This preview of the 2015 Brazilian season was written by Anthony Wood (@FRfutebolAnt) and Luke Butler (@FRfutebolLuke), who are Brazilian football experts for the football data and analysis company, Football Radar.
After a few long and arduous months of state championship football, the 2015 edition of Brazil’s premier league competition, the Brasileirão, kicks off this weekend. The league has seen eleven different teams crowned champions over the past two decades and this season looks set to be as competitive and unpredictable as ever. Cruzeiro sealed their second successive title last year but, like a lot of teams, they have since been affected by the mass exodus of some of the league’s best players to China and the Middle East. The upside of these stars leaving is that the playing field has been levelled somewhat, competition is fiercer, and promising young players should be afforded greater opportunities.
Unlike 2014’s crop, the Brazilian sides in the Copa Libertadores have performed well and progressed to the knockout stages of the competition. Cruzeiro, Atlético Mineiro, Internacional, Corinthians and São Paulo will be there or thereabouts at the top end of the table come December. Although at least two of those sides are certain to be knocked out of the competition next week, this early-season distraction gives the chasing pack the chance of a head-start. Teams such as Santos, Grêmio and the Rio sides will be aiming for a top-six finish, whilst rejuvenated Palmeiras have ambitions for a title tilt.
The division is very South-centric this year with Sport Recife the sole representative of the country’s Nordeste region. For the first time there are four teams from Santa Catarina in the top-flight, but Chapecoense, Figueirense, Joinville, and Avaí will all be aiming just to avoid the drop. Ponte Preta, Goiás, and local rivals Atlético Paranaense and Coritiba make up the numbers and they too will be striving for mid-table safety. Each of these sides will be looking to cause a stir amongst the big sides though, and there could be surprises.
One thing is certain and that is that Brazilian football is never dull. Expect the unexpected. And with that in mind the following is a breakdown of each team’s chances this season, key players and young prospects to watch out for.
Manager: Levir Culpi
2014 Finish: 5th
Campeonato Mineiro: Champions
Anyone who saw Diego Tardelli play for Galo last season will be well aware that they were never going to be able to replace him like for like after the Brazilian international moved to China. Some of their rapid attacking football towards the end of last season was truly breathtaking. Their 4-1 Copa do Brasil semi final win over Flamengo, en route to winning the competition, sticks in the memory in particular. At times they seemed to be playing with four players without a fixed position breaking quickly from all angles.
They have maintained the core of last year’s and chosen very carefully when it comes to the replacement for their star man. Lucas Pratto is right on the opposite end of the attacking spectrum to Tardelli. He is as classic a number 9 as you could hope for. He may appear lumbering but the former Vélez Sarsfield man was voted the best player in the Argentinian league last year. He has already made a good impression in Belo Horizonte as well. He has 7 goals thus far with the obvious highlight being the 2 he scored in a match winning performance in the Campeonato Mineiro semi final against local rivals Cruzeiro.
He provides a real reference point for the team and it was notable that performances dropped when he suffered a thigh injury earlier in the year. It may not be quite as fluid as last season but could prove to be just as effective. With the likes of Luan, Carlos & Datolo buzzing around behind their striker they will always be good watch and score goals.They have a nice balance of pace, creativity and endeavour.
It is true to say that their first league game this weekend, against Palmeiras, is being somewhat overshadowed by their Libertadores tie with Inter. They can be rightly proud of their reputation as an excellent cup team in recent years. There is no reason, however, that this year they should not seriously challenge for the title as well. LB
Manager: Milton Mendes
2014 Finish: 8th
Campeonato Paranaense: Relegation round (1st)
Things could not have gone much worse for Atlético Paranaense in 2015. It’s only May and they are already onto their third manager of the year after a disastrous Campeonato Paranaense campaign that almost saw them relegated to the state’s second division. The club continued its recent policy of fielding an Under-23 side in the championship but results were so bad that they turned to Claudinei Oliveira’s senior team, and even they could not reverse the poor form. The manager was harshly sacked for what was primarily the youth team’s failings, but he has less right to complain than his successor, Enderson Moreira, who was in charge for just 36 days before being given the chop.
