains one of the best finishers in Brazil. 22-year old centre back Lucas Veríssimo has broken into the team this season, while Arthur Gomes, an 18-year old forward, is another one to watch. But with Libertadores commitments this year, the squad looks quite thin. Moreover, the club are said to have financial difficulties so they may be more likely to sell one of their star players than add new faces. Hard to see them repeating last year’s heights of 2nd.

 

São Paulo

My prediction: 6th

Bookies odds: 8/1

Position last year: 10th

Coach: Rogerio Ceni

Talisman: Jucilei

One to watch: Luiz Araújo

Possible starting XI:

Renan Ribeiro; Buffarini, Maicon, Rodrigo Caio, Júnior Tavares; Jucilei, Thiago Mendes, Cueva, Cícero; Lucas Pratto, Wellington Nem

My thoughts:

New first team coach and club legend Rogerio Ceni has a tough task on his hand to revitalise this São Paulo team and get them challenging for honours again. He is doing things differently by, for example, adding English coach Michael Beale (ex-Chelsea and Liverpool) to his team. It may take some time for his fresh ideas to pay off. But if any coach will be given time with this club it is is Rogerio Ceni; he was their goalkeeper for 20 years, club captain for many of them and scored more than 100 goals (a goalscoring keeper – that’s right!). That being said, patience is in short supply in football. And it is even shorter supply in Brazilian football; and the pressure is rising after defeats to Cruzeiro (in the Brazilian Cup) and Corinthians (in the State Championship). The club have experienced players like Maicon, Jucilei, Cuevas and Lucas Pratto, but Ceni is struggling to make them gel. Ironically, the area of the pitch that needs strengthening most is in goal, where Renan Ribeiro is unconvincing.

 

Atlético-MG

My prediction: 7th

Position last year: 4th

Bookies odds: 6/1

Coach: Roger Machado

Talisman: Fred

One to watch: Gabriel

Possible starting XI:

Victor; Marcos Rocha, Leonardo Silva, Gabriel, Fábio Santos; Rafael Carioca, Elias, Maicosuel, Marlone; Fred, Robinho

My thoughts:

They are the bookies favourites, possibly due to their very impressive results in the Copa Libertadores – where they have scored 13 goals in five games. But while those results were impressive, they were slightly flattering according to reports. They have a very solid and complete team, but it is looking a little old and I don’t see many young players coming through. Seventh place is a controversial prediction but I suspect that they could end up going all the way in the Libertadores, in which case I think their league campaign will suffer, as the old legs get tired and players are rested. Seleção strikers Fred and Robinho lead the line; Robinho was called up not too long ago; surprisingly, after the worldwide flack he received for his performances at the World Cup, some are calling for Fred to be recalled to the national team. I expect Fred to score a lot of goals in the domestic league but surely the selecao can find somebody better to fill the number 9 jersey. Gabriel Jesus, for example, will do just fine for me.

 

Cruzeiro

My prediction: 8th

Bookies odds: 7/1

Position last year: 12th

Coach: Mano Menezes

Talisman: Thiago Neves

One to watch: Lucas Silva

Possible starting XI:

Fábio; Mayke, Leo, Luis Caicedo, Diogo Barbosa; Hudson, Henrique, Thiago Neves, Arrascaeta, Rafinha; Rafael Sobis

My thoughts:

Look set to improve on last year’s disappointing 12th place finish. But I think some pundits are getting carried away by expecting big things from this Cruzeiro side – the bookies make them third favourites! Their squad is decent – with a few big names – but it lacks depth and dynamism in my opinion. They also look light up front. Mano Menezes is an experienced coach though and this Cruzeiro team will be solid.

 

Fluminense

My prediction: 9th

Bookies odds: 11/1

Position last year: 13th

Coach: Abel Braga

Talisman: Gustavo Scarpa

One to watch: Richarlison

Possible starting XI:

Diego Cavalieri; Lucas, Renato Chaves, Henrique, Léo; Orejuela, Wendel, Sonorza, Gustavo Scarpa; Richarlison, Wellington Silva

My thoughts:

The pundits were writing off Fluminense before a ball was even kicked this year: Fluminense had a bad year in 2016, there was little money in the kitty and nobody got very excited about the appointment of Abel Braga as their coach. But the team has surprised many and reached the final of the Rio State Championship playing some good football on the way. They have pace in attack with Richarlison, who looks like a real prospect, and former Arsenal player Wellington Silva. They also have an energetic midfield with the Ecuadorians Sonorza and Orejuela in the engine room. Their star player is Gustavo Scarpa, a left back come left wing (ala Gareth Bale of Brazilian football) has been out of action with an injury since February. They will need him back soon. The concern is that the side has a lack of strength in depth. I expect a small improvement on last year’s finish.

