Three to beat
Brazil’s newly-established “Big Three” of Flamengo, Atletico Mineiro and Palmeiras will take some stopping in the 2022 national championship
Brazil likes to refer to its championship as the most open and competitive in the world, where12 traditional giants go into the competition with equal chances of victory. But times have changed. Cruzeiro and Vasco da Gama face another season in the second division, joined this year by Gremio. New forces are emerging. And the country now has a “Big Three” – a trio of clubs who have won the major titles over the last four campaigns. But there are interesting question marks over all three.
2018 champions Palmeiras have won the last two versions of the Copa Libertadores. The low-risk approach of Portuguese coach Abel Ferreira seems better suited to cups than prolonged leagues. Can he add more to the team’s repertoire in 2022? The last two champions, Flamengo (2019 and 2020) and current holders Atletico Mineiro both have new foreign coaches taking their first tentative steps in Brazilian football. In late February they met in the Supercopa – a competition between the league and cup champions – when a pulsating 2-2 draw was followed by an epic penalty shootout, eventually won by Atletico. Their new coach, Argentina’s Antonio Mohamed, inherits a double-winning side and has less to fix than Paulo Sousa, the Portuguese who has taken charge of Flamengo and has the mission of taking the club out of the shadow of their all conquering 2019 side, coached by his compatriot Jorge Jesus.
Taking charge of Atletico was a brave step for Mohamed: his predecessor, Cuca, stepped down for personal reasons rather than any failings, and it will be difficult to improve on last year’s performance in 2022. And, after a year without a trophy, Flamengo fans will be quick to turn on Paulo Sousa if they are not happy with his changes, such as the back three marshalled by David Luiz. Both sides produced enough in the Supercopa to have grounds for optimism, and Flamengo’s array of
attacking talent will be hard for their opponents to hold.
Might anyone else mount a challenge? Corinthians last won the title in 2017, and are emerging from the financial problems that have hit them hard since then. They have bought in plenty of quality – Renato Augusto, Willian, Paulinho, Giuliano – but the squad is ageing, a factor which is surely making it harder for them to find a coach after sacking former Arsenal and Barcelona left-back Sylvinho in February. The Santos squad is full of highly-talented youngsters, but they too are looking for a coach after the February sacking of Fabio Carrille, who saved them from relegation last year.
Sao Paulo seem mired in political turmoil – and while some of the traditional forces struggle, Red Bull Bragantino are well on the way towards consolidating themselves in the top half of the first division. They lost in the final of last year’s Sudamericana (Europa League equivalent) to Athletico Paranaense, a well-run club with a clear strategy. Feeling that the league is beyond their resources, they concentrate their efforts on the cup competitions. In the cluttered calendar of the Brazilian game, choosing priorities is important – and it will be fascinating to see how Fortaleza deal with this in 2022.
Under impressive Argentine coach Juan Pablo Vojvoda, Fortaleza were the sensation of last year, finishing fourth.
Might anyone else mount a challenge? Corinthians last won the title in 2017, and are emerging from the financial problems that have hit them hard since then
By the end of the season they looked low on gas, and this year, with the club making its Copa Libertadores debut, the demands will be greater. The Brazilian Championship is extremely hard on them and their local rivals Ceara. They are the only teams from the North East, meaning that almost every away game is a very long trip.
At the other end of the country, Internacional will be interesting under new Uruguayan coach Alexander Medina – who will hope to be shown more patience than Miguel Angel Ramirez, the highly-rated Spaniard who lasted just three months in the job a year ago. Medina clearly wants to defend with a high line – especially risky in Brazil as it meets cultural resistance. At the other end, Wesley, on loan from Aston Villa could be an effective re-enforcement if he has recovered from his injury issues.
America Mineiro, who punched well above their weight last year, and Fluminense will attempt to negotiate a tricky path through the qualifying rounds of the Libertadores – and their fate in the continental competition will clearly have an effect on their form and finances in the domestic league.
The other sides – Juventude, Cuiaba, Atletico Goianiense plus the promoted quartet of Botafogo, Coritiba, Goias and Avai – will go into the campaign mainly hoping that come the end of the season four clubs finish below them, and that a cup run might offer them a shot at glory.