Grêmio‘s slip against Botafogo in the Serie A last weekend, after fielding a weakened side, brought up that old question: is it right to rest players in the league to keep them fresh for midweek Copa Libertadores games?
On their day, Grêmio have the best team and are capable of playing the best football in Brazil. They won last year’s Copa Libertadores in style and have some of the continents best players – Luan, Arthur, Pedro Geromel, Everton, etc. But since the start of last season, nearly every time the team has had an important Libertadores match during the week, they field a weakened team in the Brazilian Serie A on the weekend. This year appears to be no different.
Against Botafogo in Rio last Saturday Renato Gaúcho rested Arthur, Pedro Geromel and others. Luan started but that was to get him match fit since he’s been struggling with an injury. It was an open game, which both teams could have won, but ultimately it was settled by this fine strike by Gilson in second half injury time. 2-1 to Botafogo.
Gilson’s last minute winner v Grêmio pic.twitter.com/btE5FEsI4B
— brazilfooty.com (@brazilfooty) April 28, 2018
Of course, there is no guarantee that Grêmio would have won against Botafogo if they had fielded their strongest team and we can only speculate what would have happened. They certainly would have stood a better chance though. When they did field the strongest side in the Copa Libertadores on Tuesday against Cerro Porteño, they won the game 5-0. This obviously begs the questions – did they need to rest players against Botafogo? Would they have won both games had they played the same starting XI in both games? Could they have fielded reserves against Cerro Porteño and won that match anyway?
Ultimately, the answer to those questions is a matter of opinion, but since Botafogo away looks like a much tougher match on paper than Cerro Porteño at home, it seems clear that once again Renato Gaúcho is prioritising the Libertadores over the national league. Last year they finished fourth in the league, ten points behind winners Corinthians (who didn’t have the distraction of a Libertadores campaign). The amount of points they dropped by fielding weakened teams in the league was probably more than that – it seems that the Serie A is being sacreficed once again.
Not every manager chops and changes as much as Renato Gaúcho. Palmeiras coach Roger Machado has said that he will go with full strength teams in both competitions this year. And so far it has worked, at least in the Copa Libertadores; the team qualified for the second round with two group matches to spare after beating Boca Juniors in the Bombonera. That result gave them the luxury of resting players in their remaining two Libertadores matches (one of which they have already won with their reserves). Their results in the league have been mixed though. Is that because players are tired after playing and travelling during the week? Or is this because the Brazilian league is of a higher quality than the international competitions? Perhaps a bit of both.
European clubs don’t rest players as much even though some of them have Champions League games midweek and important national games on the weekend. Do European clubs have better sports science, which aides recovery times? No. Travel times and distances are longer in South America than they are in Europe and even some domestic Brazilian matches require teams to fly more than three hours. That reason supports more resting of players in South America. Also, sometimes there are tropical downpours in Brazil meaning that games are played on waterlogged pitches, which gives players heavy legs. The state of the pitches is better and unlike Brazil they don’t suffer tropical downpours. That favours more player resting in South America.
Ultimately though, I think there is no right answer to this question and things need to be considered on a match by match basis. If I was a Brazilian coach I would be inclined to tweak my team on a match to match basis like some Brazilian sides do. But in some league matches last year Grêmio would rest all 11 of their starting players (even the goalkeeper!). In my opinion, not only is that disrespectful to the competition, opposition and fans, but it is ridiculous and unnecessary. I think Renato Gaúcho has got it wrong and Grêmio would be doing better in the league if he took a more balanced approach to squad rotation.
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