The Brazilian Premier League

This time last year, in an article entitled “Bom Senso F.C. & a battle for the soul of Brazilian football”, published on Brasil Wire, I wrote about the potential for a breakaway of Brazil’s major clubs from the Jurassic power structure that controls Brazilian football, headed by national and state federations.

In 1992, England’s largest clubs split from the Football League and created the Premier League: a standalone organisation that operated with the interests of clubs in mind. It a short time it became the richest league in world football. Brazilian clubs, by comparison, can claim to hold even more influence than their English counterparts (five teams in Brazil count their fan bases in the tens of millions – Flamengo, Corinthians, São Paulo, Palmeiras and Vasco da Gama), making the need for an independent league even greater. Continue reading The Brazilian Premier League

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This Is The End(erson)

After losing 4-1 at home to Palmeiras on Wednesday, Fluminense dismissed head coach Enderson Moreira with just under three months of the season remaining. Less than 24 hours later, they announced Sport Recife’s Eduardo Baptista as his replacement. The team’s form has dipped sharply, from top four challengers to winning just two of their last 13 league matches. They currently lie in 11th place and rock bottom of the form table.

This is hardly surprising when you consider that Fluminense have just hired their third different head coach of the league season, their fourth in 2015. Continue reading This Is The End(erson)

It’s just not the same

Sunday’s game between Fluminense and Flamengo was the first time the two rivals have met in the newly renovated Maracanã.

After construction work began on the iconic stadium in 2010, Flamengo and Fluminense resorted to playing their home games at the Engenhão, another government-owned stadium in Rio de Janeiro and the traditional home of fellow carioca club Botafogo.

When the Engenhão was closed in March of this year after failing to meet basic safety standards (how a stadium can be inaugurated in 2007 and closed six years later is beyond me), three of Rio’s big four became homeless.

One of the two most influential cities in Brazilian football, Rio de Janeiro had only one functional football stadium (the Estádio São Januário, owned by Vasco da Gama) and four top-flight clubs.

But with the reopening of the newer, shinier, whiter Maracanã, Rio is once again hosting regular matches.

The Maracanâ, though, seems to have lost its soul.

On television, the Maracanã looks empty during league matches. This impression is slightly misleading, as Maracanã attendances have been some of the highest of the 2013 Brasileirão so far. The reason for the empty stands is that touchline seats are so expensive (the most affordable middle seat would set you back a cool R$ 150), prompting fans to congregate behind the goals in the so-called “cheap seats”.

Whereas in the past, fans would come down from the nearby working-class neighbourhoods of Mangueira and São Cristóvão to pack the infamous geral section hours before kick-off (often paying only R$ 1 for entry, as recent as 2005) and create that iconic Maraca atmosphere, today fans file in minutes before the match starts, struggling to hear themselves think over the state-of-the-art PA system blasting awful pop music.

The atmosphere during the match isn’t terrible though, and as I mentioned, the demand for tickets has been reasonable, albeit coming from a far more middle-class clientele. But it is not the same, and never will be. The old Maracanã has gone forever, the New Maracana Stadium stands in its place.

For more on the new Maracanã, I suggest following Geostadia.com, where Christopher Gaffney has been closely following every aspect of the new stadium and others around the country.

Now on to the Fla-Flu.

The 3-2 final score was misleading, as Flamengo were in complete control throughout and could just as easily have won the match four or five-nil.

This was probably Flamengo’s best game since Mano Menezes took charge in June. The former Seleção coach has implemented a new system at the club, pressing high up the field in a 4-1-4-1 shape, with Elias and André Santos (formerly of Sporting and Arsenal, respectively) creating play in midfield, and two quick, young wingers stifling the opposing full-backs and providing a goal threat.

flaflu

As the above diagram shows, when Fluminense (right to left) started their first phase of play from their goalkeeper or centre-backs, Flamengo made sure to tightly mark their midfield and full-backs, virtually forcing Fluminense to hand over possession.

When Flamengo won the ball back, they would attack with wonderful combinations on either flank: Elias, Gabriel and full-back Léo Moura on the right; André Santos, Nixon and João Paulo on the left. Fluminense couldn’t get anywhere near their quick one-twos and overlapping runs.

The roles of André Santos and Elias are interesting, but it is hardly a surprise they are performing well considering who is in charge. Mano Menezes worked with both players at Corinthians between 2008 and 2010, and famously called both up to the national team on a regular basis. Menezes knows both players well, and crucially he knows how to get the best out of them.

André Santos, for example, a failure at full-back for Arsenal, is being played higher up the field and more central. Menezes yesterday quipped that André is “like a BMW going forward, but like a Fusca tracking back”.

In the past few weeks, Fluminense have shown the rest of the league the perfect way to beat them. It is all about stopping their full-backs. With Carlinhos, their main attacking outlet from left-back, booked early on and pinned back straight from kick-off, Fluminense’s offensive unit lost its key supply line. With Fred static at centre-forward, Felipe not sharp enough to break away from his marker and both full-backs kept in their own half, Fluminense were completely useless going forward. Whenever their full-backs did manage to get in their opponent’s half, Flu scored.

Last season, whenever an opponent would close down their full-backs, Fluminense could play aimless long balls and rely on the pace and guile of Wellington Nem to keep the ball in attack. Without him, they could be in real trouble.

