The One-Two PunchBy: Gordon | November 10th, 2011
In the last four games Santos has faced three title hopefuls. Two of them were dispatched with remarkable efficiency (the other game was a draw against Flamengo). Vasco were the latest team to have a dent put in their title challenge as first half strikes from Neymar and Borges gave Santos a 2×0. Like the game against Botafogo from three weeks ago – another 2×0 win courtesy of goals from Neymar and Borges – the team’s performance echoed this season’s main catchphrase, i.e The Spirit of the Libertadores. The showing wasn’t as dominant as it was against Elkeson and co. – Vasco were actually up for the game – but it was certainly just as impressive. This Club World Cup preseason is going quite well so far.
The encounter on Sunday marked the return of the 4-3-1-2/4-3-3 hybrid that was inextricably linked to the club’s success in the first half of the year after an extended hiatus. It was no coincidence that the formation’s revival coincided with the return of Ganso from injury. The first XI was the same as the rumors suggest before the match:
Rafael; Danilo, Edu Dracena, Bruno Rodrigo, Durval; Arouca, Adriano, Henrique; Ganso; Borges, Neymar
Arouca was nominally a third central midfielder in the tactical setup, but he often moved up and down the right wing when the team had possession, which, when combined with Neymar’s drift towards the left flank, meant that the 4-3-1-2/4-3-3 became a 4-2-3-1. That was a notable change from Elano’s role earlier this year in the same position.
In terms of the specifics of the team’s exploits, I’ll start with the positives. Neymar was the best player on the pitch once again. Vasco’s defence was sweating nervously for the entire ninety minutes. Dede, in particular, found that he was unable to shackle Neymar like he did in the meeting earlier in the season. The mowhawked one is reaching his Berserker Mode that we saw in the Libertadores.
Another impressive player was Adriano. Except for one or two moments, he had Diego Souza safely nestled in his back pocket which drastically reduced Vasco’s attacking impetus. When he wasn’t shackling Souza, Adriano was thwarting other attempts at attack elsewhere, one of which launched the counter-attack that led to the second goal. One can’t understate this man’s importance to the team. He adds a defensive stability that no-one else in the squad provides. Not only does this make the defence more secure, but it also provides a platform for his midfield partners to express themselves fully. No more is this second point evident than in the case of Henrique who only started playing well after Adriano’s reintroduction to the starting XI.
Another player to single out for praise is Bruno Rodrigo. It wasn’t so long ago that I called him and the other Bruno (Bruno Aguiar) Tweedledee and Tweedledum. In light of his recent performances, I gladly reverse my position on his competence. The bald-headed centerback was monstrous against Vasco. His aggressiveness, especially in the air, has raised the defence to a new level and its looks like Edu Dracena finally has his perfect partner. Of course, this raises a dilemma. What happens to Durval?
Well, as you may have noticed from the lineup, he played at leftback. This game was his fifth appearance in that position. Despite my initial misgivings towards this idea, Durval has played relatively well. He doesn’t provide the attacking drive that Léo brings to the left flank, but he does add a stronger and more imposing defensive presence there.
In summary, Neymar is on fire, the midfield now has its optimum configuration, and the defence is looking solid. Taking this isn’t consideration, you can imagine that there isn’t much to criticize about the team’s display. Borges and Ganso did look a bit off the pace, but they were both returning from injury, so that was expected. Even though he was not as prominent as he is as his best, a smaller version of Ganso’s usual aura was visible as his presence added more fluidity to the passing combinations in attack. Also, there was a minor problem with the defence. Its general solidity throughout the game was disturbed in the moments when Vasco attacked at pace down the wings. That is a crack in the wall that needs to be fixed soon.
Now for the highlights.
On a final note, I found it surprising that Muricy only made one substitution in this match. Fatigue is a major issue in the squad and there needs to be a point where several players are rested before the season is over. Muricy needs to strike a balance between this necessity and the aim to get the starting XI to gel before the Club World Cup.
It’s a bit early for a preview for Sunday’s clash with Ceará, so I’ll going to make a look at the remaining five games as a whole.
São Paulo (A)
It’s an interesting mix of opponents. There are two relegation candidates in Ceará and Bahia (Bahia could be safe before we play them though), two teams with nothing to play for in Coritiba and Atlético-GO, and a derby game against São Paulo. Their status is hard to pin down as this point as odds are that they could equally be in contention for the title or dreaming of holidays on the beach by the last round. Regardless, they will still prove to be stiff opposition given that it’s a derby.
Neymar signs a new deal! This fantastic news!
This past Monday the members of the squad who won the Libertadores were honored with the Mérito Peixeiro which is the highest honor that the club can bestow on a person.
Felipe Anderson signed a new contract until 2016 with a buyout clause of 20 million Euros.
More youth team news this week. The Pre-Mirim and Juvenil are in the final of their respective Paulista Leagues while the Juniores need a win in the second leg of their semifinal to reach their own championship game. Unfortunately, the Mirim team fell at the semifinal stage after failing to overcome a 2-0 first leg deficit.
Until Next Time
Here’s another moment for Neymar’s Book of Humiliation.
Vai pra cima deles Santos!