Monday, 23 May 2011

Campeonato Brasileiro 2011 review: Round 1

After a frantic few months of state championships and cup competition for clubs in Brasil, the real work starts here as the Campeonato Brasileiro 2011 got underway this weekend with every team in action. Join me each week for a complete review of the round of games, along with weekly awards and highlights.

The 2011 season kicked off on Saturday evening at the Moacyrzão in Macaé, Rio de Janeiro as Flamengo strolled to victory against Avaí. It was quite a one-sided match as with one eye on their Copa do Brasil semi-final on Wednesday, Avaí did not look completely motivated and failed to deal with Flamengo's attacking threats. Goals from Bottinelli, Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Thiago Neves and Diego Maurício gave a 4x0 win to the Mengão.

In Minas Gerais, Atlético Mineiro got their season off to a wonderful start with a 3x0 win over Atlético Paranaense. Another game that was never really in doubt, an early goal from defensive midfielder Toró and then two headed goals from Magno Alves sealed the points for o Galo. Atlético Paranaense have reasons to be worried in the light of this result, as they failed to put any real pressure on their opponents and were very one-dimensional in attack.

Ceará and Vasco, two sides who are looking forward to vital Copa do Brasil semi-finals on Wednesday, faced eachother in Brasil's northeast and Vasco ran out 3x1 winners. There is not terribly much we can take from this match, as both sides fielded changed line-ups, resting almost all of their preferred XI. The game itself was a good one, with fringe players on both sides striving to impress. Ceará centre back Cleber gave the Vozão the lead, but three excellent goals (two from Bernardo and one from Jéferson) won the game for Vasco.

Saturday night's late game resulted in a 1x1 draw between Santos and Internacional. This game was one of the most hyped of the opening round, but with Santos fielding a complete second-string XI ahead of their Copa Libertadores semi-final this week, the match turned in to a bit of an anticlimax. Keirrison gave Santos the lead from the penalty spot after Tiago Alves was fouled by Daniel. Zé Roberto equalised for Inter before half time, converting a cross from Oscar. Both sides had chances in the second half, but neither could find the winning goal.

Moving on to Sunday afternoon, and out in the São Paulo countryside in São José do Rio Preto, Palmeiras got off to a winning start by beating Botafogo 1x0. As many had expected it was a tight game, neither side dominating completely, but Palmeiras had the edge and sealed the three points with a stunning goal from captain Kléber. There was more good news for the Verdão when club ídolo Pierre made a late substitute appearance. The defensive midfielder had been suffering from a long term injury, his last match coming in November 2010.

In one of the biggest games of the weekend, Grêmio and Corinthians faced off in what was a tight clash, ending 2x1 to the away side Corinthians. Grêmio took the lead with a penalty from Douglas after Chicão was adjudged to have fouled Leandro inside the area. O Timão equalised with their own penalty kick not long afterwards, Liedson being tripped by Lúcio, and captain Chicão made up for his earlier error by tucking away the penalty. Corinthians sealed the comeback ten minutes later through Liedson, the former Sporting Lisbon hitman pulled off a lovely bit of technique with a flying volley from six yards.

The other two afternoon games threw up some surprises, Coritiba falling 0x1 to Atlético Goianiense, and newly-promoted Figueirense pulling off an excellent 1x0 win against title favourites Cruzeiro. The former was a tight affair, with both teams making several mistakes in the midfield and struggling to establish a rhythm. The match was won with fifteen minutes left, with o Dragão's giant striker Marcão latching on to a Thiago Feltri cross.

In Florianópolis, Figueirense pulled off the shock of the week against Cruzeiro, and they were well worth the three points. Figueira found it difficult in the first half, but after taking the lead through a fortuitous own goal from Cruzeiro midfielder Marquinhos Paraná, they pressed their opponents and looked likely to score a second. Cruzeiro may have reasons to be worried.

The evening games on Sunday kicked off with Fluminense taking on São Paulo at Vasco's São Januario stadium. São Paulo ran out 2x0 winners, but it was not a particularly impressive display from either side. The first half was filled with errors from both teams, with Dagoberto's opening goal the only highlight. In the second half, São Paulo improved slightly while Fluminense did not, and wonderkid Lucas increased the lead with a superb goal.

The final game of the round was perhaps the most exciting, as two newly-promoted sides América Mineiro and Bahia faced off against eachother in Sete Lagoas. The match began at an excellent pace, with Bahia in the driving seat, and they took the lead with the weekend's fourth penalty. Thiago Carleto handled the ball in the area and Souza converted the penalty to put Bahia 1x0 up.

In the second half it was América who took control, equalising in the 3rd minute with a debut goal from Rodriguinho. O Coelho kept up the pressure, and could have won the game with the chances they had, but they got there in the end, with substitute Alessandro making it 2x1 with only three minutes left to go.

PLAYER OF THE ROUND: Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Flamengo)

Photo: Fábio Castro

Hated on Friday, loved on Saturday, Ronaldinho Gaúcho's performance at the weekend paints a clear picture of the fickle nature of Brazilian football supporters. After being criticised, booed and ridiculed after Flamengo's Copa do Brasil exit, Ronaldinho won over the haters by turning in a man-of-the-match performance in Fla's 4x0 win over Avaí.

His little touches, flicks and nutmegs made you feel like you were back in the Camp Nou in 2005, and his goal was very well taken also. If Ronaldinho can stay fit and in this type of form, it would be hard to look past Flamengo for the title.

