Palmeiras had enjoyed an entertaining first half-season or so under new manager Robinho Lazaró. However, there was a fairly sizeable gap to the dominant forces in Brazilian football, Santos and Corinthians.
The relentless nature of the Brazilian system meant Palmeiras had exactly one month between Série A 2034 finishing and the 12-game Sao Paulo Stage 2035 league beginning in mid-January. So essentially, the Brazilian league continuously runs for 11 months, with about a month between the state league and Série A resuming in April – which is filled by Copa Libertadores Group Stage games. Madness!
That meant there was very little time to try and rebuild the squad. However, the cash-strapped club was massively in need of cash, so when Toronto FC came in with a £5 million bid for striker Diego Chen they snapped their hands off. They also sold backup midfielder Danilo, defender Fausto Galarza and goalkeeper Rafael Elías for a profit of about £4.5 million.
Sao Paulo State
The first league season got off to the most difficult start possible, away to Série A winners Santos with a load of players injured, unfit or on international duty. And they unsurprisingly got ripped apart 4-0. Thankfully, things got a little easier as they battered affiliate club Santo André 6-0 away through a hat-trick from winger Joao Neto and a brace from striker Brenner. That sparked a seven-game winning streak, which included a 2-0 win over Sao Paulo, which ended thanks to some shocking defending and disgraceful refereeing in a 5-2 loss at Corinthians.
The main positive of the State league was young midfielder Patryck getting a spell of games and scoring seven goals at a 7.43 average in nine games, including a hat-trick in a 5-1 win over Oeste. That’s particularly important as record appearances holder Gabriel Menino, whose form also drastically improved, announced he’s retiring at the end of the season. Palmeiras finished in third place, winning nine out of 12 and scoring 39 goals, to advance to the quarter-final stage.
16-year-old Júlio David scored the winning spot-kick to edge them past Mirassol in the quarter-final. That teed up a clash with Santos and it wasn’t looking good as the visitors scored early on. But Palmeiras came back superbly and a Gabriel Veron brace turned the game around. An outrageous finish from striker Jonathan Bernardo, which ended a 24-match goal drought!, made it three and Palmeiras held on despite a late Santos goal.
That teed up a massive rival clash with Corinthians in the two-legged Final. Palmeiras were at home in the first leg and came out flying as Bernardo and Patryck scored inside 17 minutes. Brenner got in on the party with a four-minute double, teed up Patryck’s 25-yard strike to make it five, then tapped home from a corner to wrap up a 13-minute hat-trick. Then Corinthians had a man sent off! Bernardo curled home a seventh from 30 yards then raced through to wrap up his hat-trick on 78 minutes. And that rounded off a ridiculous 8-0 (eight!) victory. And that was likely because Corinthians named the same 11 that started a 3-0 win over River Plate two days earlier.
They took that form into the second leg with two early goals to make it 10-0 on aggregate before Corinthians came back to bizarrely win 5-2. But Palmeiras were Sao Paulo State Champions for 2035 with a 10-5 aggregate win! That was Palmeiras’ first State title since 2030, their fifth of this save and Lazaró’s 12th league title of his career.
Finally some new signings
Lazaró was finally able to spend money as the international window opened up in March. And he appeared to have pulled off a good signing in Ecuadorian midfielder Matías Gallardo for £2.3 million from Liga de Quito. The position most in need of strengthening was a goalkeeper. Lazaró returned to his former club América de Cali to sign a significantly better one in Víctor Manuel Garcés, who began his career at Porto and was the best player in Colombia last season. They also snapped up 16-year-old 6ft 5in winger Danilinho for £245,000 from Náutico and backup left-back Régis Adair for £2 million from Vasco.
Copa Libertadores Group
In continental matters, Palmeiras got a decent group draw against Argentinians Banfield, Paraguayan side Cerro Porteno and Ecuadorian side Independiente de Valle. However, Lazaró was disappointed to miss out on a group that included both Alianza and América de Cali!