The new owner of the poisoned chalice, Milton Mendes, faces a tough task to match last season’s top-half finish, especially after the sale of star striker Marcelo Cirino at the end of last year. He has inherited a bloated squad that is lacking in both quality and experience, and he will need to rely heavily on the home-grown talents of midfield general Deivid and promising winger Marcos Guilherme.
Goalkeeper Weverton will also be important to bail out a shaky defence, but perhaps the ace in the hole for Atlético could be new loan signing Walter. The plump striker is most renowned for carrying a few extra pounds but if he can rediscover his sensational form of 2013 then this team could surprise people. Another to watch out for is 19-year old Bruno Mota, whose gifted left foot, upright gait and composed presence in midfield have drawn comparisons to Ganso. AW
Manager: Gilson Kleina
2014 Finish: Promoted (4th in Série B)
Campeonato Catarinense: Relegation round (1st)
Avaí sneaked into the final Série A promotion spot on the closing day of the season and look set for a battle to stay up this year. The Campeonato Catarinense was a far from encouraging dress rehearsal for the team as they picked up just one win from nine games and they sleepwalked into the relegation round.
Promotion-winning coach Geninho was shown the door and replaced by Gilson Kleina who steered the ship away from the baying rocks of relegation. His subtle tactical tweaks struck a chord with the team straight away and signalled the beginning of an unbeaten streak. There is a renewed sense of optimism at the club ahead of the new season but staying up will still be a challenge.
The biggest benefactor in this upturn in fortunes has been Andre Lima, Avaí’s tenacious striker who has averaged almost a goal a game since the arrival of the new manager. He has formed a profitable partnership with Anderson Lopes, whose athleticism offers a different kind of threat for the opposition defence.
The star of the show though is captain Marquinhos, the club’s veteran playmaker whose touch and vision puts him head and shoulders above the rest of the team. As you would expect from an old-school Brazilian no. 10 he knows his way around a set-piece too, and his importance to the team cannot be understated.
Lining up alongside him in midfield is a promising member of the club’s next generation, 17-year old Renan. A holding player by trade, he still needs to develop physically but he has already shown his intelligence on the ball and he reads the game very well. Romulo is another youth team product that will compete with the forwards for a starting role this season. AW
Manager: Vinícius Eutrópio
2014 Finish: 15th
Campeonato Catarinense: 3rd
As the smallest club in the league, Chapecoense did remarkably well to stay up in their maiden Brasileirão campaign last year. They built on these foundations with some smart moves in the transfer market and promptly got off to a flying start in the state championships, winning the initial league stage. However, they were found out in the latter stage of the competition, missed out on the final and manager Vinícius Eutrópio came close to being fired. If he can find a working formula again Chapecoense should have the means to avoid relegation, but it will certainly be a season-long battle.
The team is not short of fire-power in attack, with Roger and Ananias scoring 17 goals between them this year, while Bruno Rangel and new signing Edmilson should also chip in. Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch, they possess a very safe pair of hands in the form of Danilo.
Transfer business has been shrewd but perhaps their most exciting asset comes their youth system. Hyoran, a tricky playmaker with excellent balance and the wonderful ability to turn quickly and sharply, was named as the Campeonato Catarinense’s ‘revelation’ of the year and has a promising season ahead. AW
2014 Finish: 4th
Campeonato Paulista: Semi-finals
With the return of their Copa Libertadores-winning coach Tite, after a year-long sabbatical, Corinthians started 2015 in devastating fashion, going on a 24-game unbeaten run whilst playing some of the most well-drilled and effective football seen in Brazil in recent years. He is without question the finest managerial mind in the country and under his guidance the team progressed from the ‘Group of Death’ in South America’s premier continental competition like it was a stroll in the park. However, fatigue from the punishing schedule, combined with star striker Paolo Guerrero being struck down with dengue fever, means that they are currently on a run of just one win in seven.