VILLAIN OF THE ROUND: Marcelo Oliveira (Coritiba)

Photo: Paulo Pinto

Manager of the league's 'surprise package' Coritiba, Marcelo Oliveira could not have had a worse start to the 2011 season. With their first game at home to relegation candidates Atlético Goianiense and with a vital Copa do Brasil semi-final against Ceará on Wednesday, it was expected that Oliveira would select a changed side and allow his big players extra rest before their cup match. However, Coritiba took to the field at the Couto Pereira with a full strength side, battled hard but lost 1-0 to their organised opponents.

What does this mean for Coritiba? Well, with a full strength side they failed to win at home against a side who are certain to be battling against the drop this year, and on Wednesday they will be playing Ceará who did decide to rest their main XI this weekend. If the Coxa make it through their semi-final safely then this result will be forgotten, but if they do not, Coritiba fans will surely point the finger at the manager.

GOLAÇO DA RODADA: Lucas (SÃO PAULO vs Fluminense)

The first golaço da rodada award of the season goes to Lucas of São Paulo for his magnificent solo effort against Fluminense. The hotly tipped young attacker picked the ball up just inside the Fluminense half, played a quick one-two with Carlinhos Paraiba and then set off on a wonderful dribble, showing off his superb acceleration and leaving the Fluminense defenders floundering, before cutting inside away from Gum and finishing coolly past goalkeeper Ricardo Berna. A truly excellent goal from a young forward who is set to have a huge season this year.

So there we have it, the 2011 Brasileirão is fully underway, and already there is plenty to talk about. Will Flamengo stroll to the title with the good form of Ronaldinho Gaúcho? Did the experts get it wrong with Coritiba? Do Cruzeiro really have a team capable of winning the title this year? We can not possibly know the answers to these questions yet, but it's certainly going to be fun to find out!

This week we have the second legs of the Copa do Brasil semi-finals on Wednesday, as Coritiba play Ceará (first leg 0-0) and Avaí take on Vasco (first leg 1-1). Wednesday also brings us Santos' Copa Libertadores semi-final first leg against Paraguayans Cerro Porteño. The two sides were in the same group in the opening stage of the tournament, drawing 1x1 in Paraguay and Santos coming out 2x1 winners in São Paulo.

At the weekend we also have another full card in the Brasileirão, the pick of the action coming on Sunday afternoon as Palmeiras travel to Sete Lagoas to play Cruzeiro.

Flamengo 4x0 Avaí
Atlético Mineiro 3x0 Atlético Paranaense
Ceará 1x3 Vasco
Santos 1x1 Internacional
Palmeiras 1x0 Botafogo
Coritiba 0x1 Atlético Goianiense
Figueirense 1x0 Cruzeiro
Grêmio 1x2 Corinthians
Fluminense 0x2 São Paulo
América Mineiro 2x1 Bahia

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Brasileirão In Focus: Palmeiras

The team of the green half of São Paulo, Palmeiras are one of the most successful teams in Brazilian football history, having won the most national championships (8, tied with Santos). Since the return of talismanic coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (Felipão in Brazil), they have made steady progress after a disappointing phase.

This year they finished 2nd in the main stage of the Campeonato Paulista, boasting a superb defensive record, but they lost in the semi-finals on penalties to arch rivals Corinthians. Their performance in the Copa do Brasil was not so great either, as they were eliminated by Coritiba at the quarter-final stage after losing 6-0 away from home, a result that plunged the team in to a mini-crisis.

There is no doubt that there are some problems in the team, but I feel they may be slightly overstated. The Verdão have some of the best talents in the league, but there always seems to be a problem with them. For example, in central midfield, Marcos Assunção is still one of the best set-piece experts in the country, and provides a deadly threat from long shots, but it would appear that he has lost his legs and is no longer able to do the work required of a defensive midfielder in this Palmeiras side, so he often ends up being a burden to the team.

Another example is Chilean attacking midfielder Jorge Valdivia. El Mago is a stunningly talented player, and on his day he is capable of picking apart any defence in Brasil, but his form has been erratic and he has been extremely injury prone. In attack, Kléber is one of the best players in the league, extremely hard-working and dedicated (explaining his nickname, o Gladiador) but he is so often relied on too much, and left isolated up front, due to having to play there by himself.

Last month the club signed Wellington Paulista, who formed a successful strike partnership with Kléber while the two were at Cruzeiro, and he will be expected to start as the main centre-forward with Kléber playing off of him. Another positive is the signing of Santos’ very impressive young forward Maikon Leite, who will join in July. These additions should improve the attack as a whole, but perhaps more importantly, will help to take a little of the pressure off of Kléber.

Palmeiras play a 4-4-2 formation, and with everyone fit and available, they would play with Valdivia and young Patrik behind the forwards Kléber and Wellington Paulista. This current ‘crisis’ at Palmeiras may have come just at the right time, as the problems in the squad have been identified before it is too late for their season. They do not have as good a squad as some of their league rivals, but with Felipão on the bench, they should perform well enough over the course of the season to achieve a good finish.

Expected formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Internacional

O Colorado, the other big side in Rio Grande do Sul state and the reigning Copa Libertadores champions. Inter had a pretty good campaign last season, but one that was mainly focused on pursuing other trophies (Copa Libertadores then the Club World Cup). As we remember their Club World Cup campaign did not go well at all. They rested their top players for more or less the whole second half of the Brasileirão in preparation, and then they were embarrassed by TP Mazembe in the semi-finals.

They have had a mixed start to 2011, they were eliminated in the second round of the Copa Libertadores by Peñarol, but they strolled to victory in the Campeonato Gaúcho. There was some activity in the transfer market, wonderkid Giuliano was sold to Dnipro in Ukraine, also centre-forward Alecsandro left to join Vasco. Some improvements were made, in particular, defensive midfielder Mario Bolatti who was signed from Fiorentina and has slotted straight in to the first team.

