domingo, 19 de maio de 2013

Santos 1 x 1 Corinthians - São Paulo State Championship Final

Corinthians prevents Santos from obtaining the fourth state cup in a row for the first time in the history of the tournament. The home team was over-dependent on Neymar and set-pieces. Corinthians played much more as a unit, yet lacked the intensity and pressing that became their trademark in the last year, when they were World Champions.

Warm up

Santos went into the game amidst talks about Neymar being sold to Barcelona. It all points to him leaving the team this summer, and heading to Spain, although nothing is confirmed or denied. Santos got to the final after finishing third in the group phase and eliminating rivals Palmeiras and tournament surprise Mogi Mirim in the semifinals. They are in their way to qualify for the next round of the Brazil's cup, having beaten Joinville 1-0 away.

Corinthians were eliminated of Libertadores Cup by Boca Juniors, with big complaints about the quality of the refereeing of Carlos Amarilla in the game. But despite that, they had a lot to learn from that defeat. In the State Championship, they finished 5th in the group phase, and eliminated Ponte Preta - who were the ones who beat them in last year's tournament - and, in the semifinals, they beat São Paulo in the penalty shootout.

Muricy Ramalho decided to go with the team that finished the first game of the final. That is, Felipe Anderson in place of Marcos Assumpção and André in for Miralles. Elsewhere the team was largely as expected. In the other side, Tite opted to repeat the same team that was eliminated by Boca in the middle of the week game in Copa Libertadores, and had started against Santos last weekend. That meant Pato in the bench, with Romarinho and Emerson the wide forwards and Guerrero the central striker, with Danilo in the number 10 position.

Corinthians starts strong as a unit.

Santos organized themselves in a 4-3-3, with Neymar in the left wing and Felipe Anderson in the right wing. Cicero was in the left of the midfield triangle, with Arouca slightly more advanced in the other side. Rene Junior was the holding midfielder. Corinthians used their traditional 4-2-3-1, which transforms itself in a 4-1-4-1 when Paulinho takes up advanced positions. Emerson started on the left and Romarinho on the right. Danilo was the central playmaker, but occasionally occupied the left in defensive phases. Ralf kept his watchdog position ahead of defense, even if he hadn't a direct opponent.

Romarinho in the left attacking and defending against Neymar. No organizer in Santos 4-3-3.

Corinthians started better, applying pressure high up in the field and committing many players to attacking. They had their strength in numbers, with Paulinho running past Cicero and creating an overload down the left of Santos defense, given Neymar lack of support in the defensive phase. In the other side, Fabio Santos was the main threat. Emerson isn't having a great moment this season. The side back came from behind and used Guerrero as a pivot, and complained about a penalty, throwing himself in the field and wasting a goo opportunity. Two minutes later, it was Emerson that received the ball in a central position after Alessandro retrieved it high up. Guerrero, Danilo and Romarinho were in front of him, with space to receive the ball, and Paulinho was right next to him. That shows how Corinthians were trying to attack as a unit.

Santos focuses on Neymar and Felipe in wide areas.

What Santos were trying to do was completely different. First, They tried to find Neymar in the left, and leave it to him to dribble past Alessandro and find a goal or a killer pass. Although the ball got to him, Corinthians were quick to double up the marking, with Romarinho coming quickly to aid the side back.

Second, the home team had the merit to always keep Neymar or Felipe in the opposite side of play, exploring Corinthians high line and their speed to find a through pass, but they did not made the most of this. In one move, Neymar made a great long pass to Felipe Anderson, who came running from the left to the center and missed his chance.

Third, they got some degree of success in inverting the side of the play and playing always very wide. This hurt Corinthians as this forced Ralf out of the middle, covering a lot of space. Santos got a lot of free kicks in wide areas, just by rotating the ball out and relying in the Neymar and Felipe dribbling skills. It was in a set piece from the right that Santos got their goal, in a moment where Corinthians were already pressing less and waiting more, afraid of the speed of Santos forwards.