They were defeated by rivals Palmeiras on penalties in the Campeonato Paulista semi-finals and are at risk of being knocked out of the Libertadores to Paraguayan side Guarani after losing 2×0 in the away leg this week. Despite this dip in form, Corinthians are arguably the best team in the country on their day and will be one of the favourites for the Brasileirão title this year.
Timão are blessed with one of the deepest and talented squads in the league with genuine quality in every position. The outstanding performer is the aforementioned Guerrero, the Peruvian who is exceptionally good at playing the difficult lone striker role, equally good at holding the ball up, turning and picking a pass to a teammate as he is at scoring.
Elsewhere the team boasts a couple of Brazilian internationals in Elias, a dynamic box-to-box midfielder, and Gil, a defensive rock and one of the best centre-backs in the division. Creative midfielders Renato Augusto and Jadson are also key for the team’s 4-1-4-1 tactic to function, but the group is so strong that it is not unusual for the manager not to be able to fit them all into the match squads.
Malcom, the club’s supremely talented 18-year old forward, is one of the hottest properties in Brazil but after breaking through last year he has struggled to cope with the competition at times in 2015. He is still very young though and should earn plenty of chances to develop further this year before a move to Europe. The club’s youth side won the Copa São Paulo, the prestigious youth tournament, earlier this year so it would not be a surprise to see a few of those starlets graduate to first-team duties later this season. AW
Manager: Marquinhos Santos
2014 Finish: 14th
Campeonato Paranaense: Runners up
A considerable turnover of players from one year to the next is generally to be expected in Brazil. Of all the teams in the league, however, Coritiba certainly suffered the most in this regard. The legendary number 10, their captain, Alex brought his glittering career to an end. This alone would have been hard to manage, as he was quite clearly their most important player.
Unfortunately you can make a strong case that they lost their three next best players as well. Their long standing goalkeeper Vanderlei moved to Santos, midfielder maestro Robinho has been in dazzling form for Palmeiras, and the exciting attacker Joel is now waiting in the wings at champions Cruzeiro.
Given they only secured their position in Serie A on the penultimate day of last season these losses mean they could well be in for a trying 2015. Their Campeonato Paranaense campaign went roughly as expected until the final itself. Over two legs they managed to lose 5-0 to minnows Operario. Manager Marquinhos Santos has not held back in criticising his players in the week since.
It is not entirely doom and gloom, however. Marquinhos impressed me last year with his tactical flexibility. He looked set to join Vasco at the end of last year but eventually turned down the move for family reasons. He has seemingly managed to unearth a gem who should make his job that bit easier. 22 year old attacker Rafhael Lucas, who has been at the club since 2002, has had a real breakout year scoring 12 goals in just 16 games.
If new signings Negueba, Wallyson and Wellington Paulista can contribute in the goalscoring stakes as well then they could surprise a few people. They have a settled defensive unit, having held on to Leandro Almeida despite considerable interest from elsewhere, and decent, if unspectacular, options in midfield. LB
Manager: Marcelo Oliveira
2014 Finish: 1st
Campeonato Mineiro: Semi-finals
Cruzeiro’s back-to-back title-winning squad was finally broken up earlier this year, with star players Éverton Ribeiro, Ricardo Goulart and Lucas Silva leaving the club, as well as important squad members such as Marcelo Moreno, Egídio and Nilton, while Dedé will be out injured for most of the season.
With such a massive rebuilding job on his hands, Marcelo Oliveira, the longest-serving coach in the league, could not even count on the services of Alexandre Mattos, the shrewdest Director of Football in the league, who left for Palmeiras. The overhauled squad took time to gel but eventually found some form and successfully qualified for the next round of the Copa Libertadores. The team can perhaps count themselves unlucky to lose in their state championship semi-final against rivals Atlético Mineiro, where they were the better team over the two legs.
Although this season’s squad lacks the star quality of previous editions, Marcelo Oliveira has assembled a talented group with depth in every position that should challenge for the title again. Undoubtedly the most exciting new signing is young Uruguayan playmaker Giorgian De Arrascaeta. A gifted dribbler and passer, he offers both goals and assists as most of Cruzeiro’s play goes through him.
