One of the most famous state league in Brazil, the Paulistão, the state league of São Paulo, has almost reached its halfway point, and there are multiple story lines worth talking about, as so far, the suspected favorites have established themselves on top.
For those unaccustomed, the Brazilian state leagues are competitions in which the major teams from each state compete to be crowned the best footballing club in their respective state. The competitions take place at the beginning of the calendar year, before the start of the national league, the Brasileiro, and serve as the opening competitions of the new year.
The Paulistão features the four biggest sides in São Paulo, Corinthians, Palmeiras, São Paulo, and Santos, and 16 other clubs from around the state of São Paulo. Traditionally, the Paulistão, especially the group stages, is viewed by the bigger sides as more of a warm-up for the more lucrative Brasileiro season. However, it is still a competition with both a trophy, and bragging rights over local rivals on the line.
This season’s Paulistão consists of 20 teams divided into 4 groups of 5. Each team plays the members of the other groups (but not its own) for a total of 15 group stage matches. The top two teams from each group advance to the quarterfinals. The four major sides in São Paulo are each placed into their own group. São Paulo in Group 1, Corinthians in Group 2, Palmeiras in Group 3, and Santos in Group 4. At the halfway point, those teams lead their respective groups relatively comfortably.
Palmeiras and Santos entered this year’s competition as the favorites, with Corinthians and São Paulo juggling both the Paulistão and the group stages of the Copa Libertadores leaving both sides fielding largely reserve teams in the Paulistão.
As the Paulistão reaches its halfway point, I’d like to hand out my mid-competition awards for Best Player, Best Goal, and Best Team, as well as give my favorite for the remainder of the competition.
Best Player: Alexandre Pato, São Paulo
Pato has shined so far for a São Paulo side that has gone undefeated in 7 games. Pato, whose rights are owned by rival Corinthians, has racked up 6 goals, including an impressive brace against Audax-SP.
Pato has played well before, but has failed to string together consistent performances worthy of his preceived reputation. If Pato can continue to score not only in the Paulistão, but also in the Libertadores, he could provide value up front for São Paulo, in both the Libertadores and the Brasileiro.
Honorable Mention: Fernando Prass, Palmeiras
Best Goal: Jadson, Corinthians, against Mogi Mirim
It is often said that what separates the big boys from the minnows in the state leagues is goal scoring, and no match showed that better than this past weekend’s match between Corinthians and Mogi Mirim, which ended in a 3-0 win for Timão. Mogi played a strong first half at the Arena Corinthians where the hosts have lost only once since its inception, and showed signs early in the second half that they could steal a goal, and the 3 points, from a Corinthians side filled with reserves.
However, in the 13th minute of the 2nd half, Jadson received the ball on his left foot at the edge of the area. The Corinthians midfielder created space with two quick touches on his right foot, before curling a beautiful shot that found the back of the net and broke the deadlock between the two sides. It was a beautiful goal that illustrated the difference between the attacking prowess of a small team like Mogi, and the giants Corinthians.
Honorable Mention: Robinho, Palmeiras, against Capivariano
Best Team: Corinthians
Despite fielding a team largely comprised of reserves, Corinthians have been firing on all cylinders so far in the Paulistão. Timão have played 6 matches so far, winning 5 and drawing just one, on the road against last year’s surprise champions Ituano. Included in the 5 wins for Timão is a 1-0 win over archival Palmeiras at the Allianz Parque, Palmeiras’ new arena.
Corinthians look to be a team that can rotate players in and out of the lineup flawlessly, as evidenced by their impressive 2-0 win over São Paulo in the group stage of the Copa Libertadores. In order to win the Paulistão, Corinthians will have to successfully juggle both competitions all the way through the final, which could eventually prove difficult, but it seems as though they have the depth to do just that.
Honorable Mention: São Paulo, Santos
My Prediction: While the odds are that the big four will all make the semifinals and then fight it out for a Paulistão championship, the last 3 competitions have all featured one so-called “minnow” reaching the semifinals. If one of the big four are to falter, my money would be on Santos. Yes, Santos has gone undefeated so far, but there have been times when they have looked unimpressive, and there have been rumblings about locker room trouble.
Because of this, I like Palmeiras, São Paulo, and Corinthians to all advance to the semifinals, where I think they’ll be joined by Mogi Mirim, who were unbeaten until a 3-0 loss at the Arena Corinthians Sunday. From there, it’s anyone’s competition, although at this point I would say that Corinthians are the favorite, with their rival Palmeiras just behind. If Verdão can successfully integrate their 19 new signings, then the conclusion to the Paulistão could be very entertaining.