Corinthians continued their excellent form by beating Grêmio on Sunday, and opening up a four point lead at the top of the Série A. They don’t play the sort of football that you might associate with Brazilian league leaders – its more like the stuff that Arrigo Sacchi would be proud of. But they are well organised, hardly concede any goals and know how to win football matches. On current form, nobody will stop them. Can they keep it up?
Normally, beating your nearest rivals away from home and opening up a four point lead at the top of the table would be enough to shut up the critics. For a little while, at least, surely. But this is Brazil and this is Corinthians. And straight after the game pundits were claiming that they won’t win due to the sort of football they are playing. Too defensive. Too boring. And too lucky.
They might not be playing the free flowing sort of champagne football that you’d normally expect from the league leaders in Brazil. I suppose a sort of Barcelona-esque style would be more appropriate. Or the seleção team of team of 1982. That would be nice. But back in the real world, it doesn’t really work like that.
This Corinthians team don’t play the most expansive football but that doesn’t mean they aren’t very good and won’t win the league. If anything this is exactly the sort of football that champions play. Since I started this blog seven years ago, Corinthians’ teams have been defined by their resilience, organisation and application. Substance over style have been the hallmarks of the team’s success over this period.
Start with their defence. They have only conceded five goals in the first ten league games. Their back four of Fagner, Balbuena, Pablo and Guilherme Arana is formidable. Cassio, in goal, is solid and calm. Against Grêmio they were perhaps unlucky not to have conceded at least one goal. Luan, Grêmio’s star man, fired straight at Cassio when it looked easier to score midway through the second half. The same player also had his weak penalty saved eight minutes from time after Marquinhos Gabriel had a rush of blood to the head and gave away a ridiculous penalty. Pedro Geromel missed a sitter for Gremio in the first half too. But restricting Grêmio to three good chances, on their own turf, is no mean feat. After all, before yesterday, Grêmio had scored 23 goals in nine games.
Corinthians win on Sunday was no fluke: they keep finding a way to grind out results and win matches. They generally restrict teams to very few chances with Gabriel and Maycon providing the screen in front of with their well-drilled back four. And while they don’t play the most expansive football, their attacking quartet of Rodriguinho, Jadson, Jí´ and íngel Romero are quality players. More often than not they take their chances when it counts. They don’t do the tiki taka but they can pull off some brilliant moves, at high speed, reminding me, a bit, of Chelsea under Antonio Conte. Corinthians have been winning most of their games 1-0, but when the opposition do manage to find the net, just like Sao Paulo did in the recent derby, Corinthians will find a way to score more: they won that match 3-2.
It is no coincidence then that Corinthians are now the bookies favourites to win the league. The win on Sunday was their eighth victory in their last nine league matches following their disappointing opening day draw with Chapecoense (who, incidentally, after topping the log after four games have lost five out of their last six games and have fallen down to 13th place).
I’m not ready to throw in the towel on my Flamengo tip and I certainly wouldn’t write off Grêmio just yet, or Palmeiras, who have crept up to fourth after a slow start.
As for Gremio, I was very impressed with Luan on Sunday, despite his penalty miss; he is widely considered to be the best player in Brazil and is tipped for a move to Europe soon. He creates a ton of chances for Grêmio nearly every game. Whether is will succeed in Europe, if he goes, remains to be seen. I fear that his seemingly languid style is not suited to the faster pace of European football, especially the Premier League. Would he have the same sort of difficulty to adapt that Ganso is having at Sevilla, I wonder?
They also have other good players, like Pedro Rocha, Pedro Geromel and Leo Moura. But their whole team is good and they have stregnth in depth.
Flamengo managed to beat Bahia 1-0 in Salvador. That is an excellent result, but Flamengo were anything but convincing. Bahia had dominated the game until they had a man sent off in the first half. And they continued to create the better chances after that. Flamengo scored against the run of play through Berrío, midway through the second half. Vinicius Junior came on for his tenth league appearance, but again failed to light up the match. But hey ho. A win is a win. Just ask Corinthians.
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