The manager’s biggest gamble was the loan signing of Leandro Damião, who flopped after a record move to Santos last year, but he has rediscovered the form that made him such a sought-after striker in 2012. He has bagged 12 goals already this year but in addition to the numbers it is his all-round centre-forward play and his ability to link up with the flanking midfielders around him that has made him such a pivotal member of the team.
He will be aided by the accurate crosses of Mayke, the club’s home-grown rampaging right-back who, unusually for a Brazilian full-back, possesses the rare ability to defend as well as attack. Another star from the Cruzeiro academy is left-winger Alisson, who loves to cut inside and dink a pass into the box, and who should kick on in his development year if he can overcome his regular injury problems.
The new jewel of the youth system is 19-year old Judivan, a creative midfielder who is cut from the same cloth as Alisson, can play across the frontline and has never failed to lift the crowd off their seats during his appearances this season. AW
Manager: Argel Fucks
2014 Finish: 13th
Campeonato Catarinense: Runners-up
Without wishing to offend any Figueirense fans it is probably fair to say that, outside of their manager’s name, there is nothing much eye-catching about them at the moment. They needed to beat Joinville over two legs to win the Campeonato Catarinense but were only able to manage back to back 0-0 draws. This sums them up somewhat. That said being unspectacular is not always a bad thing. I’m sure they will not be opposed to the odd dour draw this year if they are able to maintain a relatively comfortable mid-table berth.
They do have a very solid spine to the team. Their centre back pairing of Marquinhos and Thiago Heleno is excellent while their volantes Paulo Roberto and França are particularly bruising. Creativity could prove an issue however. Midfielder Rafael Bastos was brought in with this in mind, and was starting to show promising signs for them, but picked up what sounds a nasty injury in April. 19 year old Clayton has been a bright spark for them, with 8 goals so far this year, but I can’t help but feel some attacking reinforcements may be needed sooner rather than later. LB
Manager: Vanderlei Luxemburgo
2014 Finish: 10th
Campeonato Carioca: Semi-finals
It is fair to say that Flamengo have somewhat gone against tradition and are now a relatively well run club, financially speaking. Old habits die hard, however, and there are rumblings of discontent, not only from the fans but also from the manager, that they need to go all out and sign an “idol” for the season ahead. It seems the club hierarchy are standing firm, however, which is refreshing to see. Their signings have generally been well thought out. They have looked for younger players with potential to develop, rather than gone in search of short term glory. Good examples would be Arthur Maia and Jonas aka “The Schweinsteiger of Maranhao.” These two midfielders, 22 and 23 respectively, were both playing in Serie B last season yet have already impressed for the first team.
The closest thing the club have made to a marquee signing is the purchase of Marcelo Cirino from Atlético Paranaense. At 23 he too is far from the finished article but he possesses all the physical tools necessary to be a huge player for them. He made a dream start with 9 goals in his first 12 games but has cooled off slightly since.
It is hard to say how far Flamengo can go this season. They will undoubtedly be eyeing up the top four but there is fierce competition. This year could come too soon but they are putting together a good squad. There were already some excellent players at the club such as goalkeeper Paulo Victor, midfielder Hector Canteros and winger Everton. The real question will be if the fans, and even Luxemburgo himself, keep faith in the new policy if things start to get a bit tough. LB
Manager: Ricardo Drubscky
2014 Finish: 6th
Campeonato Carioca: Semi-finals
Despite the improvement from 2013, when they could hardly have come closer to relegation, last year was ultimately disappointing for Fluminense with their top four push faltering towards the end of the season. Their ability to hang on to their best players, following the end of their relationship with chief sponsors Unimed, was put to the test early in the year. Several first teamers left with full backs Bruno and Carlinhos joining São Paulo, while Cicero and, most importantly, Dario Conca moved abroad. It was not all bad news, however, with important players such as Diego Cavalieri, Gum and their talisman, and last year’s top goalscorer in the league, Fred all signing new contracts.
