By Joshua Law
On Sunday afternoon São Paulo took on Corinthians in the mighty Morumbi stadium in the West of the state’s capital city. For the two teams it was their third clássico of the year having previously encountered both Santos and Palmeiras.
Corinthians had won their two, beating both rivals 1-0 at home in the Arena Corinthians, both times with goals from veteran centre-forward Jô. São Paulo had played their two games away, overcoming Santos 1-3 in the Vila Belmiro in their most impressive performance of the year, and being beaten at the hands of Palmeiras by three goals to none.
It was, then, Rogério Ceni’s first derby in front of a home crowd. The expectation was high and São Paulo were coming into the game off the back of a fairly poor run of results, in need of a stabilising victory. Corinthians, too, had disappointed of late, drawing at home with Red Bull Brasil and losing away to minnows Ferroviário in their previous two games.
The visitors gave another chance to young winger Pedrinho on the right of midfield after his start in the previous game against Red Bull and São Paulo were forced to improvise 21-year-old central midfielder Felipe Araruna at right-back as Julio Buffarini is currently away on international duty with Argentina. Wellington Nem also started in place of Carlos Cueva, doing his duty for Peru. Apart from that the teams looked much the same as they have over the last few months.
Both sides, understandably given the aforementioned circumstances, looked a little nervous during the opening exchanges. There was little penetration and neither was willing to take the necessary risks to create meaningful chances. In the opening half hour the finest moment came from Pedrinho whose back-heeled pass put Léo Príncipe into a good crossing position on the right wing. Unfortunately the right-back’s attempt to find Jô in the middle was poor and comfortably cleared by Rodrigo Caio.
In the closing stages of the first half the intensity of the game increased a little and both sides managed to threaten the other’s goal for the first time. For the home side, Luiz Araújo’s low, hard cross was cleared by Pablo and then, for the visitors, Jadson’s sweeping centre from the right evaded Jô’s outstretched leg by just a few centimetres.
Corinthians’ Jadson had been moved by his manager Fábio Carille into one of the two central roles in the 4-1-4-1 formation for this game, seemingly in order to allow him more freedom to find space and create chances for a team that has struggled to do so in recent weeks and to help build attacks from the back. Timão are still yet to find the right attacking balance this year but this appeared a promising development.
In the second half both teams, and in particular São Paulo, emerged looking as if their managers had some stern words to say at the break. O Tricolor immediately started to move the ball much more quickly from back to front, in stark contrast to their sluggish build-up during the opening 45.
In the third minute of the second period Wellington Nem broke from his own half and played a beautifully weighted ball through the middle to the lively Araújo. The 20-year-old was one-on-one with Cássio but his low shot could only find the goalkeeper’s legs. It was a missed chance for São Paulo but from the resulting corner they went one better.
Araruna’s wicked delivery found Cícero unmarked at the back stick. Intelligently, he chose to head it back across the face of goal and found Maicon in the middle who nodded home from close range. The crowd of over 51,000 inside the Morumbi erupted in an audible mixture of glee and relief as the defender wheeled away in his slightly bizarre Kevin Nolan-esque celebration.
15 minutes later, however, Corinthians found a response. It was a goal remarkably similar to the one that won the game for the Coringão in their previous Clássico against Santos. Jadson played in Guilherme Arana down the left who crossed towards middle of the six-yard box. Jô once again snuck in between full-back and centre-back, this time Júnior Tavares and Rodrigo Caio rather than Zeca and Cléber, and headed home emphatically. It was the lanky front man’s third in three derbies and he is quickly turning himself into a hero amongst the Itaquerão faithful.
After this, Corinthians looked the team more likely to snatch a winner. Rodriguinho had a goal ruled out for a soft looking foul by Jô in the build up and substitute Léo Jabá had a presentable opportunity to convert a Moisés cross in the dying minutes. A draw, in the end, though, felt like a fair result, and it will keep the critics at bay for a little longer on both sides of the divide.
Both these teams have a lot work to do in the coming weeks, however. São Paulo, though dangerous going forward, need to work on their defensive stability. They are particularly vulnerable to aerial deliveries and counter-attacks, as Jô showed once again here.
Corinthians have the opposite problem, looking solid at the back but unable to create enough at the other end. Nevertheless, with Jô and Jadson in the team they look a far more threatening prospect.
Fabio Carille and Rogério Ceni are both in their first jobs as head coaches and have both made a reasonably assured start. There is room for refinement for both sides but time and familiarity should start to bring the desired improvements in performance. It is good to see two new coaches with fresh ideas at two of São Paulo’s biggest clubs. All we can hope for now is that their respective directors give them enough time to finish what they have started.