Part one of Tim Vickery’s preview of the forthcoming Serie A season in Brazil
Last season Flamengo came from nowhere to win their sixth title – and first since 1992 – with perennial stand-in Andrade establishing himself as first-team coach in the process. However, quite apart from the distraction of the Libertadores Cup, a repeat performance will be difficult.
The contracts of glamorous strike pair Vagner Love and Adriano run out in mid-campaign – and even if the latter stays his tendency to miss training is always liable to set off mini crises in the club’s ever-turbulent environment.
The Libertadores will also be a major distraction for Internacional, whose Uruguayan coach Jorge Fossati has made the competition his No1 priority. Added to a squad that including some of Fossati’s compatriots is a trio of high profile Argentinians: keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri and midfielders Andres D’Alessandro and Pablo Guinazu.
Indifferent form has put Fossati under early pressure and left an impression that striker Nilmar, sold to Spain last year, has not been adequately replaced. Can youngsters Taison or Walter come good and help the club to its first league title since 1979?
Sao Paulo coach Ricardo Gomes admits his side are in transition as he seeks to wean them to a 4-4-2 system after years playing 3-5-2. The defence looks much more vulnerable than the unit instrumental in the three consecutive championships between 2006 and 08, and midfielder Hernanes may well finally be on his way to Europe in the Summer transfer window.
However, Gomes’ squad still looks deep enough to be able to launch a challenge for a record seventh title.
As an example of how the Libertaores can affect a side’s league campaign, Cruzeiro were in the relegation zone after losing in last year’s Final before a superb run allowed them to snatch fourth place, and a slot in this year’s Libertadores, on the final day.
For the third year the team is coached by Adilson Batista and they continue to play attractive, attacking football. Such continuity, and a good youth policy, means that if they can fight on two fronts – national championship and Libertadores – the 2003 champions could be contenders.
Four-times champions Palmeiras led the field for months last term, only to collapse so badly that they even missed out on the Libertadores. And they have continued collapsing, parting company with coach Muracy Ramalho as a consequence and replacing him with former centre-back Antonio Carlos Zago, whose lack of experience will be tested.
Even with midfielder Lincoln and striker Ewerthon brought back from Europe, results have disappointed and a cloud is hanging over what will almost certainly be the final campaign of legendary goalkeeper Marcos.
Back in the first division after 30 years, Avai shook off a shaky start last season to play some attractive football and enjoy by far the best campaign in the club’s history. Coach Silas and many of the players have since moved on, and it will be a hard act for replacement Pericles Chamusca to live up to. The current squad includes former Flamengo favourite, winger Savio, once of Real Madrid.
Inaugural champions in 1971, Atletico Mineiro are still waiting for their second title. They were surprise contenders last year until fading at the end and a serious bid this time round would not be a shock. Coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo seems keen to get his career back on track and the squad looks strong, with Diego Tardelli leading the attack and some experienced foreigners such as Paraguayan centre back Julio Cesar Caceres and Ecuadorian midfielder Edison Mendez.
Gremio were top scorers last year, but have since lost Argentinian striker Maxi Lopez, along with centre-backs Leo and Rever, and attacking midfielders Tcheco and Douglas Costa, though they have gained Silas as coach. The former international midfielder did exceptionally well last year with Avai, and will hope to knock into shape a squad which includes ex-Sao Paulo stalwarts Borges and Hugo.
Part two tomorrow