The big story at Internacional has been the meteoric rise of young centre forward Leandro Damião. Last season, he could not get in to the first team, but since Alecsandro’s departure he was given a chance up front on his own. Damião performed superbly, racking up tons of goals and earning a call-up to the national team in the process. A really excellent young striker, he has presence, awareness, and he can play with his back to goal, something that is so important for lone strikers.

O Colorado play a 4-2-3-1 formation, Nei and Kléber provide width from fullback, and Andrezinho and Oscar do the same in the attacking midfield trio. Andres D’Alessandro slots in as the playmaker, often drifting around left and right, and Leandro Damião is the lone target man up top.

They still have a great squad and will surely be in with a chance of winning the league, especially without Copa Libertadores or any other tournament to distract them. You get the feeling that after years of great performances on the continental stage, the Internacional fans would love to see their team pursue their fourth national championship.

Expected formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Grêmio

Now we turn our attentions to two two giants from the state of Rio Grande do Sul, starting with o Imortal, Grêmio. They are a club with a great history of winning trophies, both in Brasil and in continental competition. Last year they had a season of two halves, they were very disappointing in the first half, placing in and around the relegation zone, but were irresistible in the second half of the season, unbelievably turning their season around and finishing in 4th place with the most goals scored in the league.

They have lost some real key players since last season, most notably the 2010 Brasileirão top scorer Jonas, left-back Fábio Santos and midfielder Souza. These players really have not been sufficiently replaced, and they have been restricted to bringing in some squad players on loan, notably ex-Porto and Vasco midfielder Carlos Alberto, Boca Juniors’ Damián Escudero and Lokomotiv Moscow’s centre back Rodolfo.

They still do have undoubted quality in the side, Victor is another wonderful Brazilian goalkeeper and should be Júlio César’s backup at the Copa América and ex-Sporting Lisbon midfielder Fábio Rochemback plays a commanding role in the middle of the park.

Up front, 18 year old attacker Leandro has been getting a lot of playing time up front with Grêmio’s lack of replacements. He is an exciting young player, great dribbler, pacey, tricky and intelligent. Perhaps the most important observation made about Leandro this year is his maturity. In the small time he has had in the first team, he has played in the Copa Libertadores and against Grêmio’s bitter rivals Internacional, the kind of games where you need confidence and maturity to play well, and Leandro has so far passed the test.

They play a 4-4-2 with full-backs pushing up and providing width, Fábio Rochemback in the holding role in the middle, Lúcio and Adilson slightly more advanced and Douglas as the playmaker behind Leandro and Junior Viçosa up front. The defense does not look terribly secure, and their power in attack does not quite make up for that.

Expected formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Fluminense

The reigning champions of the Campeonato Brasileiro and another of the grandes do Rio de Janeiro. Fluminense were worthy winners last year but as happens so often in Brazil, it will be very tough for them to repeat that feat this year. This is partly down to losing manager Muricy Ramalho, after poor performances in the Copa Libertadores and Campeonato Carioca led him to resign from his post. Muricy was instrumental in transforming the team into the Brasileirão winning side they were last year, and without his winning experience, they seem at a disadvantage.

Since last season, striker Emerson (nicknamed “the sheik”) left the club and has now joined Corinthians and veteran striker Washington “Coração Valente” (braveheart) hung up his boots leaving Flu a little short up front. Rafael “He-Man” Moura was signed to fill the gap, along with defensive midfielder Edinho and midfielder Souza.

Their key player comes in the shape of the club captain, striker Fred. Recently re-called to the Brazilian national team, Fred has been in fantastic form since the start of the 2010 season, scoring plenty of goals and contributing so much to the team in attack. When he is not playing, you can really see the difference amongst the Fluminense players.

Flu also have Argentine playmaker Dário Conca, the undisputed best player of the 2010 Brasileirão. A superb player, an absolute joy to watch. Superb touch, fantastic vision and bags and bags of technique. Another endearing quality to his game is that despite his slight figure, he is both strong and tenacious, you will rarely see him giving up on a loose ball. The only worry for Flu fans is that he has not quite recaptured his form of last year, but once we get in to the regular season he should be able to kick in to that rhythm.

Expected formation:
football formations

Friday, 20 May 2011

Brasileirão In Focus: Flamengo

The biggest and most supported team in Brasil. This year they were far and away best team in the Campeonato Carioca, winning both the Taça Guanabara and the Taça Rio. They recently crashed out of the Copa do Brasil after a thrilling two legs against Ceará, to the disappointment of the Mengão faithful.

They had a difficult season last year, only just avoiding relegation, but considerable squad changes during the transfer window have reinstated them as one of the favourites for the league title. There have been a few departures, unsuccessful loan signings Diogo and Michael have returned to Europe, left back Juan has gone to São Paulo, and Kleberson has been sent out on loan to Atletico PR.

The arrivals have been the more important part, Ronaldinho Gaúcho ended huge speculation about his future when he finally signed for the rubro-negro in January, and the other big arrival came in the shape of attacking midfielder and former Fluminense ídolo Thiago Neves, who signed from Al-Hilal. Besides the two big names, there have been some other very useful additions, left back Egídio returned from his loan at Vitória, goalkeeper Felipe signed from Sporting Braga in Portugal, and Argentine Dario Bottinelli arrived from Universidad Católica to provide an extra option in attack.