It was perhaps a surprise to see Cristóvão Borges carry on as manager into the new year. He only lasted until March, however. His replacement, Ricardo Drubscky, has changed relatively little thus far. They play a very similar 4-2-3-1 to that used last year. In April they lost an incredible shootout to Botafogo in the semi finals of the Campeonato Carioca, which ended with keeper Cavalieri taking perhaps the worst penalty of all time.
The tournament allowed them to give game time to some seriously talented youngsters. Centre-back Marlon and attacker Kenedy featured more prominently than in 2014. Both have been linked with moves to Europe. The same is true of Gerson, who had not actually debuted until this year. He has now started 11 games, netted four times, and generally looked absolute magic. His goal against Cabofriense, in particular, was a sight for sore eyes. If the likes of these three can continue to develop at pace, and Fred keeps banging in the goals, they are capable of having a positive 2015. LB
Manager: Hélio dos Anjos
2014 Finish: 12th
Campeonato Goiano: Champions
Goiás overachieved for much of last season but in the end finished comfortably mid-table and it was no surprise when some of their key players were poached by bigger clubs at the end of the season. Thiago Mendes jumped ship to São Paulo while both Amaral and Jackson are now at Palmeiras, and the club have put faith in their latest crop of youth products to replace them.
Despite the transitional squad at his disposal, new manager Wagner Lopes was still able to dominate the Campeonato Goiano, at least until he was fired due to off-the-field matters. His replacement Hélio dos Anjos returns to the club for his fifth (!) spell in charge and continued the success by leading the club to another state championship title. Despite this, the club could be in for a relegation battle this year as the youthful squad faces a tough learning curve.
The Goiás squad is based primarily on speed, with rapid counter-attacks a focal point of their tactics, which gets the best out of players such as rangey striker Bruno Henrique and lefty attacking-midfielder Esquerdinha. But even they would lose in a foot race to the lightning pace of Erik, the club’s prize asset who beat off strong competition to win the prestigious ‘revelation’ of the Brasileirão season last year. A clinical poacher built in the same mould as Michael Owen, he scored 17 goals in his breakthrough season and the fans will be hoping he can contribute similar numbers this year.
At the opposite end of the pitch, Renan was one of the top-performing keepers in the league last season, saving his team time after time with some fantastic saves, and he will be even more important this year behind an inexperienced defence that has been reshuffled a number of times already. In between Erik and Renan, the team is unremarkable, besides captain David, a classy deep-lying playmaker, and new signing Felipe Menezes, who has performed better than expected, becoming the team’s main creative outlet and scoring 8 goals this year too.
There are a number of useful youngsters in the squad who could breakthrough but two of the most stable and assured heads this year have been centre-back Alex Alves and holding midfielder Rodrigo. AW
Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari
2014 Finish: 7th
Campeonato Gaúcho: Runners-up
Like many teams in the league, Grêmio suffered from key players leaving for China at the beginning of the year. It was a tough ask to replace the goals of Hernan Barcos and Marcelo Moreno, who both leth within the space of a week, and Scolari turned to the club’s youth setup for answers.
The team stuttered through the opening games of the state championships with a youthful team that was struggling to gel. It was clear that reinforcements were required and once they were brought in the club’s form picked up, but Grêmio were still beaten by a superior Internacional side in the final.
Going forward, Scolari’s squad has more than enough about them to challenge for a Libertadores spot this season. There is talent throughout the team, from defensive stalwarts such as keeper Marcelo Grohe and centre-back Rhodolfo, to the mesmerising attacking-midfield triumvirate of Giuliano, Douglas and Luan. Unfortunately, they did not find a replacement for the centre-forwards that left and have been stuck with the lumbering, misfiring Braian Rodriguez. The potential solution though has been sitting on the bench in the form of young Yuri Mamute, who, despite the ‘mammoth’ meaning of his nickname, offers more mobility up front.
Another gem in the Grêmio youth system looking to make an impact this season is promising 16-year old midfielder Lincoln, who was very impressive in the derby against Internacional. AW
Manager: Diego Aguirre
2014 Finish: 3rd
Campeonato Gaúcho: Champions
Inter were seconds away from having the perfect week leading up to the start of the new season. They dispatched local rivals Gremio 2-1 last weekend and, on Wednesday night, were leading Atletico Mineiro by the same scoreline in stoppage time of their Copa Libertadores clash. A late equaliser will sting but still leaves them in control ahead of the home leg next week. With Corinthians suffering a dip in form it is certainly arguable that they are the form side in the country in this point of time.