Immediately, Corinthians tied in another attack with numbers, with the ball passing by Alessandro, Paulinho, Guerrero, Romarinho, Paulinho again and finally Danilo who scored.

Corinthians alternates pressure with waiting, respecting Neymar.

Immediately after the goal, Santos tried to pressure and saw more of the ball. Corinthians defended very deep to prevent them from playing quick passes behind the defense. Neymar repeatedly tried - unsuccessfully - to dribble past a wall of Corinthians players. The away team didn't try to apply a lot of pressure high up, instead let Santos have the ball until the midway line.

After Santos initial reaction to the tie, Corinthians decided to pressure again and try to score one goal before the break. Corinthian got two great chances, with Paulinho in a free kick and with Danilo and Romarinho in a sequence of shooting that tested Rafael.

Although Santos looked a lot more weaker in the defense, and Corinthians offered great threat every time they attacked, the away team respected Santos too much, and was worried that Neymar could find another goal in the break. So, Corinthians passed most of the second half playing very deep, effectively nullifying the speed of the home team forwards. When, occasionally  Corinthians tried to attack with numbers, the threat of Neymar counter-attacking appeared, and they sat back again.

Muricy eventually replaced André for Miralles and Rene Junior for Pato Rodriguez, going all-out in the attack. Neymar went to play as No 10, with Rodriguez in the left. It made little effect as he left the sight of Alessandro to enter Ralf's. Leo played higher and higher, leaving spaces behind. Tite put Pato, Douglas and Edenilson in play, taking Guerrero, Romarinho and Emerson, all defensive substitutions, in order to keep their advantage.

Neymar ended as a No 10, being watched by Ralf. Romarinho had freedom to exploit Santos backline. Edenilson doubled up with Alessandro.


Romarinho was the key player in Corinthians formation. He had the energy to double up against Neymar, helping Alessandro in the marking. He also provided speed and energy in the attacking phase, providing runs in behind the defense, intelligently dragging Leo inside and causing all kinds of problem to Santos backline. He played in the right side until the 15 minute mark, when Edenilson was brought in place of Emerson. Romarinho went to the left, and the sub became an auxiliary right back against Neymar. It was an defensive substitution, but allowed Romarinho more freedom to hurt Santos.

Romarinho got an opportunity to kill the game, after a long ball from Edenilson found him alone against the keeper, and he hit the post. Before, he had exploited the space Leo left to shoot in space, only to Rafael stop it. He was the main threat of the Corinthians front three, as both Emerson and Guerrero had a quiet evening. He was eventually replaced by Pato, that also managed to waste a great opportunity.


Although it is not possible to overlook Neymar capabilities, Corinthians was the better team. Santos is still suffering from a lack of a playmaker and organizer. Montillo was brought to fill that position, but hasn't show the level of footballing that made him a star whilst in Cruzeiro. Santos is just too much about Neymar right now, and it was looks like he doesn't have anyone to "talk" to in the pitch.

Corinthians in the other hand is a ready team. Tite repeated the same squad from the last two games. They attack and defend as a unit, and are very solid, despite their elimination from the Libertadores Cup, they are favorites to the National Championship. This game looked always about how Corinthians would play. They could pressure high up, causing problems to Santos defense and risk suffering a goal from Neymar in the counter, or they could defend deep and counter themselves. They effectively decide at each moment how the game was going to be played, and were the better team with the best chances, but failed to convert many chances. It also looks like it may have been Paulinho's last game, and if so, he said goodbye in great style.

Neymar is in his 5th season as a professional. This was his 5th State final, which means he has never missed one since his career began. He was defeated by Corinthians in the first, and won the next three, and looks like he lost his last State Championship for a while. Europe awaits him, and, judging by the level of his colleagues today, it sure would be very good for the Brazilian superstar.

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