Robinho Lazaró was facing the biggest pressure of his 14-year career as his position as Palmeiras manager was in real jeopardy halfway through the Série A season. A run of five games unbeaten and lifting the Sao Paulo State weren’t enough to prevent his board’s F evaluation of his performance!
Two new signings arrived from Uruguayan side Nacional in August 2035 to add a little more depth. Attacking midfielder Diego Mallo cost £2.2 million and Lazaró planned to retrain him as a right-winger and exciting right-back Gustavo Santos came in on a free transfer.
The second half of the season began with the Copa Libertadores knockout stages. The second round saw Palmeiras take on Independiente, the third-best team in Argentina. A trip to Avellanada was first up and Palmeiras dominated the first half before Brenner scored early in the second, tucked home a penalty two minutes later, wrapped up a hat-trick then immediately seized on a shocking backpass to bag a fourth. This guy truly is exceptional but, despite scoring four, he wasn’t player of the match as Ali Mehri got it for two assists and 12 key passes. The winger scored early in the second leg before Brenner doubled the lead and the retiring Gabriel Menino hit a screamer as they eased to a 7-1 aggregate win.
Next up was an all-Brazilian tie with Sao Paulo, who knocked out River Plate. Palmeiras were at home first and led early but gifted an equaliser and nothing happened after the break. The reverse happened in the away leg as Brenner cancelled out their opener. But more terrible defending saw Sao Paulo nick it in injury-time.
Despite going out relatively early, Mehri and Brenner came second and third in the Libertadores Best Player award and Matías Gallardo won the Best Goal.
Winning the board over?
The second half of Série A began with a 3-1 defeat at Internacional despite Brenner’s 30th league goal of the season. That prompted yet another meeting with the board. Lazaró was beginning to lose count, but he made that four, and he was beginning to feel his job was becoming untenable.
His concerns were eased by centre-back Osvaldir scoring the only in the 89th-minute at home to Atlético Mineiro. He foolishly attended a post-game press conference, which again infuriated the board and resulted in meeting number five! So he vowed to hand all media activity to his assistant.
A massive game followed as third-place Santos came to town. Striker Jonathan Bernardo returned from injury to open the scoring, Mehri added a second and they held off a Santos fightback for a vital 2-1 win. And they were suddenly only four points off second despite being in eighth! A streak of games against struggling sides followed, starting with a Brenner hat-trick and Mallo’s first for the club earned a 4-2 win at Ponte Preta. All of a sudden, Palmeiras jumped to fourth and Lazaró had a B+ rating with the board. So fickle!
With the board nonsense seemingly over with the good form continued as exciting 16-year-old winger Júlio David scored and made the other in a 2-0 win over Cuiabá. However, this ridiculously unreliable team fell apart again to lose three in a row. And suddenly the board was “bitterly disappointed” again!
Therefore, this wasn’t the ideal time to lose Brenner to injury then take on rivals and leaders Fluminense. It didn’t start well as they went behind to a penalty after 11 minutes, but Brenner’s replacement Milton Anicézio equalised before left-back Beto, who’d been awful lately, curled home a delicious free-kick for a deserved 2-1 win.
Sacked or title challenge?!
That big rival win took Palmeiras seventh, only five points off the top of the league with 10 games remaining. This bizarre situation meant Lazaró was on the verge of being sacked despite having an outside title chance!
That was aided as they welcomed second-placed Gremio to town and goals from Bernardo and Brenner inspired a come from behind victory. Two late goals did the same at Athletico Paranaense and Palmeiras were suddenly just one point off the top of the league!
That teed up a run of games against teams at the top. First up was Sao Paulo, who’d slipped from second to eighth in 10 gameweeks. And true to form they were inept as Brenner, Bernardo and Mehri sealed a dominant 3-0 win. Another rival followed with a trip to Corinthians and a rally tight game ended 0-0.
Title race hots up!
The Série A title race looked extremely exciting, with seven clubs separated by eight points with five games remaining. Fluminense led Palmeiras by three points, with five points splitting the top four! Fluminense had an easy run-in while Palmeiras had to take on Vasco and Flamengo. So they could feasibly finish top… or ninth!
Game 1 – Vasco da Game (home): A big game kicked off the run-in as second hosted third. Palmeiras came out flying as Mehri sent in two crossed for Brenner to tap home. Vasco got one back before half-time but Mehri went and bagged his own brace to wrap up a huge 4-2 win. Fluminense also won.
Game 2 – Bragantino (away): Next was a trip to 17th-place Bragantino, for which they ridiculously had four key players including goalkeeper Víctor Manuel Garcés and key creative force Mehri on international duty! And they struggled to a 1-1 draw without them, while Fluminense won a fifth successive match to go five points clear.
Game 3 – América Mineiro (home): Lazaró celebrated his 700th match in management but his defence decided to not show up for it. They obviously conceded to the first shot and conceded late on completely against the run of play, but Brenner stepped up with a 94th-minute equaliser. Fluminense won yet again to wrap up the title for the first time since 2012!
With the outside title chances gone, Lazaró decided to experiment in the final two games. A 4-3-1-2 setup very much didn’t work as they got battered 3-1 at Flamengo before a wide 4-3-3 approach saw relegated Fortaleza dismissed 4-0 led by Júlio David and Mallo screamers before Brenner and Mehri strikes.
That final day win was vital as it secured Libertadores group stage qualification and wrapped up a fourth-place finish. But the league was very tight as, behind Fluminense, four teams were separated by three points and six sides were separated by seven points. Only Santos and Fluminense scored more than Palmeiras’ 71 goals and conceded fewer than their 42.
Brenner was Série A top scorer with 24 goals in 36 games. Mehri finished as third-top scorer with 18 goals, a league-high nine player of the match awards and a second-best average rating of 7.51, and Bernardo topped the assists chart with 12. As a result, Brenner won South American Football of the Year plus Série A Experienced Player of the Year and Top Goalscorer awards and Mehri won the league’s Best Player award, Broadcaster’s African Footballer of the Year and African Midfielder of the Year.
This has been a truly bizarre season. Palmeiras won the Sao Paulo State league then Lazaró went from the brink of the sack to a title challenge and eventually settled for fourth place. Regardless, the temperamental board was now happy with the manager again, giving him a B- rating.
Palmeiras’ key man this season was probably the relentless Brenner, who broke his own club record with 49 goals plus 11 assists to move past 400 Palmeiras goals in all competitions. Pushing him close was captain Mehri, who scored 25 and assisted 11. Midfielder Patryck scored 10 and assisted eight, Gabriel Veron scored 13 and assisted 15 and Bernardo scored 12 and assisted 14. Beto topped the club’s assists table with 17 and another interesting contributor was youth product Júlio David, who scored seven goals and had the sixth-best minutes per goal ratio in Série A.
Speaking of assists, Gabriel Menino got 14 this season, which will be his final season as he confirmed his retirement after an incredible club record 689 league appearances and 835 in all competitions.
Join us next time as Robinho Lazaró faces a rebuilding job as he looks to push his Palmeiras team to the next level in 2036!