With 14 games left to play in the Serie A, six teams could still win the competition. Things are starting to get very interesting
With 49 points each, goal difference separates Internacional and São Paulo at the top the league. Both teams have a lot of history, but it is fair to say that they have exceeded expectations this season – Internacional were playing in the Serie B last year, while São Paulo seemed to be on the verge of meltdown before the season started. Neither club were in the Copa Libertadores and they both went out of the Brazilian Cup in earlier rounds, which has helped to clear a busy fixture list, but credit must go to the impressive work done by their coaches Odair Hellmann and Diego Aguirre.
Palmeiras are in third place, just three points behind the leaders and they have been in excellent form themselves since sacking Roger Machado and appointing Big Phil Scolari as manager for the third time. Like many people I was doubtful when Scolari was appointed, but to be fair he has done a brilliant job so far: in the league they have won six and drawn two, while they have progressed in both the Brazilian Cup and Copa Libertadores under his watch too. He has tightened up the defence and he has managed to rotate the squad to perfection – it isn’t even clear what his first choice XI is anymore.
The other pre-season favourites Cruzeiro, Flamengo and Grêmio have all played good stuff at times too, but they have not managed the volume of games as well as Palmeiras. Cruzeiro don’t have the biggest squad and have struggled to score goals: 19 goals in 24 league games is poor (though they are doing fine in the Cups). Favouring the Libertadores, at times, Grêmio’s coach Renato Gaucho has rested his whole first choice XI for league games, which has cost them points. Flamengo’s coach Maurício Barbieri has done the opposite and stuck with the same XI for the cup games and league games, but his key players, such as Lucas Paqueta, have started to show signs of fatigue.
Title holders Corinthians sit in tenth place, 19 points off the lead. They have failed to replace last season’s top scorer Jo, while other key players such as Guilerme Arana and Rodriguinho haven’t been adequately replaced either. Losing Fabio Carille – probably the best young Brazilian coah – in the middle of the season was a massive blow too.
In the managerial merry go round, Corinthians replaced Carille with their youth team coach: the unfortunately named (for a football coach) Osmar Loss. One too many defeats cost him his job and he has gone back to the youth teams while Jair Ventura, who was sacked as Santos manager earlier this season, was appointed as manager last week. He had just a couple of days to prepare the team for the derby match against Palmeiras, which they duly lost.
Corinthians put up some stubborn resistance, although in the end, Palmeiras were good value for their win. The interestingly-named Deyverson (is he a long-lost cousin of mine, perhaps?) scored the winner in the second half. He had been severely criticised by Palmeiras fans earlier this year, but the winner against their main city rivals Corinthians completed his redemption. My friend Eduardo describes him as the best, bad player their is. His limitations as a footballer are clear, but he is applying himself very well now and Scolari must take a lot of credit for that.
Grêmio lost to their city rivals Internacional on the weekend, which dealt a severe blow to their title aspirations. To add salt into the wounds, they don’t have any midweek games this week and fielded a full strength team (with exception of Everton, who is away on Selecao duty). Grêmio pressed hard to find an equaliser, but Internacional, with their impressive defence, held on for the win. Great atmosphere at that game and Internacional fans are now rightly starting to dream.
Elsewhere in gameweek 24, Fluminense beat Botafogo in the Rio derby. Fluminense’s form has seriously dipped since their talisman Pedro got injured (and was denied a Seleção call-up in the process). But Botafogo make easy opponents these days, and are sliding towards the relegation zone. They have changed their coach twice so far this season, but it isn’t helping.
Another team that keep changing their coach, but keep losing, are Vasco, who lost to Vitoria this week. Interestingly, Vasco’s current manager is Alberto Valemtim, who was the manager of Botafogo earlier this season. Botafogo’s manager is Ze Ricardo, who was managing Vasco earlier this year. It makes you wonder if they would have both been better off keeping their coaches or if they were going to fire them, then replacing them with someone who wasn’t good enough or your rivals.
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Lots more has been happening, but that’s all I’ve got time for now. Stay tuned for this week’s Copa do Brasil semi final first legs on Wednesday night when Palmeiras host Cruzeiro and Flamengo take on Corinthians.
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