Flamengo's signing of Ronaldinho Gaúcho will have all eyes on the rubro-negro. Photo: AP/Felipe Dana

The squad looks strong, in defence Leo Moura is still one of the best right backs in the country, and the returning Egídio has made the left back role his own, linking up superbly with Ronaldinho Gaúcho when he goes forward. Willians is a natural Brazilian volante (defensive midfielder), great engine, great stamina and a good ball winner. Alongside him, Renato Abreu has been converted into a defensive midfielder from his favoured central attacking position. He is a hard worker who is known for his ridiculously powerful shot. In attack, if Flamengo can keep Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves fit and scoring goals, they could be very successful this year.

The opposing argument is that this team is one with too many big names, and not enough of a team spirit. If they hit a slow patch, coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo could be shown the door and a promising team could turn into a disaster.

Expected formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Figueirense

Another newly promoted side from the Série B, the Figueira always used to be the biggest side in Santa Catarina state, often as mid-table mainstays in the Brasileirão. In recent years they have been overshadowed by little local rivals Avaí, who have made a meteoric rise while the Figueira have floundered in lower divisions.

They had a very successful Série B season last year, unspectacular yet effective, and finished in 2nd position, boasting the league’s best goal difference. They have few recognizable names in their side, so it looks like they may lack the quality to compete in the top league.

Two players who may catch the eye this season are two of their attacking options, Lenny and Wellington Nem. Lenny, 23 years old, was a youth prodigy in his years at Fluminense and Palmeiras, but his problem is that he is ridiculously injury prone. At Palmeiras, he was always regarded as a star of the future, but whenever he managed to get a run in the first team, he would be struck down with an injury. When he plays, he is obviously talented, unbelievably fast and a big danger to the defence. If he manages to stay fit, he will be a definite starter for the Figueira and hopefully he will start to live up to his potential.

The other is 19 year old attacking midfielder Wellington Nem, on loan from Fluminense. Left footed, superb dribbler, and with superb intelligence for someone his age. I have watched him for a long time through various youth levels, and he looks like a player who can make it on the big stage, certainly at a mid-table side in Brasil. He should get a lot of playing time this season, so this is going to be his most important year yet.

It is quite hard to predict how Figueirense will get on this season, they could go on a surprising run pulling off some big results, but over the course of the season I think they will struggle for consistency and fail to stay in the league.

Expected formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Cruzeiro

One of the really serious contenders for the national title this season, Cruzeiro are looking for another successful season in their long, proud history. Runners-up in the Brasileirão last season, Campeonato Mineiro champions for 2011, they are widely regarded as the best team in South America.

Generally dominant so far in 2011, they strolled through the Campeonato Mineiro, dropping only four points in the regular stage and cruising through the knockout round. However, they suffered a surprise exit from the Copa Libertadores at the hands of Colombians Once Caldas, despite playing absolutely brilliantly in the group stage.

Since last year they have made some useful tweaks to the squad, some fringe players have been cut, youngsters have been sent out on loan, and useful additions have been recruited in the shape of defensive midfielder Leandro Guerreiro, Paraguayan forward José Ortigoza and Uruguayan centre back Mauricio Victorino.

They have some wonderful talents in their squad, goalkeeper Fábio is another awesome Brazilian talent in that position, great shot-stopper, and wonderful at facing penalties. In the midfield, Argentine playmaker Walter Montillo orchestrates the attack and shows week-in-week-out why he is one of the best midfielders in the league. He is such a fabulous player to watch, he dictates the tempo of the match, creates chances with wonderful through passes, and can carve open opportunities for himself with fantastic darting runs through the opposition defence.

Another huge talent in the squad is 21 year old attacker Wallyson. He has really made the step up this year with dazzling performances in the Libertadores and state championships, after he was restricted to playing a peripheral role in the team last season. Traditionally a supporting striker, he has adapted to playing as a right winger and has fitted in perfectly to the attack. One to watch for this season, and a possible candidate for top scorer if Cruzeiro performs as expected.

Wallyson is looking forward to his best season yet. (Photo: Valeska Silva)

Similar to the likes of Barcelona, they are a rather predictable side. Manager Cuca never makes too many alterations to their formation or squad selection, which has helped them form a unit of players who are able to build consistency every week. Their system is a 4-2-3-1, the aforementioned Wallyson and Roger in attacking midfield roles with the former drifting out right, and Montillo as the playmaker. Thiago Ribeiro should be preferred up front coming back from injury, but they have some other useful options for that spot like José Ortigoza and former l’OM striker Brandão.

They really have a very good chance for the title this season, as long as the team stay motivated and do not lose confidence. Alongside their strong starting XI, they have decent depth in their squad which is absolutely integral to a title challenge in the Campeonato Brasileiro. Their Libertadores exit is a worry, but over the course of a league season they should perform very well.

Expected formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Coritiba

Back in the Brasileirão after a year down in Série B, a Coxa are in the form of their lives, having broken the Brazilian record for the most consecutive victories (24). They made light work of the Série B last year, coasted to the trophy in the Campeonato Paranaense, and they crushed Palmeiras 6-0 in a historic first leg of the Copa do Brasil quarter final. These results and their attractive style have inspired certain people to refer to them as ‘the Barcelona of South America’.

They have formed a really good unit, everyone pulling their weight and playing for the team. They are organized, good on the counter and dangerous at set-pieces. They play in what looks like a standard Brazilian 4-2-2-2, but with a couple of alterations. Between the two attacking midfielders Davi and Rafinha, the former operates more in the middle in a number nine role, whilst Rafinha drifts out to either flank and pushes up to attack. The two forwards Anderson Aquino and Bill do something similar, with Bill staying in the centre, and Anderson Aquino drifting out to either side and sometimes dropping back in to midfield. (see diagram)

In the transfer market they adopted an interesting tactic, signing several fringe players from higher reputation clubs. This has worked out superbly, as they have managed to get a hold of a crop of talented, experienced and extremely motivated individuals. Defensive midfielder Léo Gago has proved to be a fabulous addition to the side, he was on loan at the side last season from Vasco and Coritiba will be delighted that they have managed to tie him down to a permanent contract. A good athletic player, does the simple stuff well but also provides a threat going forward, one to watch out for this year.