Diego Aguirre deserves a lot of credit in this regard. It was a bold call to take over from Abel Braga at the end of the year with foreign managers in Brazil having a notoriously hard time. He certainly took over a good squad. Andres D’Alessandro, Nilmar and Charles Aranguiz are all genuine superstars. Nonetheless it takes courage, and indeed ability, to stamp your mark. He has done that by introducing a fast paced, modern style, while giving youth a chance and not being afraid to rotate his squad. The two players who have most clearly benefited from this are Valdivia and Rodrigo Dourado. The former is a versatile and exciting attacker, who was voted player of the Campeonato Gaúcho despite not being a certain starter. The latter is a tall, elegant defensive midfield player who has also been amongst the awards. He was voted ‘Revelation’ of the tournament having sprung from nowhere to become one of the first names on the teamsheet for the big games.
These two stand in stark contrast to former Manchester United man Anderson. Despite having signed on a four year contract Aguirre has not been afraid to even leave him off the bench. The midfielder has struggled for fitness and, despite one phenomenal performance against Brasil de Pelotas, failed to make an impact. One would hope that he is inspired by the competitive environment within the squad but, with or without him, I would be surprised if Inter weren’t there or there abouts come the end of the season. LB
Manager: Hemerson Maria
2014 Finish: Promoted (1st in Série B)
Campeonato Catarinense: Champions
It’s often true that the momentum gained in coming top of the league and getting promoted can have fizzled out by the time the champions actually play in the higher division. Players that impressed get sold on, clubs struggle to attract the talent needed to make the step up, and the form they were building has can evaporate due to the gap between seasons. Joinville would appear to have avoided these three pitfalls however.
Exciting attacker Edigar Junior has returned to parent club Atlético Paranaense but, for the most part, they have maintained the players that got them here. They are particularly strong in midfield. Naldo, Wellington Saci and Marcelo Costa all appear to be excellent players. Furthermore they have managed to add to the squad as well. Sueliton is a fine right back. Tiago Luis adds another source of creativity. Rafael Costa scored 10 league goals in Serie B for fellow promotees Ponte Preta last year.
Finally, they have just added the player of the Campeonato Catarinense. Marcelinho Paraíba managed 9 goals from midfield, in 17 games, for Inter de Lages. This tournament ran until last weekend so they have been able to continue their momentum. They suffered a sticky start bit eventually triumphed over rivals Figueirense in the final. There is some chance they will be stripped of the title, having named an ineligible player on the bench for one game, but this is unlikely to have an impact on the players.
This is the first time they will have competed in 28 years, so survival will be their first thought. It seems they have given themselves a decent chance of achieving this goal. Anyone with even a passing interest in footballing cliches will be aware that their home form will be important. Thankfully for them they are unbeaten in 24 games on their own turf, a record stretching back to last July. LB
Manager: Oswaldo de Oliveira
2014 Finish: 16th
Campeonato Paulista: Runners-up
I can only imagine Palmeiras fans will not be lingering too long on their loss to Santos on penalties in the final of the Campeonato Paulista. Tough one to take for sure but the fact that they could easily have been relegated on the last day of the 2014 season should help put things into perspective. Since then they poached Director of Football Alexandre Mattos from champions Cruzeiro leading to an absolute transformation of the squad. He has overseen no less than 20 transfers.
It has been a case of quality as well as quantity, however, with numerous genuinely excellent purchases. Dudu appeared to be in a tug of war between Sao Paulo and Corinthians, before Mattos swept in and wrapped up a deal in no time, Arouca has been considered one of the best midfielders in Brazil for years, while the returning Cleiton Xavier scored more than 40 goals from midfield since joining Metalist Kharkiv in 2010.
