Roger Machado’s exciting Grêmio side have surely been the story of this Brazilian season, though they have seen their title chances slip away this week after disappointing results against Corinthians and São Paulo.
At the start of the championship, Grêmio were touted as relegation candidates, with then manager Luiz Felipe Scolari playing a most uninspiring and cynical brand of football, with no individual talent to back it up.
The tricolor drew their opening match at home to Ponte Preta before losing away to Coritiba. Felipão, sensing his position was under threat, resigned and headed off to China, leaving Grêmio without a coach less than two weeks into the league season.
With no money in the bank to bring in a big-name replacement, Grêmio looked down the leagues and brought in the relatively untested Roger Machado, a former player of the Porto Alegre side in the 1990s.
Roger hit the ground running, winning seven of his first ten matches in charge. Meanwhile, he managed to find a playing style to suit his squad, focusing on speed, transitions and rapid passing – exactly what Brazilian defences have the most trouble with.
Where they are weak, however, is in their squad depth. They have little quality on the bench, making it hard for them to vary their approach to games.
Moreover, with the near superhuman demands of the Brazilian football calendar, injuries and fatigue are inevitable. When Grêmio do not have their first choice eleven available they are a completely different prospect.
This is what we saw in this week’s games against Corinthians and São Paulo – two crucial matches for Grêmio’s title bid.
Against leaders Corinthians midweek, Grêmio had the chance to grab a hugely important away win. They made it difficult for their opponents to build attacks, suffocating both full-backs and forcing them to play long and speculative balls out of defence. What’s more, Grêmio created many excellent opportunities on the counterattack, but struggled to put them away in the absence of first-choice centre-forward Luan.
In the second half, Grêmio lost centre-back Pedro Geromel to an injury, forcing Roger to bring on the inexperienced Rafael Thyere to partner the already erratic Frickson Erazo in the heart of defence. Corinthians later equalised due to some woeful marking, leaving Grêmio to rue their missed chances.
Against São Paulo on Sunday afternoon, Grêmio’s problems were different. They were able to control proceedings but were unable to convert their possession into any worthwhile chances.
Whenever São Paulo hit them on the break, Grêmio (still with Thyere and Erazo in defence) tied themselves in knots and gave away good opportunities. São Paulo scored twice from counterattacks that were altogether avoidable and Grêmio lost their first match at home this season.
Certainly, losing out on a shot at the title is no disaster for Grêmio, especially considering their prospects at the beginning of the season.
As Felipão was flooding the midfield with talentless destroyers, Grêmio fans would have bitten your hand off if offered a top-half finish. Four months on, and Roger Machado seems set to take the tricolor to next year’s Copa Libertadores.
Photo: Lucas Uebel/Grêmio FBPA