They began by battering Independiente del Valle 8-0 thanks to a Veron hat-trick and Gallardo scoring a screamer on his debut. It didn’t get much more difficult as a Neto hat-trick inspired a 6-0 thumping at Cerro Porteno before a Brenner brace saw them past Banfield 4-1. Lazaró had to rest players for Banfield away, who returned the 4-1 thumping, then at home to Cerro Porteno, which they won 2-0 to confirm qualification. A fully rotated side won 7-0 in Ecuador to win the group with 28 goals scored in six games!
Série A kicks off
Palmeiras’ adventures in the State league effectively killed any chances of the players having any rest. Série A began one week after the Corinthians second leg and four days after a Libertadores game, so Lazaró decided to give the first 11 a week off. At which stage, they’d already scored 80 goals this season!!
They unsurprisingly started slowly, drawing 1-1 at home to Internacional before losing 1-0 at Atlético Mineiro and being thumped 4-0 at reigning champions Santos. But Brenner got them back to winning ways with a fantastic five-goal haul to inspire a 5-0 win and moved him past 20 goals for the season.
Brenner continued to defy his age as he scored two more and created the other for Gallardo in a 3-0 win at Cuiabá then scored both in a 2-1 win over Athletico Paranaense. That took the 35-year-old striker to an incredible 300 goals in 494 league games for Palmeiras and sparked calls from the media for him to be recalled to the Brazil squad!
Young starlet Júlio David had been in brilliant form for the under 20s so Lazaró gave him a chance at Náutico. The 16-year-old well and truly took it as he scored a brace in a 4-0 win and was the hero again as he came off the bench to open the scoring in a 2-0 win over Athlético Goianiense.
Big sale sparks desperate form
Palmeiras’ season was disrupted by Neto attracting interest and deciding he fancied a move. He eventually joined Al-Nassr for £6.5 million, which isn’t bad for a 32-year-old but left them extremely short on attacking options. That showed as they lost successive derbies against Sao Paulo and Corinthians, before a pathetic 3-0 loss at Fluminense in which Brenner missed a penalty.
That defeat saw them drop to ninth in Série A, which prompted the Palmeiras board to immediately hold a meeting with Lazaró claiming they were “not happy with his current performance and considering his position at the club.” But he just about managed to appease the board and hold onto his job, citing an extremely tough recent run of games.
Some of the pressure was eased as an Ali Mehri double inspired a 2-0 win at Vasco. However, Lazaró answered a press conference question about his future and, for some reason, the Palmeiras board took exception to his comments and demanded another meeting. Lazaró was fairly baffled but attended the meeting, pinned the blame on the media, and again held into his job.
That teed up “El Sackico” as Palmeiras hosted bottom of the league Bragantino, before which the board yet again took exception to something Lazaró said in his pre-match press conference and demanded yet another meeting! He vowed to ignore the media from now on and, luckily, Mehri went one better with a hat-trick to inspire his side to a crucial 5-0 victory.
Menino and Brenner made it three wins on the bounce at América Mineiro heading into a big rival clash with second-place Flamengo. Brenner was once again the catalyst with a first-half double before the dodgy defence reared its head to draw 3-3. And Mehri scored two more alongside another Júlio David strike in a 4-1 win at Fortaleza.
That left Fluminense eighth in Série A and, crucially, just two points off third-place Santos. They were the second-highest scorers with 37 goals led by the league’s top scorer Brenner. The unrelenting striker has 37 goals in 38 games in all competitions, including 14 in 19 in Série A. Mehri had the best average rating of 7.52 and Bernardo had the joint-most assists with eight. While Palmeiras have scored 121 goals in 43 games in all competitions in 2035!
All of that and the Sao Paulo State win makes the board’s meltdown and continued “bitter disappointment” with Lazaró look a little bit silly.
But can Robinho Lazaró hold onto his job at Palmeiras? Join us next time to find out as we move into the second half of Série A and the Libertadores knockouts!