Some of the less heralded signings have been equally impressive, however. Robinho has been absolutely magic, one of the best players in Brazil so far this year. Gabriel has brought real energy and discipline to the midfield. Even right back Lucas got in on the act with a goal and assist over the two legs of the final. All the transfers seem well thought out and the side appears to be gelling. They surely now have the quality to compete for a top four spot and even a title challenge cannot be ruled out. LB
Manager: Guto Ferreira
2014 Finish: Promoted (2nd in Série B)
Campeonato Paulista: Quarter-finals
Newly-promoted Ponte Preta go into the new season having firmly re-established themselves as the ‘fifth’ team in the state of São Paulo. The club worked shrewdly in the transfer market and built a competitive squad for the Campeonato Paulista. Although they were controversially knocked out in the quarter-finals by Corinthians, having had a goal wrongly disallowed, manager Guto Ferreira can take pride in the fact that they were the only side in the competition to beat eventual winners Santos. The coach has tinkered with his team regularly but, due to his lack of centre-forward options, has settled, at least for now, on a semi-functioning striker-less formation with Renato Caja, an accomplished no. 10, playing in a flexible false nine role.
Back in the top-flight after a year away, the Ponte squad should have enough quality to stave off relegation this season. The heartbeat of the team is Fernando Bob, an intelligent defensive midfielder who is always looking to win the ball and control the game from deep. On the wings they have Rildo, a slippery character capable of turning a full-back on the inside or down the line, and Biro Biro, a young loanee from Fluminense with pace to burn who has proven this year that he also has an eye for goal. A number of strikers have auditioned for the starting spot and none have impressed, but they may just have found their man now though in the signing of Borges. As a former Brasileirão top-scorer, if the 34-year old can avoid the injuries that plagued him last year at Cruzeiro he could become an excellent signing.
One young prospect who the club are keen to blood this season is 16-year old sensation Leandro, who has a big future ahead of him. The promising striker won the top-scorer award at the recent South American U-17 Championships, already has a pre-contract deal with Udinese and scored a beauty on his professional debut this week. Versatile full-back Jeferson is another player on Ponte’s books who has made it into the Seleção’s youth ranks recently. AW
Manager: Marcelo Fernandes
2014 Finish: 9th
Campeonato Paulista: Champions
Things were looking bleak for Santos at the start of 2015 as a row over unpaid wages led to a number of their own players taking the club to court. As a result, a number of key players left, including Arouca and Aranha to rivals Palmeiras, and the penniless club had to turn to free transfers to replace them.
Considering their financial difficulties, results in the Campeonato Paulista were surprisingly good and they qualified for the knockout phases with ease. Manager Enderson Moreira was a casualty of the process as he was sacked, despite his unbeaten record, for his failure to get along with important members of the squad. Santos turned to the cheap option, his assistant Marcelo Fernandes, who managed to maintain the team’s success all the way through to the final, where they beat Palmeiras on penalties to win the title for the fourth time in six years.
Without doubt their most important asset is Lucas Lima, a nimble and agile playmaker with the gift for the playing a perfectly-weighted through ball.
Further back, David Braz has come on leaps and bounds over the past year and has firmly established himself as a rock at the heart of the Peixe defence. But the team is also reliant on a couple of old club idols, Robinho and Ricardo Oliveira. The ‘King of Dribble’ still has the ability with a game with a single moment of supreme skill or magic, while the latter has returned to dominate the Paulistão’s goal-scoring charts. His form has been strong enough to see off competition from Gabriel, the club’s prodigiously talented 18-year old striker who scored 21 goals in his 2014 breakthrough season. The youngster is joined by midfield metronome Lucas Otavio and enthusiastic left-back Caju from the famous Santos production line who will be looking to establish themselves this year. AW
Manager: Eduardo Baptista
2014 Finish: 11th
Campeonato Pernambucano: 3rd
Copa do Nordeste: Semi-finals
It was always going to be tough to repeat their feats of 2014, which they began by winning both the Copa do Nordeste and the Campeonato Pernambuco. They failed on both fronts this year, losing to Série B opposition on both occasions. The fans are certainly asking questions of the squad and the manager. Eduardo has tried hard to implement a 4-1-4-1 formation inspired by Bayern Munich. There have been some decent performances but it is fair to say for the most part it is has not quite worked.
