“Palmeiras beat Figueirense at home and win again after three matches” – FOLHA DE S.PAULO
Palmeiras earned an important home victory this evening, beating struggling Figueirense 2-0 in São Paulo. Both goals came in the second half – the first from a corner kick and the second from the penalty spot.
The scoreline was misleading though, as Palmeiras delivered yet another below-par performance.
A look at the cold, hard figures would suggest Palmeiras to be one of the most dominant sides in Brazil. They boast the league’s best attack with 41 goals in 25 games, while their shots on target ratio (shots on target for/shots on target against, a reliable indicator of team performance) is 1.48, also the best in the league. Against Figueirense, they had six shots on target to the away side’s two.
Yet they sit in fifth place, outside of the top four and 13 points behind leaders Corinthians.
So what is to blame for their underwhelming league position? Arguably, their form has dipped just as their rivals have improved.
Left-back Egídio, hailed as an attacking phenomenon after some excellent performances in July, has come under criticism for some high-profile defensive errors, earning him boos and whistles from his own fans.
Rafael Marques, having scored 13 goals for the club in 2015, has lost his guaranteed place in the starting eleven.
Even goalkeeper Fernando Prass, Palmeiras’ saviour on many occasions, has been at fault for a significant part of the 19 goals the club has conceded in the last six weeks.
A convenient starting point for Palmeiras’ decline would be the injury to central midfielder Gabriel, who suffered an ACL tear on 2 August.
The 23 year old had been the club’s standout performer in 2015. Although he is no world-beater, his energy and commitment to plug gaps in the midfield made Palmeiras difficult to play through. In his absence, the club’s ropey defence has become more and more exposed, leading to an increased number of goals conceded and drop in confidence that has permeated throughout the side.
When on form, Palmeiras’ secret was their knack of scoring early goals. Coach Marcelo Oliveira would instruct the team to play an extremely fast tempo in the opening stages, hurrying and stretching the opposition in search of an early advantage. Eight of Palmeiras’ 11 victories since 1 July have involved an early goal.
Such early intensity has been harder to come by of late, allowing opposition teams to settle and frustrate Palmeiras.
Their saving grace (pun intended) has been 18 year old forward Gabriel Jesus and his arrival in the first team. A product of the Palmeiras youth system, he has scored four goals in his last five starts for the club. This has coincided with him winning a place in Marcelo Oliveira’s starting eleven. With good attacking instincts and a natural intimacy with the ball at his feet, he is one to look out for. Palmeiras fans will need to be patient though. Despite his messianic name, one cannot expect miracles from a player so young.
Photo: Sérgio Castro/Estadão