Several people will have their eyes on Marcelo Oliveira’s side this season, and I do not think they will be disappointed. This is a motivated team who will be looking to establish themselves amongst the top sides in the league. It might be a little too early for them this year, but I would not be at all surprised if they ended up in the top half of the table and with a Copa Sulamericana spot.

Expected formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Corinthians

Corinthians, o Timão, the biggest team in São Paulo state and truly one of the giants in the Brazilian game. They have a significantly different team to the one that finished 3rd in last season’s Brasileirão, with the retirement of Ronaldo Fenômeno and the departures of Roberto Carlos, Jucilei and Elias. Despite these losses, they still managed to make the final of the Campeonato Paulista, partially thanks to the signing of former Sporting Lisbon forward Liedson.

This transfer window has been a busy one for Corinthians, and there seems to be a lot more to come. Bruno Cesar will leave in June to sign for Benfica, and striker Dentinho has sealed a move to Ukraine with Shakhtar Donetsk. The really interesting part is the players coming in. Since the end of the 2010 Brasileirão, o Timão have recruited names like Liedson, Fábio Santos, Adriano, Emerson and ex-Spartak Moscow midfielder Alex. Roma’s Fábio Simplício appears to be close to signing, and there are strong rumours regarding the signings of AC Milan’s Clarence Seedorf, Paulo Henrique Ganso from Santos and André of Dynamo Kiev.

This is a team who certainly have what it takes to win the league, with some of the best players in Brazil at their disposal, especially if they go on to sign any of the other names mentioned. Perhaps their only weak spot is their coach, Tite. Not a bad coach by any means, but since he has been in charge of Corinthians it has not seemed like the fans have been particularly won over by him. He failed to win the 2010 Brasileirão last season, was knocked out by Deportes Tolima in the qualifying rounds of the 2011 Copa Libertadores, and now suffered in the Paulistão final. You feel that Tite needs instant results, and any more disappointment in the near future will leave him out of a job.

Without knowing the extent of their activity in the transfer market, it is hard to pinpoint a formation for Corinthians, but with the players they have under contract currently, they will play a 4-2-3-1. Fábio Santos and Alessandro play left and right back respectively, dominating the flanks. In the midfield, Ralf is the holding man, and he is partnered by Paulinho, who is a little more athletic and mobile. The attacking three (for the time being) should line up with Jorge Henrique, Alex and Willian, and Liedson is the first choice at centre forward.

Expected formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Ceará

Fresh from a dominant campaign in the Campeonato Cearense, during which they strolled to the trophy ending rivals Fortaleza’s run of four titles in a row, Ceará are looking forward to another Campeonato Brasileiro season. The Vozão performed well above expectations last year, spending a surprising amount of time in the top four, and ending up in 12th position with a place in the Copa Sulamericana 2011. Their home support was truly fantastic, with an average home crowd of over 20,000, a typical trait of clubs from the northeast region. This will be in threat for this year however, as their Castelão stadium has been closed for refurbishment for the World Cup in 2014, and they will play their home games in the Domingão stadium in neighbouring city Horizonte.

Ceará are currently on an extended cup run, taking on Coritiba in the semi-finals of the Copa do Brasil. It has been an excellent campaign so far, in the quarter finals they eliminated Flamengo 4-3 on aggregate, showing great character over both legs. This series of results has earned the team the fantastic nickname of a Carroça Desembestada, the runaway train.

In the off-season they conducted a very good piece of business by bringing in veteran striker Iarley on loan from Corinthians, his experience is sure to serve them well in what will be a very challenging season for them. Along with the great form of their top scorer Marcelo Nicácio, they should be decent going forward.

Ceará go with the generic Brazilian 4-4-2 formation, but with their full-backs allowed to get really far forward, with one of the defensive midfielders tucking in to cover. In attack, they work as a fluid unit, midfielders Thiago Humberto and playmaker Geraldo orchestrate the attacks, while Iarley supports the centre forward, often dropping into midfield.

Certainly the Vozão are currently in very high spirits thanks to some great results, and rightly so, but I fear that they do not have the squad to keep up their form on more than one front. With the effort expended during the Campeonato Cearense and their extended cup run, not forgetting the Sulamericana later in the year, they may spread themselves too thin and their league position could suffer. Personally I hope they manage to stay in the league, as with the dominance of teams from Brasil’s south-east, it is about time that a team from the North-east got some success.

Expected Formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Botafogo

Now we go on to the first out of the four grandes do Rio de Janeiro, Botafogo. A very traditional club with a lot of history, twice national champions, and was the home to such greats as Garrincha and Jairzinho. In recent years, the team has been performing fairly well but without reaching any grand heights. Joel Santana recently left his post as manager after 15 months in charge (a relatively long stint in Brasileirão terms) under strong pressure and criticism from the supporters, but since he took charge Botafogo have evolved in to an attractive attacking side.

Last year they ended up in sixth position after a fairly impressive campaign, during which they lost only one home match at the Engenhão. Since then there have not been very many changes in personnel, 21 year old Thiago Galhardo joined from Bangu and defensive midfielder Arévalo Rios was signed from Mexican side Monterrey, covering for the exit of Leandro Guerreiro who signed for Cruzeiro.