 

Botafogo

My prediction: 10th

Bookies odds: 20/1

Position last year: 5th

Coach: Jair Ventura

Talisman: Jefferson

One to watch: Guilherme

Possible starting XI:

Jefferson; Emerson Santos, Joel Carli, Emerson Silva, Victor Luis; Airton, João Paulo, Camilo; Sassá, Guilherme, Rodrigo Pimpão

My thoughts:

Botafogo were punching above their weight last year, finishing fifth in the league with modest resources and a small squad. They have been doing alright this season too, but suffered a surprise defeat at home to Barcelona from Ecuador in the fourth group game of the Libertadores campaign. One victory in their last two games will see them progress in that competition, but with more games this year, their small squad will be stretched. It is also rumoured that Sassá, a key player who scored a lot of goals last year, is agitating for a move. A top half finish will be tough.

 

Sport

My prediction: 11th

Bookies odds: 50/1

Position last year: 14th

Coach: Ney Franco

Talisman: Diego Souza

One to watch: Fabrício

Possible starting XI:

Magrão; Samuel Xavier, Ronaldo Alves, Durval, Mena; Fabrício, Ronaldo, Rithely, Diego Souza, Everton Felipe; André

My thoughts:

With a lot of talented young players in their ranks – including the likes of Everton Felipe, Fabrício, Ronaldo, Fábio and Juninho – coach Ney Franco may be just the man for the job. After all, it was Ney Franco that guided Brazil’s u20 team to World Cup glory in 2011. In Diego Souza, Sport have an excellent player at the top of his game. I think they will surprise a few teams this year, although it will be hard to finish in the top ten.

 

Atlético-PR

My prediction: 12th

Bookies odds: 35/1

Position last year: 6th

Coach: Paulo Autuori

Talisman: Lucho Gonzales

One to watch: Matheus Rossetto

Possible starting XI:

Weverton; Zé Ivaldo, Paulo André, Thiago Heleno, Sidcley; Otávio, Lucho González, Nikão, Carlos Alberto; Douglas Coutinho, Eduardo Silva

My thoughts:

Another team that punched above their weight last year, finishing 6th in the league. But like Botafogo, the team is starting to look a little tired after participating in the Libertadores qualifying rounds and playing their first match on 1st Feb; Atlético-PR don’t have the biggest squad to cope with the extra volume of games. They were well-beaten by city rivals Coritiba in the final of the Paranaense State Championship and lost their last Libertadores match 3-0 at home to San Lorenzo. They do have some good players that will be well known to European readers, such as Lucho Gonzalez, Eduardo Silva, Grafite and Carlos Alberto, but they are all nearing the end of their careers.

 

Ponte Preta

My prediction: 13th

Bookies odds: 50/1

Position last year: 8th

Coach: Gilson Kleina

Talisman: Emerson Sheik

One to watch: Clayson

Possible starting XI:

Aranha; Nino Paraíba, Fábio Ferreira, Yago, Reynaldo; Fernando Bob, Elton, Jadson; Lucca, Clayson, Emerson Sheikh

My thoughts:

Ponte Preta are one of the lesser known teams in the division and have never won the Série A. But they have been punching above their weight in recent years, finishing 8th in the Série A last year and getting to the São Paulo State Championship final this year, beating Palmeiras and Santos en route. But I think it will be a struggle for Ponte Preta to finish in the top 10 this year, mainly because their start striker, and last season’s top scorer in the Série A, William Pottker has just signed for Internacional. They have signed 38-year old Emerson Sheikh on a free transfer as a replacement – he has been around the block and done the business, but he has clearly passed his best.

