Talk about messing things up.
Internacional, Vasco, Palmeiras, Corinthians. They’ve all played in Brazil’s Serie B in recent times and it is not uncommon for one of Brazil’s giants to get relegated every few years. Increasingly, it is looking like this will be Cruzeiro’s fate in 2019.
After losing to Vasco last night, Cruzeiro remain in the relegation zone, two points adrift of Ceara with two games to play. And since Cruzeiro have won only 7 games compared to Ceara’s 10, the defining criteria if teams are tied on points, effectively they are three points adrift.
To make matters worse, their upcoming games are more difficult than those of Ceara. Ceara host Corinthians on Wednesday night, while Cruzeiro travel to in-form Gremio, who are 4th. I am predicting a loss for both teams, which would take things down to the final round of games on the weekend, when Ceara travel to Botafogo and Cruzeiro host third placed Palmeiras. Cruzeiro would need to win and hope that Ceara lose.
When a big club goes down, for most of the season most people think that they are too big, they’ve got too much quality and eventually they will dig themselves out of it. Most people, myself included, thought that about Cruzeiro for most of this year, even after they changed their coach for a third time. But while relegation rivals Fluminense and Botafogo managed to dig out some results, Cruzeiro consistently failed to find the net and slumped from one surprisingly disappointing result to another.
It dragged on and went into the last-chance saloon matches. You still thought they would turn it around and come good on the day, but last week they did the unthinkable and lost at home to the now-relegated CSA. Abel Braga handed in his resignation after that match and it was duly accepted, which sparked a managerial merry-go-round with Cruzeiro’s former manager Adilson Batista taking over for the last three games.
With one sacking after another on his record, Batista has a shocking CV as a manager. The only good thing that you can say is that he has some big names on his CV. Arguably, his best days as a coach came at Cruzeiro where he guided the club to the 2009 Copa Libertadores final.
He made the right noises before the match (even if he took a slightly dubious decision of accepting the job despite being sacked by relegation rivals just a few days prior) and he promised that his team would play like a Premier League outfit in their remaining three games, with pace and intensity. Nice idea and good talk, but how on earth would he do this with Fred up front and Thiago Neves as his main creative midfielder?
As it happens Thiago Neves was ruled out of the game through injury, before he was spotted at a rock concert on Sunday night and duly told that he would never play for Cruzeiro again. The Fred solution was solved by leaving him on the bench and starting, instead, with Joel up front. Not an enviable choice: no goals and a guy that can press, or a small chance of a goal with a guy that will do literally zero pressing.
He chose the former, and while Cruzeiro began the game with intent, so did their opponents. In fact, Vasco looked more like the Premier League side with the Troy Deeney-esque Ribamar bundling over Henrique inside the first ten minutes. Vasco meant business, especially Colombian international midfielder Freddy Guarin, who drove through and smashed home a very good goal in the 10th minute.
The goal shocked Cruzeiro, who never really regained their stride. And they had their hearts in their mouths when a penalty was awarded, only to be overturned by VAR, later in the half.
Cruzeiro did show some moments of quality in the build up and you could see the quality, even if the nerves were there. Fred came on in the second half, and there went the press, as well as the mobility. And while Cruzeiro may have had some quality, they did not have the quality in the place that matters most: in front of goal, and around the opposition’s box. They struggled to create clear chances, and the best ones that they had were wasted by Fred and Marquinhos Gabriel.
Cruzeiro huffed and puffed, but Vasco held firm. And soon enough that was that. Adilson’s one match plan in tatters. Cruzeiro’s entire season in ruins.
The directors will need to take a long, hard look at themselves. Four managers in one season (not even including a caretaker) is not good going and their spat with Rogerio Ceni resulted in him coming and going within a few months. Cut out the squabbles. There are other issues too, such as unpaid wages and an imbalanced, ageing squad.
Adilson Batista is not a miracle worker. But even if he was, that might not be enough to keep this Cruzeiro side in the division. The problems run deeper, which is surprising, given how good they were under Mano Menezes last year.
Vasco meanwhile, can be very happy with life. They were in relegation trouble with Vanderlei Luxemburgo took over earlier this year, but the experienced manager has found a style of play that fits his players and fits the club. They were impressive last night and their fans were impressive too, generating a cauldron of noise to keep their players on top of their game and shut out Cruzeiro.
Their young star Talles Magno has signed a new contract to keep him at the club for the next few years (although in reality, the inevitable departure is more likely to happen when a club triggers the buyout clause). But they should have him in the team next year. They will also be hoping that Vanderlei Luxemburgo and their Colombian midfielder Freddy Guarin do the same.
It was also announced today that the club fan membership had exceeded 139,000, more than even their big city rivals Flamengo. The support is there. If they can lock down key playing and coaching personnel, they could be in for a very good 2020.
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