The new season is upon us as the state championships make way for the Brasileirao. Futebol Brazil has awoken from its summer slumber ready to fill you in on the season that lies ahead.
The most notable in-league transfer was that of Gabigol. Last season’s top scorer netted eighteen times in Serie A for Santos, who despite a solidly mid-table finish looked to be flirting with relegation at one stage. Consequently, expectations will be understandably high in some quarters and it will be interesting to see if the 22-year-old has developed the maturity necessary for a consistent follow-up season. The early signs are good, with the ex-Inter Milan star bagging two goals in three games in the Copa Libertadores and seven from twelve in the Carioca championship. Flamengo will be hoping his goals can push them one step further to the title in 2019.
Another return to Brazil for the once prodigal son Alexandre Pato marked the biggest coup from outside the league. Since leaving Brazil in 2015 Pato endured an unproductive stint on loan at Chelsea before a marginally better run at Villareal (though he at least got some game time with the latter). More recently however, he filled his boots in China with thirty goals in just forty-seven games. Now in his third stint playing in his homeland, the former Selecao star will be looking to continue his impressive scoring form when he returns to Paulista championship runners up Sao Paulo.
Defending champions Palmeiras can count the signing of a contract extension of last years Golden Ball winner Dudu as their best piece of non-transfer transfer business, the attacking midfielder having put pen to paper on a new four-year deal last month. The diminutive Brazilian dominated many a defence in 2018 and with his pace and incision is a sure bet to continue terrorising full-backs up and down the country in 2019.
Ones to Look Out For
High expectations and links to top Premier League clubs accompanied Everton’s graduation from Fortaleza’s youth set-up in 2012. Last season saw the Gremio forward reach double-figures for the first time in the Brasileirao and he was rewarded with a place in Tite’s squad for Brazil’s friendlies back in August. Having turned twenty-three last month and with seven goals in all competitions so far this season, 2019 could finally be his breakout year - Manchester City are understood to have already spoken to Gremio about a transfer to England in the next few months.
Last season saw more big names make the annual migration to Europe. With Vinicius now establishing himself with Real Madrid, his soon to be teammate Rodrygo will have until June of this season to say his goodbyes to Brazil. It will be interesting to see how much game time and what sort of treatment last seasons “most promising newcomer” will receive.
Having already proved a game winner for Sao Paulo’s sub-20 team, Antony will be looking to make the step up this season. He excelled as his team won the Copa do Brasil at youth level and will be hoping Pato’s arrival doesn’t limit his game time.
History dictates that we are likely to get our winners from the greater Sao Paulo or Rio area. Last season’s league went down to the penultimate game and this seasons should be just as exciting: runners-up Flamengo having added 2018’s top-scorer in an effort to topple Palmeiras. Only a brave individual would bet against the Verdao however, who having kept hold of key performers such as Dudu, Deyverson and Lucas Lima, will be confident of defending the title. As we saw in 2018, the team led by Felipao and an ageing-Felipe Melo seem to possess the required ‘know-how’ *ahem* to get the better of their rivals in tight situations.
Despite the pedigree of those above, 2019’s buzz team is undoubtedly Cruzeiro. The Minas giants strolled to the Mineiro title earlier this month and have utterly-dominated their (admittedly weak) Libertadores group - at the time of writing they’ve won five from five without conceding a single goal in over 450 minutes of continental football. Last year’s Copa do Brasil trophy is evidence of undoubted quality - the question now is can they maintain such a high-level of performance over thirty-eight games.
As for the rest, early-season Libertadores form might not tell us much about how things will finish in December, but it’s certainly a more reliable indicator than the less-than-competitive state championships. Last season’s title dark horses Internacional are running away with their group, which contains no less than the holders, River Plate. Similarly, Atletico Paranaense are topping a group with last year’s other illustrious finalists Boca Jrs. Fresh from winning the Copa Sudamericana, the Curitiba side aren’t a bad outside bet for a title push that would really upset the established axes of power in Brazilian football.
Up from Serie B come CSA, Goias, Avai and Serie B champion Fortaleza. It will be a baptism of fire for Fortaleza as they meet Palmeiras at the Allianz this Sunday. CSA will host the Porcos in the following game week so we should have an early indicator how these two will fare with the step up.
Love or hate the state competitions, the Brasileirao is where the modern day meat of competition lies for the colossuses of Brazilian football. With plenty of twists and turns along the way - along with a certain Copa America in July- this promises to be a great year ahead.