Game of the Week: Palmeiras 3×3 São Paulo

Without any Copa Libertadores games this week, this edition sees Game of the Week going back to its roots with a good old fashioned São Paulo derby in the Campeonato Paulista.

The Palmeiras x São Paulo FC clássico (commonly known as the Choque-Rei) is a strong and well-regarded derby, especially considering that both sides regard Corinthians as their biggest rivals. Sunday’s match marked the 300th Choque-Rei in history, and in the scorching Presidente Prudente sun, we were served up an exhilarating 3×3 draw.

Palmeiras made a few changes from the midweek draw with Oeste, goalkeeper Deola was brought back to replace Bruno, while both Henrique and João Vitor returned in place of Román and Patrik. Chilean playmaker Jorge Valdivia was rumoured to be suitably fit to make his return in this match, but he was spared the long journey to Presidente Prudente and his understudy Daniel Carvalho retained his starting berth for another week.

Felipão had the Verdão lined up in a rough 4-3-1-2/4-2-2-2 shape (see below), with Maikon Leite playing off of Hernan Barcos and retreating into the midfield line of three when Palmeiras were without possession.

With yet more injuries cropping up, São Paulo coach Emerson Leão was again forced to alter his starting line-up. Casemiro came in to replace Fabrício in the midfield, while there were returns for centre back Paulo Miranda and top scorer Willian José. The Tricolor came out in a 4-2-2-2 formation, Cícero and Jádson operating behind the front two of Lucas and Willian José.

On paper both formations appeared rather alike, though Palmeiras had a lot more fluidity in the midfield, with João Vitor dropping back to the line of two volantes, while Marcos Assunção or Márcio Araújo forayed forward.

With most of São Paulo’s attacks originating from wing play, Palmeiras’ two full backs refrained from doing much attacking and rarely left their own half. On the right, Cicinho was pinned back by the perpetually attacking Cortez, while on the left side Juninho was reluctant to advance while Lucas was prowling on his flank.

It was certainly an intriguing clássico, with six goals and plenty of free-flowing end-to-end football. Palmeiras took the lead three times in the match, only to be systematically pegged back each time by their rivals. Daniel Carvalho kicked off proceedings with a close-range free kick, and Palmeiras appeared fairly comfortable until Cícero poked home an equaliser on 30 minutes. However Palmeiras did manage to get their noses back in front before half time with a superb finish from Argentine forward Hernan Barcos.

The second half saw São Paulo take the initiative and begin to control the match, however they required a little luck to bring themselves level again, as Palmeiras’ Cicinho conceded a dreadfully foolish penalty kick, duly converted by Willian José. With São Paulo resembling the side most likely to push on and win the match, Palmeiras sneaked in front again with a second goal from ‘el Pirata’ Hernan Barcos.

As Palmeiras took measures to protect their slender lead, the match took one final twist as substitute Fernandinho equalised for São Paulo with a rasping strike from outside the area.

Great minds think alike

As well as employing rather similar formations, over the course of the first 45 minutes both Palmeiras and São Paulo made very similar adjustments to their side in an attempt to score.

Trailing 1×0 and struggling to grab a foothold in the game, Emerson Leão decided to bring Lucas over to the left wing and instructed Cícero to attack from the right side. This allowed São Paulo to quickly transform to a front three when on the attack (see below), which unsettled Palmeiras’ back line and took them by surprise.

A matter of minutes later, São Paulo had the ball in the back of the net for the equaliser, with Cícero arriving late to turn home a Casemiro cross. The goal was very simply executed, with Palmeiras’ defence caught unaware by the arrival of Cícero, who had previously been situated in the midfield.

Not too long afterwards Felipão had a similar idea, bringing his second striker, Maikon Leite, over to the right wing. His aim was slightly different though, as instead of bringing another midfielder up to attack à la Cícero, he tried to get Maikon Leite to exploit the expansive space behind São Paulo’s ultra-attacking left back Cortez.

Just like their adversaries before them, Palmeiras’ change paid dividends immediately. On 37 minutes, Maikon Leite was released down the right wing and with São Paulo’s defence all at sea, he crossed for Hernan Barcos to score a wonderful goal.

Momentum shift

Though São Paulo had their moments, the first half belonged to Palmeiras. The Verdão marked superbly in the midfield, and when in possession they moved the ball around effortlessly. It was clear that São Paulo would have to change their approach or else face losing the match.

For the second half, Emerson Leão decided to bring on Fernandinho in place of the disappointing Jádson. The objective of the change was clear, Leão opted to go with the pace and directness of Fernandinho, as opposed to the creative and less-mobile Jádson.

The decision to make the substitution was made even easier by the fact that Jádson was more-or-less anonymous in the first half. He was expeditiously marked off the ball by the Palmeiras midfield, and he is clearly still having troubles readjusting to the Brazilian domestic game since his return from Shakhtar Donetsk. However, despite Jádson’s obviously lacklustre performance, it was still a brave move from Leão to take him off, especially considering the amount of money invested in his return.

With that change, São Paulo moved to a clearly defined 4-2-1-3, with Fernandinho attacking the left, Lucas back on the right, and the far more energetic Cícero playing behind them in the middle. The result was a mobile and rapid attacking quartet, which was much harder for the Palmeiras defence to deal with. From then on, São Paulo dominated the match.

All in all, this was an intriguing Choque-Rei that certainly lived up to its royal billing. Both sides went away from the game a little disappointed with only one point, Palmeiras after leading the match three times, and São Paulo because of their second half domination.

However, Palmeiras will certainly be the happier side after this weekend. After a disastrous 2011 which saw them flirting with relegation from the Brasileirão, the alviverde side appear to have really turned the corner and they have started this year in great form. With the imminent return of ‘el Mago’ Valdivia and the pending signing of Werder Bremen’s Wesley, Palmeiras are looking to go from strength to strength.

Header image: Rivaldo Gomes/Folha Imagem

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