The Lone Star on top of the tree

After six rounds, the Brasileirão table has yet to take shape. Many sides are struggling for form, with only four teams in the top ten winning their matches this weekend (and only one in the top five). However, it comes as no surprise that Oswaldo de Oliveira’s Botafogo are leading the way.

The current Rio de Janeiro state champions possess three qualities fundamental to form a good team. Firstly, they have an effective tactical system; secondly, they have players with the relevant characteristics and qualities to fit into that system; and finally, they have formed a cohesive team unit.

Botafogo defeated Fluminense yesterday in the clássico vovô thanks to superior strategy. Against the current Brazilian champions, Bota were content to position themselves deeper on the pitch, tightly marking Fluminense’s midfield and full-backs and allowing their centre-backs to remain unchallenged, but without any passing options.

For years now, Flu’s game-plan has been dependant on the support they receive from the flanks. Their two full-backs, Carlinhos and Bruno (Mariano, in 2011), are the most attacking in Brazilian football and it is their energy and attacking thrust that has so often tipped the balance in Fluminense’s favour.

On Sunday that supply line was cut, and Fluminense ran out of ideas. Centre-forward Fred confirmed this after the match, suggesting that they played too much of their football through the middle of the field.

Botafogo sealed the 1-0 win with a lovely right-footed strike from Clarence Seedorf, and in the end they were good value for the three points.

Seedorf’s Brazilian adventure is now just over a year old, and in that time he has made such a profound impact on this Botafogo team. When Seedorf first arrived from Milan, head coach Oswaldo de Oliveira was worried that he would not be able to fit him into their system. However, after a bit of trial-and-error, Oswaldo stopped trying to fit Seedorf into the system, and instead adapted the system to fit around Seedorf.

The Dutchman is the number 10 in Botafogo’s 4-2-3-1, but as he pushes forward or drifts wide, the other three attackers instinctively reposition themselves around him, still managing to maintain their attacking shape. This way, Seedorf has more freedom, he is involved more in the match, and the opposition never get the chance to man mark.

At this point, Botafogo is among the strongest and best prepared sides in Brazil, along with Corinthians, Atlético-MG, and at a stretch, Cruzeiro. That is no guarantee that they will form the top four come the end of the season, though. The Brasileirão is a gruelling campaign, with a high volume of games in a short space of time. Often, staying injury free is half the battle.

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In Série B, Palmeiras were impressive in their 4-0 home win against Oeste. The match saw the return from injury of Chilean playmaker Jorge Valdívia, who has been perpetually out of action since returning to the club in 2010. In these past three years, Valdivia has featured in 92 matches for the club, missing 110 through injury or suspension.

On Saturday however, Valdívia was playing with a point to prove. The Chilean was instrumental in all four of Palmeiras’ goals (including a wonderful passing move for goal number three) and was roundly applauded when substituted in the second half.

Palmeiras coach Gilson Kleina altered his team’s system slightly for Valdívia’s return. For most of the match, Palmeiras operated in their usual 4-3-1-2 shape, with Valdívia as the enganche, however when wide forwards Vinícius and Leandro worked back to mark, Valdívia was left as the furthest man forward, in a shape resembling a 4-3-3.

Having Valdívia in the line-up, accounting for the majority of the creative workload, all of Palmeiras’ other attacking players gave better performances, Wesley in particular.

Palmeiras 2×3 Fluminense

Flu champions, Palmeiras (almost) relegated

Fluminense clinched a thrilling late victory in the torrid Presidente Prudente sun to seal their fourth national championship trophy. With three rounds still to play in the Campeonato Brasileiro 2012, the Tricolor knew that a win against Palmeiras and a home win or draw in the Vasco x Atlético-MG match (which ended 1-1) would see them create an insurmountable lead over the chasing pack.

Palmeiras, on the other hand, are battling against a seemingly inevitable relegation, and had other results in the round gone against them they could have been condemned to Série B earlier than expected. Fortunately for them, Portuguesa and Bahia lost their respective matches, keeping Palmeiras’ hopes alive (albeit hanging by the tiniest of threads) even after their latest defeat.

Fluminense took a 2-0 lead, but conceded twice through set-pieces in the second half. Just as the title champagne was being put on ice for another day, league top scorer Fred converted his 19th goal of the season to win the match 3-2. Continue reading Palmeiras 2×3 Fluminense

São Paulo bow to (Ney) Francoism

There has been a distinct lack of tactical interest in this year’s Campeonato Brasileiro. A large majority of teams play a similar style of football, heavily based on long balls, aerial play, and individualism. Petty fouls and simulation are also rampant, resulting in several drab, stop-start matches which are often reduced to two or three players repeatedly attempting individual moves until they inevitably get one right. Few sides actually play as a team, with the exception of (strangely enough) the top four.

Top of the pile – and with good reason

First and second-placed respectively, Fluminense and Atlético-MG play more or less the same system – a compact 4-2-3-1. What makes this formation so effective are the rapid transitions from defence to attack and vice versa. Continue reading São Paulo bow to (Ney) Francoism

New Mirror Football post

Just a little reminder that my most recent post on the Mirror Football website was published today, a little look at the crazily competitive season we have had in the Brasileirão, with a mind-blowing stat to back it up.

You can find the post here, have a read, and if you have any opinions or anything you’d like to discuss, drop me a comment on the site, or here at the end of this post.

I’ll be back in mid-week (probably Thursday, Wednesday is a national holiday) with the Game of the Week from this weekend, and I will also have another Twenty to Watch profile going up. Stay tuned.