Botafogo have a squad with all of the makings of a title challenge, but they do not appear to be unified enough to construct such an assault. They play the traditional Brazilian 4-4-2 (shaped like 4-2-2-2), and are characterized by a strong spine, from national team goalkeeper Jefferson right through to Uruguayan talismanic forward Sebastian ‘Loco’ Abreu. Centre back Antônio Carlos provides quality in the defense, also he can be counted on for a few goals from set pieces throughout the season.

Moving in to the midfield, Marcelo Mattos and ‘Mago’ Maicosuel really give this side a great injection of quality. Marcelo Mattos is a defensive midfielder, mature, effective and a good passer of the ball, he is very valuable to the balance and tempo of the side. Maicosuel is an attacking midfielder, good dribbler, great touch, and capable of moments of real magic (which explains his nickname, mago = magician). He suffered a pretty serious knee injury in September and is only now returning to the team, and to announce his return he scored a fabulous solo goal in a recent friendly against Friburguense, giving the supporters something to look forward to this season.

Up front, the 193cm Uruguayan striker Sebastián ‘Loco’ Abreu leads the line. A truly fabulous character, he has become known worldwide after scoring the penalty kick that eliminated Ghana in the 2010 World Cup. The technique he uses to take his penalties, a gentle chip down the middle of the goal (known in Brasil as a “cavadinha”, a little dig) lead to a particularly bizarre event last season during a clássico against Fluminense, which completely defined his cult status.

In the second half of the clássico, trailing 2x1, Botafogo won a penalty which Loco Abreu took, a cavadinha as usual, but it was saved by the Fluminense goalkeeper. However, only two minutes later, Botafogo won another penalty. Loco Abreu grabbed the ball again, and with nerves of steel, hit another cavadinha, which this time beat the goalkeeper.

Alongside el Loco, they have the option of Caio and Herrera, both useful strikers who can bring something different to the attack depending on the situation.

Expected Formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Bahia

Esporte Clube Bahia are back in the Brazilian top-flight after eight painful years in the lower divisions. Their return has been a long time coming, considering Bahia is the biggest club in Brazil’s huge and populous northeast region.

The Tricolor squad this year is made up of tons of loan signings, mainly squad players from big clubs like Corinthians, Vasco and Cruzeiro. The more interesting names in the Bahia squad are four of these signings, Zezinho, Lulinha, Dôdo and Jobson. The first three are youngsters who have all been tipped as ‘the next big thing’ early in their careers, their progress seems to have stalled a little, but it will definitely be interesting to see how each of them get on. The fourth name is by far the most intriguing, 23 year old striker Jobson.

Jobson: Will he finally realise his potential?

At 21 years old, Jobson was the star striker at Botafogo in Rio de Janeiro, he had set the Brasileirão alight and was ready to sign for Minas Gerais giants Cruzeiro. Everything was all set for the transfer, until Jobson failed a drug test and the move was cancelled. It turned out he had a serious addiction to crack cocaine and was subsequently banned for two years from the game. The ban was later reduced to six months and he was resigned by Botafogo.

He managed to reclaim the form that he had back in 2009, but his attitude and lack of discipline meant he was very inconsistent and got in to a lot of trouble with Botafogo, often missing training sessions and succumbing to the temptations of the Rio de Janeiro nightlife. At the end of 2010 he was loaned out to Atlético Mineiro, but was altogether unimpressive during the Minas Gerais state championships, only making a handful of appearances.

Now at Bahia, he appears to be pleased with his new club, and excited in the wake of the new season. Whether this attitude is sincere or not remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the 23 year old still possesses a huge amount of talent, and if he plays to full potential he will be indispensable for o Tricolor. For the sake of football, here’s hoping we will see the true Jobson.

Bahia play a fairly standard 4-4-2 formation, with two defensive midfielders. Their key will surely come in attack, where Jobson and Souza will lead the line.

Expected Formation:
football formations

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Brasileirão In Focus: Avaí

Competing in the Série A for the third year in a row (their seventh Série A in their history) Avaí will be hoping to cement their place this year amongst the mid-table of the Brasileirão. Nicknamed ‘o Leão da Ilha’ (the lion of the island), they hail from the coastal city of Florianópolis in Santa Catarina state in the south of the country. They are not a big team in Brazil by any means, their only national honour coming in the shape of the 1998 Série B title, but they are beginning to form their own identity in Brazil’s top league since gaining promotion in 2008.

The 2010 season was one of mixed emotions for Avaí, they were eliminated in the last 16 of the Copa do Brasil in a close game against Grêmio, and then later in the year they participated in the Copa Sulamericana, their first ever continental tournament. Avaí performed well in the Sulamericana, reaching the quarter finals. In the league, their form was inconsistent at best, and they ended up in 15th position, just safe from relegation.

The squad has changed significantly from last season with several departures, the most notable being Patric moving to Atlético Mineiro, and the trio of Émerson, Davi and Eltinho all joining newly promoted Coritiba. In the other direction, the transfers were more low-key, but the signing of Marquinhos from Santos was celebrated amongst Avaí supporters, being the midfielder’s return to the club he helped gain promotion in 2008.

Avaí play a 3-5-2 formation, with the cover provided by the three centre backs allowing the wing backs to function as attackers, a very Brazilian strategy. In defence, they are able to soak up pressure and get plenty players behind the ball, both on the flanks and through the middle. They are strong at set-pieces, with Marquinhos able to put some really good crosses in to the area.

Goalkeeper Renan will shine for Avaí, if they can hold on to him...