A major issue seems to be that they don’t quite have the player to link midfield and attack in this system. Generally star man Diego Souza has to play from the left or up top, without room for a number 10. There are noises that he may not be best pleased with his coach. Recent weeks have seen them move away from this approach somewhat but this gives the impression the past few months may have been futile.
On the bright side they have pulled off something of a transfer coup. Former Flamengo man Hernane has yet to make his debut but if he is fit Souza will finally have someone else in the team close to his level. “Brocador” scored 36 goals in all competitions in 2013 before moving to Al-Nasr. If these two can hit up a relationship it could be great to watch.
The supporting cast perhaps still need some work though defenders Rene and Ewerton Pascoa, along with midfielder Rithely, have had good years so far. Sport also have a number of prospects coming through the youth ranks. Midfielder Neto Moura and striker Joelinton, both 18, have already made something of an impact for the first team. Very big things are also expected of centre back Adryelson, who only recently turned 17. LB
Manager: Milton Cruz
2014 Finish: 2nd
Campeonato Paulista: Semi-finals
It has not been a straightforward start to the year for São Paulo. Club President Carlos Miguel Aidar suggested at the start of the year that if they do not end 2015 as champions then that would simply not be good enough. Fair to say the team did not live up to this level of expectation during the Campeonato Paulista. They lost at least once to each of their local rivals; Palmeiras, Corinthians and Santos.
This poor performance in clássico, along with his ill health and disagreements with the club hierarchy saw club legend Muricy Ramalho resign his position. The club have since been linked with some big names including Alejandro Sabella and Jorge Sampaoli. This seems like the right sort of move if at all possible.
They have an array of attacking talent but often seem to lack a cohesive strategy against good opposition. In individual terms Michel Bastos and Alexandre Pato have been rolling back the years. Getting Paulo Henrique Ganso to reach his level as well will be one of the major challenges for any incoming manager. Indeed it is possible they do not opt for a new manager.
Caretaker boss Milton Cruz is starting to pick up some decent results. Their Copa Libertadores first leg win over Cruzeiro was their most impressive all round performance of the year thus far. The winner was scored by 22 year old Ricardo Centurion, who has a habit of grabbing important goals. He scored the goal that sealed the title for Racing in Argentina last year. He certainly isn’t the biggest name in the squad but, if he is able to overcome some adaptation issues, he could well prove important in another title bid this year. LB
Vasco da Gama
2014 Finish: Promoted (3rd in Série B)
Campeonato Carioca: Champions
As the biggest team in Série B last year, following their relegation in 2013, it was no surprise to see Vasco da Gama bounce back up to the top division at the first time of asking. The Rio de Janeiro side exceeded expectations in this year’s Campeonato Carioca by winning the whole thing, for the first time since 2003. Although there is an argument that their title success was partially owed to the influence of controversial club president Eurico Miranda, it cannot be disputed that in Doriva they boast one of the few up-and-coming young Brazilian managers. The former Middlesbrough midfielder remarkably led fourth-tier side Ituano to the Campeonato Paulista title last year and has sustained the success in Rio.
The team is built on a strong defence, featuring Uruguayan international goalkeeper Martín Silva, and the centre-back partnership of 34-year old Rodrigo and 21-year old Luan. The pair are a good blend of youth and experience, as the former is a classy, composed presence while the latter is enjoying a growing reputation as one of the best young defenders in the country. What’s more, they both contribute goals with Rodrigo in charge of free-kicks and Luan taking the odd penalty.
The defence is also shielded by Argentinian Pablo Guiñazú, a tenacious pitbull of a defensive midfielder. Further forward the attack relies on Dagoberto, an experienced champion, and hard-working striker Gilberto, who has grabbed 9 goals in 13 games this year. His immediate backup is young Thalles, who is a regular in the U20 national team and an accomplished finisher off either foot. Madson is another young star who is blossoming into a speedy wing-back. AW