Teams tinker ahead of intercontinental matches

Can Hernanes (The Prophet) inspire São Paulo to a Libertadores win?

São Paulo, Atlético Mineiro, Bahia, Chapecoense and Botafogo are in intercontinental action this week.

I’ve mentioned Brazil’s crazy calendar here on the blog many times before and discussed some of the issues in detail in a recent post. The bottom line is that the season ended in December, yet competitive matches have been back under way for a few weeks now.

For me, the state championships are glorified, but quite cool, pre-season friendlies. The serious action begins for some teams this week: São Paulo and Atlético Mineiro play the first legs of their matches in the second qualifying round of the Copa Libertadores, while Bahia, Chapecoense and Botafogo play the first legs of their Copa Sulamericana first round matches.

The Libertadores, of course, is South America’s premier intercontinental club competition, while the Sulamericana is its less prestigious cousin, the South American equivalent of the Europa League.

São Paulo’s form going into their all-important Libertadores qualifying match against Talleres from Argentina this week has been pretty wretched. With something close to resembling a full strength lineup, they were beaten by Santos and followed that up with a home defeat to little Guarani. They did, however, beat São Bento 1-0 on the weekend, with Hernanes, their returning star and darling scoring the winner.

It is Hernanes’ third spell with the club and he is a true legend. He simply lifts the team by the scruff of the neck and makes things happen. A true leader. He isn’t quite up to speed yet and on the weekend he featured in what was otherwise a reserve team for São Paulo on Sunday. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is thrown into the starting lineup against Talleres on Wednesday, even if only half fit.

Atlético Mineiro, meanwhile, have been in better form in the Mineiro state championship. They warmed up for their Libertadores match against Danubio, from Uruguay, with an easy 2-0 win against Guarani-MG on the weekend. They also had the luxury of fielding a reserve team in that game.

The bottom line is that that big clubs are able to field weakened teams in the state championships as and when they please. Given the poor level of opposition the top teams play, they are quite often able to win matches with their reserves. And even if they lose, they can always catch up the points they need to reach the knockout phases in the later games.

Botafogo, Chapecoense and Bahia also tinkered with their lineups on the weekend ahead of their intercontinental matches this week against Defensa y Justicia, Unión La Calera and Liverpool (Uruguay).

Meanwhile, in the big derby action this weekend, Palmeiras were beaten at home by Corinthians, who, despite losing against RBB last week, were able to beat their rivals on their own patch. Fábio Carille is back in charge of Corinthians again and the manager sure knows how to organise a defence and grind out results. Truly impressive stuff.

Santos are struggling for consistency under their new manager Jorge Sampaoli. They thumped Bragantino 4-1 in the midweek game in the São Paulo state championship last week, before getting thrashed 5-1 themselves by Ituano on the weekend.

In Rio de Janeiro, Flamengo’s big money signings are starting to click, but it was their existing star Diego who stole the show on the weekend by scoring a bicycle kick in their 4-0 win against Cabofriense.

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