April 14 – On Saturday, Palmeiras kick off the 2023 Brazilian league season against Cuiaba. Alongside Rio giants Flamengo and Belo Horizonte behemoth Atletico Mineiro, they will be favourites to win the Serie A.
Under Portuguese coach Abel Ferreira, Palmeiras are a well-drilled unit. He develops players and organises his team to become ruthlessly efficient. The defending champions are not pleasant to watch but will be the team to beat.
Flamengo should be their main challenger. They are Brazil and South America’s richest club with a fan base of 40 million, but the Rio side have endured a difficult few months and sacked their Portuguese manager Vitor Pereira following a string of disappointing results.
They failed to win both the Brazilian and South American Super Cups as well as the Taça Guanabara and the Rio State Championship. In Morocco, in February, Flamengo exited the Club World Cup at the first hurdle, losing to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal. The Brazilians had been eyeing a dream final with Real Madrid but instead departed humiliated.
The management is intent on bringing back Jorge Jesus, the 2019 Messiah, but that’s part of the club’s problem. They keep living in the shadow of a side that conquered it all.
With Flamengo unsettled, Atletico Mineiro could step in. Last season, they fell out of the top three but with Argentine coach Eduardo Coudet they hope to do better this campaign. The club will also inaugurate their new stadium.
Flamengo’s crosstown rivals Fluminense could be outsiders challenges for the top prize. With Fernando Diniz, they have one of Brazil’s most interesting and exciting coaches. He always wants to attack which leaves the defence vulnerable, but they will have been boosted by winning the Rio State Championship last weekend.
At the other end of the table, Bahia, Cuiaba, Curitiba and Goias are expected to struggle. Promoted teams Cruzeiro, Gremio and Vasco da Gama should have enough to survive.
But Brazil’s league remains very unpredictable. While the days are gone when about a dozen clubs believed they could win the league, the congested calendar, huge travel distances, and the clubs’ different priorities ensure that there should be enough drama until the very last day of the season on December 3.
Besides, Brazil’s league has perhaps never been more potent: clubs monetize their fan bases better, new money is pouring in from gambling industry sponsorship, and new club structures allow for more capital investment.
The clubs are also moving to break the league away from the national federation, but it will still take a while with discussions taking place with two groups backed by different investment funds and arguments between clubs over the split of broadcast money.
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