Can Flamengo really win the league?

Trauco celebrates his equaliser against Fluminense (photo: Flamengo)

Just over a month ago, on the eve of the competition, I predicted Flamengo would win the Série A. But after eight league games played, they have just 11 points, are in 10th position and nine points off the pace. Can they still do it?

Flamengo have dropped points again on Sunday evening. This time they drew 2-2 with city rivals Fluminense in Rio. Flamengo clearly have the better squad and they looked like the better team. But again, they dropped points. In fact, it looked like they were heading home with nothing until Trauco equalised in the 49th minute of the second half.

The first half was terrible. A very poor advert for Brazilian football. Neither side could string a pass together. After an okay opening 15 minutes Flamengo were rubbish for the rest of the half. Fluminense weren’t much better but they just about deserved to take the lead, when talented youngster Wendel broke the offside trap and tapped into an open goal after his initial shot rebounded off the post. He was their best player and it was fitting that he scored their goal. Flamengo would toil away for the rest of the half with little to show.

But they looked looked like a different team at the start of the second half. Vinicius Júnior, that 16-year old kid that Real Madrid have agreed to fork out around £35 million for (the exact figure depends on the exchange rate you use and which newspaper you read) when he turns 18, was hauled off and replaced by Berrío. Berrío immediately added more threat and penetration on the right hand side. Vinicius Júnior is only 16 years old, but considering all of the hype, I’m not gunna lie, I thought he was poor. Not that he was the only one though. The experienced Márcio Araújo was also hauled off too and replaced by Willian Arão, who provided more steel.

The changes worked and Diego began to pull the strings in midfield. And it was him that scored a deserved equaliser for Flamengo, roughly ten minutes into the second half after a goalmouth scramble. Flamengo continued to press and at this point, there only looked like one winner. I became so confident that I placed a £1 bet on that happening! Jinxed.

Berrío had a great chance to score after he beat a few challenges and with just the keeper to beat, but he delayed his shot and somehow shot straight into a defender when it seemed easier to score. Or pass to Paulo Guerrero who was completely unmarked next to him. Flamengo were pressing, but against the run of play, Richarlison latched onto a long ball, straight through the middle – his pace took him past the ageing Juan (ex-seleção), who, together with the keeper took him down. Penalty. The only surprise was that neither Juan or Thiago, the 21-year old keeper, were sent off. Henrique Dourado, the league’s leading scorer with eight goals, slotted home the penalty for Flu.

The rhythm of the game didn’t change much after that and Flamengo continued to attack. But just when it seemed like they had run out of ideas, Trauco, their left back, who had been impressive all game, snapped a left footed shot through a crowd of players on the edge of the box, which bounced cruelly before the keeper and popped up into the net. Nothing the keeper could do, but a deserved equaliser for Flamengo, probably, based on the balance of play.

What now then? Flamengo might have some of the best players, but they continue to struggle to break teams down. On paper, their defence looks like the problem. But in fact, its their attack that where the problem lies, at least in terms of the stats. They’ve only scored 10 goals in eight games compared with Grêmio, who have scored 21 goals in eight games and drew 3-3 with Cruzeiro last night. Even Corinthians, who play a much more defensive style of football, have scored 14 goals in their eight games. Flamengo fans blame the coach Zé Ricardo. The rumour was that if he had lost this match, he would have been sacked. With the draw, and a spirited fightback and a good second half performance, he has probably earned himself a little more time in the job.

Nine points is a fairly large gap so early in the campaign. But it is not insurmountable and I still think that Flamengo can win the league, for three reasons. First, key players are returning from injury and international duty. Diego, their talisman, made his first start of the league campaign against Fluminense and he was impressive, and made Flamengo tick. Dario Conca is also coming back from injury and made only his second league appearance in that match. They also missed Paulo Guerrero for three games, who was away for three matches with the Peruvian national team.

Second, they continue to improve the squad. Rhodolfo (ex-Grêmio and São Paulo) has just arrived from Besiktas, who is an experienced defender and will be an improvement on Juan or Rafael Vaz at centre back. They also just bought Éverton Ribeiro, who will improve the attack and is close to making his debut.

Third, they are hard to beat. I know Flamengo haven’t clicked so far, but they have only lost one out of their eight games – the same as Grêmio and only one less than Corinthians. This resilience will do them good later in the campaign. And once their returning players, new signings and Vinicius Júnior start to click, I expect them to start turning draws into victories.

As for Fluminense, you have to feel for them. Their squad is thin and after suffering a few more injuries against Flamengo, it is now down to its bare bones. Richarlison, their young star striker, asked for a transfer and wants to move to Palmeiras. That request was turned down and the player, to be fair, has got on with his job and not thrown his toys of the pram. A few European clubs like the look of Henrique Dourado, or at least they think they like the look of him and know that he is the leagues’ top scorer. Flu might just be tempted to cash in if they receive a decent offer.

Their midfielder Wendel is an excellent young player and I think it is only a matter of time before a bigger club comes sniffing. For now though Abel Braga is doing a fine job and Fluminense are sitting in 10th place in the table. I know Fluminense fans would like a bit more and they are one of Brazil’s big clubs. But given their finances and the state of their squad, 10th place is about as good as they can really hope for, for now.

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