Brasileiro as unpredictable as ever
After ten rounds of most competitions in world football, the average punter often has a reasonable idea of how things are going to pan out at the end of the season.
However, the same cannot be said for Brazil’s league championship – the Campeonato Brasileiro.
The tournament is already more than a quarter way through and while the pieces are slowly starting to fall in to place, it’s still very difficult to predict this season’s winners and losers.
A look at the positions of the teams at the top and bottom this time last year shows just how erratic the Brasileiro can be.
Botafogo had been leaders for five rounds but ended the season in 9th. Goiás were 2nd but only survived the drop to Série B on the final day. 3rd placed São Paulo finished as champions and Palmeiras slid from 4th to a disappointing 7th.
At the wrong end of the table, Flamengo were in the relegation zone but recovered dramatically in the second-half of the season to finish 3rd. Náutico were bottom but climbed to 15th. América RN and Juventude were rarely out of the bottom four and inevitably went down.
One of the main reasons for the unpredictable state of the league is that the Brasileiro runs from May to December. This leaves the clubs at the mercy of the European transfer window. So, July and August is often the time when many Brazilian sides are dismantled and rebuilt, or at the very least lose their best players.
Brazilians argue that the erratic nature of the Brasileiro is in fact a virtue.
Dynasties rarely last and the title has exchanged hands 17 times since the league’s inception in 1971.
So, what of the title hopefuls this season?
Flamengo: leaders 23 points
Many tipped Flamengo to build on the back of their success in 2007. But when coach Joel Santana left to take over the reins at South Africa, the wheels were expected to fall off under new boy, Caio Júnior. For the moment at least, that’s not happened and Fla have looked steady but not spectacular. But Flamengo have not done well against any of their in-form title rivals. Fla were very fortunate in avoiding a thrashing at Grêmio and lost at home against current champions, São Paulo. But the biggest danger to Flamengo’s ambitions is the transfer market. In Fla’s case, it could mean losing the likes of Léo Moura, Juan, Obina, Marcinho and Bruno. But the first out of the door could be Renato Augusto after Bayer Leverkusen expressed an interest. More worrying is the alleged off-field activities of Marcinho, Bruno and Tardelli, that may have serious repercussions for both the players and the club. But at least the Flamengo have managed to secure the services of midfielder Ibson from Porto for another year.
Vitória: 2nd 20 points
The Brasileiro always throws up surprises and this season it’s new boys, Vitória.
After sliding all the way down to Série C in recent seasons, Vitória have returned to the top flight with a bang and are just 3 points behind Flamengo. Coach Vágner Mancini has blended together a mishmash of veterans, rejects, and youth products led by the 36 year-old, former Brazil international, Ramon. Vitória have now won five of their last six and the club feel that a top four finish is a definite possibility.
Vitória’s staying power will be put to the test in their next four matches when they take on Fluminense away, São Paulo at home, Flamengo away and Náutico at home. If the Bahia club take points off their competitors, then the league will really have to sit up and take notice.
Cruzeiro: 3rd 18 points
Cruzeiro are another side that has struggled against their championship competitors. The Belo Horizonte team are more pragmatic under coach Adílson Baptista. But a thumping loss away at Palmeiras and a home draw with São Paulo did not go down well with many of the club supporters who aren’t happy the new approach. On Thursday, the Foxes drew at strugglers Ipatinga. So, the malcontents may not have to wait too long before Baptista gets the chop. Cruzeiro let the impressive forward Marcelo Moreno leave a couple of weeks into the season and will almost certainly accept any decent offer for Guilherme, Ramires and Espinosa. If they go, Cruzeiro can kiss goodbye to the Brasileiro.
Grêmio: 4th 18 points
Grêmio were not top of many people’s list of title candidates but Celso Roth’s outfit are performing reasonably well. The team from the Olímpico have no big profile players especially since Roger’s recent transfer to Qatar Sports Club. This move is bound to have an impact on Grêmio’s aspirations and in the two games since he left Grêmio have failed to win. However, the Porto Alegre side have just made an excellent signing by bringing in utility man, Souza, from PSG.
Palmeiras: 5th 18 points
Under Vanderlei Luxemburgo, the Palestra Itália outfit have assembled an impressive squad and Palmeiras have the players to wrest the crown from São Paulo. But it’s safe to say that Palmeiras have found the Brasileiro a lot tougher than they were expecting and with the club’s backers, Traffic, keen to make a quick profit, the task of winning the Brasileiro may become even harder. Centreback Henrique has already moved to Barcelona and reserve keeper Diego Cavalieri is now at Liverpool. Valdívia is attracting interest from Hertha Berlin and if Diego Souza scores any more goals like his equaliser vs Atlético Mineiro last weekend, he could also be on his way. Goals haven’t exactly flowed this season and Palmeiras could do with another natural goal-scorer to take the pressure off Alex Mineiro.
Internacional: 8th 14 points
Internacional are having another average campaign though two straight wins have improved their position. Fernandão was sold early on. Fringe players Iarley and Gil have gone. But if current top performers Nilmar and Alex are allowed to leave, it’s going to be disappointing year for the Beira-Rio outfit.
São Paulo: 9th 14 points
Current champions São Paulo have made an indifferent start to this campaign. Muricy Ramalho’s team’s run of 8 games unbeaten came to an end when they went down away at Náutico midweek. São Paulo have already drawn five times and are now 9 points adrift of Flamengo. Ramalho will be without Hernanes and Alex Silva for most of August after they were called up for Brazil’s Olympic squad. But there is a big possibility that neither will return to the Morumbi if the transfer rumours linking them to Spanish and German clubs prove to be true. São Paulo could also lose Richarlyson and Miranda and these departures may scupper São Paulo’s hopes of becoming the first team to win the Brasileiro three years in a row. Reinforcements, however, are arriving. Forward André Lima has come in from Hertha Berlin. Centrebacks Anderson and Rodrigo should be signed up from Lyon and Dynamo Kiev respectively. However, São Paulo desperately need a creative midfielder but this does not appear to be a priority for Ramalho.
Santos: 18th 7 points
Santos have had a terrible season. Cuca has yet to win in his six games in charge. During this period, Santos have scored just twice and the club’s leading marksman in recent campaigns, Kléber Pereira, has not hit the net in 8 matches. But new players such as Fabiano Eller (Atletico Madrid) and Michael (Dynamo Kiev) have been drafted in and the Vila Belmiro side should start to recover. Though whether they can force their way into contention for a top four finish remains doubtful.
Fluminense: 20th (bottom) 6 points
Fluminense have one of the best squads in Brazil but it’s taken them ten rounds to pick up their first win and they are languishing in the relegation zone. Losing the Libertadores to Ecuador’s LDU was a massive blow, and the fallout has already begun. Gabriel has apparently played his last game and is lining up a move to Panathinaikos. Luiz Alberto and Dodô are also close to leaving. Thiago Neves is being linked with every major club in Europe and will soon be on his way; probably with Arouca. Flu though are likely to hang on to Thiago Silva until December. The defender will then be a free agent so it’s expected that any suitors will make their move at the end of the year.
The Campeonato Brasileiro finishes on 7th December but who’ll come out on top and who’ll end up in the gutter is anybody’s guess. On the final day last year, there were Libertadores places up for grabs and teams still had a chance of avoiding relegation. And the finale of the competition is likely to be just as nail-biting this season.
See the Goal.com version here