The real shining star of this team is the man between the sticks. 20-year old Renan is another of Brazil’s extremely promising young goalkeepers, and with a call-up from the national team already, Renan seems to be a little bit ahead of the rest. A great young keeper, excellent shot-stopping abilities, has a good command of his area and fabulous distribution. He’s a very important part of the Avaí side and they will be hoping that they can stave off interest from São Paulo giants Corinthians.

There are some other excellent talents in the squad, new-signing Jonathan Estrada looks like he will be integral to the Leão squad this season. The 28 year old Colombian is a central midfielder, and he is a tenacious ball winner, and also likes to drift out to the left and help the team going down the wing.

This year promises to be another season full of uncertainty, as already they have given a very poor performance in the Santa Catarina state championships, failing to make it to the final. However in the Copa do Brasil, they have progressed to the semi-finals against Vasco, after seeing off Botafogo and São Paulo in the earlier rounds. It goes without saying that Avaí are the definition of an unpredictable club, expect some disappointing results against poor opposition, and some mighty scalps against the grandes.

Expected Formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Atlético-PR

The fact that they are currently being overshadowed by their city rivals Coritiba is not necessarily a bad thing for Atlético Paranaense. O Furacão (the hurricane) had a very impressive campaign in last year’s Brasileirão, going under the radar for the whole season and finishing in 5th place, missing out on a Copa Libertadores place by only three points.

New manager Adilson Batista has tried his best to hold together the nucleus of last year’s side, and new director of football Alfredo Ibiapina has promised to spare no expense to improve the squad. Some important players left the club at the end of last season, winger Maikon Leite returned to Santos at the end of his loan deal, centre back Rhodolfo was snapped up by São Paulo, defensive midfielder Chico joined Palmeiras, centre forward Bruno Mineiro joined Sport Recife, and 21 year old goalkeeper Neto got a big money move to Fiorentina in Italy.

There have been some good signings, with World Cup winner and ex-Manchester United midfielder Kléberson signing from Flamengo, former Atlético Madrid midfielder Cleber Santana arriving on loan from São Paulo and Robston joining from Atlético Goianiense. These are impressive names for a club of o Furacão’s size, but the fear is that the players that have left have not been sufficiently replaced yet. The directors are still on the hunt for new recruits however, and by the time you read this they may have improved the squad further.

Atlético are a team with more quality than some may realise. Their defence is strong, centre back Manoel in particular is a very talented player, only 21 years old, but with bags of technique and maturity. In front of him, o Furacão have a wealth of choices in the defensive midfield position, and it is such an important position in the Brazilian domestic game. Besides new signings Kléberson, Cleber Santana, Robston and Paulo Roberto, they also have Fransérgio, Deivid, Wendel and Guilherme, all relevant options with something to give to the team.

36 year old Paulo Baier is still o Furacão's primary creative force.

Despite having a team full of youth, potential and secure defensive capabilities, Atlético’s key player comes in the shape of a 36 year old veteran playmaker who goes by the name of Paulo Baier, a wonderful player with great awareness, superb vision and an astounding range of passes. He is also deadly from set-pieces (corner kicks in particular) and is the focal point of almost every Atlético attack. The fact that he never won a national championship in Brazil is a mystery to me, but that’s a story for another day.

The only area where Atlético appear to be lagging behind their peers is up front. The now departed Bruno Mineiro performed an important role for o Furacão last season, and in his absence they seem to lack a central goalscoring figure. The current first choice is Ecuadorian forward Joffre Guerrón, who certainly has talent, but appears to lack the ability to play as a central forward in a 4-5-1, often getting lost and isolated during the game. They have another option in Adaílton, but he seems to suffer from a similar problem. However the apparent emergence of squad player Federico Nieto may be cause for celebration, the huge Argentine front-man has performed well in recent substitute appearances, scoring some important goals.

For the start of the season, I expect Adilson Batista to go with a formation that exclusively plays to the strengths of o Furacão, which means three defensive midfielders and Paulo Baier in a playmaker role. In recent games they have lined up in a 4-3-2-1/4-3-1-2 formation, and I would guess that they will go with the former when they start against Atlético Mineiro at the weekend.

Expected Formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Atlético-MG

Atlético Mineiro, o Galo, is an absolutely huge club in Brazil. They are the one of the two giants of Minas Gerais state, along with bitter rivals Cruzeiro. When you consider that the state of Minas Gerais has a population of approximately 20 million people, that gives you some idea of the level of support for this club.

The free spending policies of their president Alexandre Kalil has made Atlético a very interesting team to keep an eye on, especially throughout the off-season, as they buy and sell players like no other team in Brazil. Several first team players left the club this year, World Cup 2002 winner Ricardinho was shown the door, top scorer Diego Tardelli was sold to Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia, midfielder Diego Souza joined Vasco, Obina was sold to China, and Julio Cáceres and Édison Méndez returned to their countries of birth, joining Olimpia in Paraguay and Emelec in Ecuador respectively.

Coming the opposite way, Atlético signed a wealth of new players, leaving them with a team almost completely unrecognizable from that of last season’s. Some of the more interesting additions include the signing of former Inter Milan and Roma winger Mancini, Ceará’s goalscoring forward Magno Alves, Richarlyson of São Paulo, former Avaí right-back Patric, and Dudu Cearense from Olympiakos.

As you could imagine, with so many new faces in the squad, the first big task for manager Dorival Junior is to get the team to gel together. During this year’s Campeonato Mineiro they have been impressive, showing good signs for the rest of the season. They reached the final against rivals Cruzeiro with such ease, but lost 3-2 on aggregate to their city rivals.