 

Vasco

My prediction: 14th

Bookies odds: 33/1

Position last year: 3rd (Série B)

Coach: Milton Mendes

Talisman: Luis Fabiano

One to watch: Douglas Luiz

Possible starting XI:

Martín Silva; Gilberto, Rodrigo, Rafael Marques, Henrique; Jean, Douglas, Andrezinho, Yago Pikachu, Nenê; Luis Fabiano

My thoughts:

Vasco have a proud history, but they have had mixed fortunes in recent years and have been yo yoing between the Série A and Série B. I expect them to avoid relegation is year, but a top half finish will be tough. There is a gap between them and the top sides in the division. That said, Luis Fabiano may not be as good as he once was, but he still knows how to score goals. Their 18 year old midfielder Douglas Luiz looks like a real prospect. Playmaker Nenê is a class act and wanted by Palmeiras; for Vasco to have any hope of a successful year, they better keep hold of him.

 

Coritiba

My prediction: 15th

Bookies odds: 55/1

Position last year: 15th

Coach: Pachequinho (interim)

Star player: Kléber

One to watch: Rodrigo Ramos

Possible starting XI:

Wilson; Rodrigo Ramos, Werley, Juninho, William Matheus; Alan Santos, Tiago Real, Anderson; Henrique Almeida, Kléber, Neto Berola

My thoughts:

Despite thumping Atletico-PR in the State Championship finals, I think Coritiba will struggle again this year. With the exception of Kleber, I just don’t see much in their team to get excited about. They do have Anderson (ex-Manchester United and seleção) in their ranks but he is not the player he once was. And he never really was all that, was he?

 

Chapecoense

My prediction: 16th

Bookies odds: 75/1

Position last year: 11th

Coach: Vagner Mancini

Talisman: Wellington Paulista

One to watch: João Pedro

Possible starting XI:

Artur Moraes; Apodi, Douglas Grolli, Luiz Otavio, Reinaldo; Andrei Girotto, Nathan, Luiz Antônio; Arthur, Wellington Paulista, Rossi

My thoughts:

Given the tragic plane crash in November, in which nearly their entire first team were killed, Chapecoense have done an incredible job at pulling together a competitive team this year. But not only did Chapecoense have to put together an entire new team this year, they have an additional amount of games to play, given their qualification for the Copa Libertadores for the first time in their history. They are also travelling to Colombia this week to play a Recopa match. The bottom line is that in very difficult circumstances and with all the extra games, avoiding the drop should probably be considered a successful season. They have taken many players on loan – but the squad lacks real quality. Expect the memory of the fallen victims and the pride of playing for the shirt to result in some rousing home performances.

 

Vitória

My prediction: 17th

Bookies odds: 66/1

Position last year: 16th

Coach: Wesley Carvalho (interim)

Talisman: Cleiton Xavier

One to watch: David

Possible starting XI:

Fernando Miguel; Patric, Kanu, Alan Costa, Geferson; Willian Farias, Uillian Correia, Cleiton Xavier; David, André Lima, Kieza

My thoughts:

Sacking your coach just before the season starts is not ideal preparation, but that’s exactly what Vitoria did when they got rid of Argel Fucks (yes, that is not a typo that’s a real name). They have a few good attacking players including Cleiton Xavier, Kieza and André Lima and they also have a few promising young players. Avoiding the drop will be considered a success.

 

Bahia

My prediction: 18th

Bookies odds: 50/1

Position last year: 4th Serie B

Coach: Guto Ferreira

Star player: Hernane

One to watch: Jean

Jean; Eduardo, Tiago, Lucas Fonseca, Armero; Juninho, Edson, Allione, Zé Rafael; Edigar Junio, Hernane

My thoughts:

I have a soft spot for Bahia and even have a Bahia jersey in my wardrobe. Despite this affection, I still expect them to go down.

Avaí

My prediction: 19th

Bookies odds: 100/1

Position last year: 2nd Serie B

Coach: Claudinei Oliveira

Talisman: Marquinhos

One to watch: Maricio

Possible starting XI:

Kozlinski; Leandro Silva, Alemão, Betão, João Paulo; Luan, Judson, Marquinhos; Romulo, Denilson, Júnior Dutra

My thoughts:

It will be a struggle to stay up. I look through the team sheet and think hmmmm….

 

Atlético-GO

My prediction: 20th

Bookies odds: not available

Position last year: 1st Serie B

Coach: Marcelo Cavo

Star player: Júnior Viçosa

One to watch: João Pedro

My thoughts:

The bookies aren’t even offering odds on Atletico-GO winning the title. I wonder why? Its basically free money for them. They did win the Serie B last year (finishing above the likes of Vasco and Bahia) so don’t write them off completely. But their squad looks weak and I’ve hardly heard of any of their players. Did I say 20 teams could win the Serie A this year? Make that 19.

 

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