The team certainly has talent throughout the squad, but as is so often the job at big teams in Brazil, the manager has to try to consolidate this talent into a secure unit. Renan Ribeiro has had another good season, continuing his growth as a player and further establishing himself as one of Brazil’s best young goalkeepers. In front of him, the centre-back partnership of Réver and Leonardo Silva has impressed many, both are tall, powerful and they seem to be functioning well as a duo.

Fillipe Soutto looks to be the future of the Galo midfield.

Several young talents are also making a big push into the first team at Atlético this year, a quick glance at their first choice eleven throws up names such as Renan Ribeiro, Fillipe Soutto, Bernard and Giovanni Augusto, all of whom are under the age of 23. The real shining star from that list, in my opinion, is 20 year old Fillipe Soutto, a defensive midfielder with great passing, good aerial presence, and a maturity well beyond his years. One worry for him is that with former CSKA and Olympiakos midfielder Dudu Cearense being signed to strengthen the team for the Brasileirão, Fillipe may see himself being pushed to the bench.

Up front, Mancini and Magno Alves have the potential to be one of the most dangerous forward pairings in the Brasileirão. The latter is a complete forward, big, powerful, with decent speed and a natural eye for goal. He had a good campaign in this year’s Campeonato Mineiro, finishing with ten goals in total. Mancini has looked very impressive since he joined, albeit playing in a more withdrawn midfield role, but it seems like he will be employed just behind Magno Alves when we go in to the regular season.

Expected Formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: Atlético-GO

Having survived relegation in last year’s Brasileirão by the skin of their teeth, o Dragão will not be expecting miracles this year. Last season, having spent the majority of the year in the relegation zone (for ten rounds they occupied 20th place), they managed to secure survival on the last day, holding Vitória to a 0-0 draw. That stalemate sent their opponents down to Série B and left Atlético in 16th place by virtue of having two more victories than Vitória (which is funnily enough the Portuguese word for victory…). Since then, Atlético-GO won the 2011 edition of a scandalously poor Goianiense state championship, defeating their fierce city rivals Goias over two legs in the final.

They do not appear to have strengthened much since last season, in fact they have lost several first team players. Their top scorer, attacking midfielder Elias, joined Al-Ain in the UAE, and volante Robston has moved south to join Atlético Paranaense. However they have managed to hang on to some important and experienced players in their squad, but their alarming lack of experience and talent could leave them in serious trouble this season. Goalkeeper Márcio is a favourite of mine, a great shot-stopper, commanding in his area, and he takes a mean penalty kick. Up at the other end of the park, Elias may have left, but 190cm tall goal-machine Marcão still remains.

They key to their survival will come from forming a team that is hard to beat. Their formation looks good on paper, three strong and effective volantes (defensive midfielders), with the more creative Anailson in front, supplying a front two of target man Marcão, and support strikers Felipe or Juninho.

Expected Formation:
football formations

Brasileirão In Focus: América-MG

A traditional team with a big history in Brazil, o Coelho ("the rabbit") has returned to the Série A for the first time in ten years. This is all the more impressive when you consider that in two years ago they finished in 20th position in the 2008 Série C. After achieving back-to-back promotions, and with the return of top division football to Minas Gerais’ third club, spirits could not be higher amongst the Coelho faithful.

During the off-season, América were fairly quiet in the transfer market, but managed to recruit some useful squad players, signing centre-back Anderson and goalkeeper Neneca (both from Santo André) and repatriating defensive midfielder Amaral who had spent a season at Cerezo Osaka in Japan.

Their squad looks good, they have cover in key positions, and they have a good balance of experience, potential and influence. In goal, 40 year old Flávio is still expected to be the first choice goalkeeper after being the man between the sticks ever since that 20th position finish in Série C. He is a very accomplished goalkeeper, and he performs an important role in the team, organizing the back line well.

Top scorer Fábio Júnior will be key for o Coelho this season.

In defence, they have several options at centre-back, Gabriel Santos and Otávio should be the preferred starters. Otávio is one to watch out for this year, one of the most impressive youngsters in this year’s Campeonato Mineiro, I certainly hope we will be seeing a lot of him. The laterais (or full-backs) will be Sheslon on the right, and Carleto will most likely be the first choice on the left after signing on loan from São Paulo. Both are typically Brazilian in style, so do not expect them to sit back in their own half much, especially with the ample cover they will have behind them.

The midfield has many possibilities, but I can be certain that we will see new signing Amaral in a defensive midfield role and 35 year old Irênio in a more advanced position. There are quite a lot of other players at América’s disposal for the middle of the park, but Irênio’s experience and technique will be key to o Coelho’s survival. A wonderful passer of the ball, great vision, and with the ability to dictate the pace of a midfield, he is of so much value to this side.

América manager Mauro Fernandes does not have too much experience in the top league, but he has shown his potential and tactical prowess since taking command of o Coelho. They are a fluid team, they can be seen playing formations with three, four or five defenders, they have plenty of different options in midfield, and this unpredictability could certainly work in their favour.

However, despite previously adventurous tactics, it is expected that América will play most of this season in a 4-5-1 formation with three defensive midfielders, two narrow attacking midfielders, and Fábio Júnior up front on his own. Their first match is at home against fellow promoted side Bahia, and I would expect this compact and cautious 4-5-1 in what is a very important encounter for both sides.

Regarding keeping América up this season, Mauro Fernandes has a massive task ahead of him. They will no doubt be amongst the favourites to go down at the end of the day, due to having a team without any real stars. But if they manage to group together as a team, become hard to beat and pick up the important points (starting with their first game against fellow relegation candidates Bahia) then they should be able to keep themselves above ground.

Expected formation:
football formations