Brasileirão: Castro leads the way as Portuguese bosses dominate early stages in Brazil

Portuguese managers are enjoying a fine start to the new 2023 Campeonato Brasileiro season, with Luso bosses occupying the top three places after four matchdays of Brazil’s top flight.

Luis Castro’s Botafogo are the only team with a 100% record and lead the standings, followed by Abel Ferreira’s champions Palmeiras and newly-promoted Cruzeiro, led by Pepa, in third place. Meanwhile, new arrivals Ivo Vieira, Renato Paiva and Pedro Caixinha are also finding their feet in new surroundings.

Ahead of Brasileirão 2023, Portugal looked set to begin the new league championship with an astonishing eight managers in place. However, Vitor Pereira was dismissed by Flamengo before the first matchday, after which Coritiba fired Antonio Oliveira following their opening-day loss, leaving the contingent down to six.

So far, Luis Castro’s Botafogo have been perfect, winning all four matches in the wake of an impressive 2-0 victory over Atletico Mineiro at the weekend. The standout result so far remains last week’s 3-2 win over Rio de Janeiro rivals and South American champions Flamengo at Maracanã, after which Castro praised the “talent, work and courage” of his side.

Castro was suspended for the latest win over Atletico Mineiro, which came just two days after a midweek draw against Liga de Quito of Ecuador in the Copa Sudamericana group stage. Assistant Vitorino Severino stepped in for media duties and praised the players for coping with the juggling of fixtures.

“We don’t have a reserve team,” Severino said. “It’s a fact that some players have played more than others, but this is a meritocracy regime. So there’s no such thing as a reserve team and we’re humble enough to recognise this process. We used the team that could get the best performance; we didn’t play a reserve team: we played Botafogo.

“Nobody predicted our start. But we play game by game. If we’re in first place then it’s a consequence of everything going well. Maybe some people are surprised and I’m not saying we foresaw this ourselves but we know the quality we have. We want to keep playing to win, but let’s not talk when we plane hasn’t taken off yet. For us it’s a source of pride and we’ll play to keep that.”

Botafogo are well-positioned to qualify from Group A of the Copa Sudamericana, with five points earned from three matches so far. Also in the group along with Liga de Quito are Chilean side Magallanes and Cesar Vallejo of Peru.

Pepa making his mark with Cruzeiro

If Botafogo’s early form was unexpected, newly-promoted Cruzeiro have caught some off guard by putting together three straight wins under new Portuguese coach Pepa. The Belo Horizonte club lost on the opening day 2-1 at Corinthians, but have since beaten Gremio 1-0 at home, thrashed RB Bragantino 3-0 away and overcame Santos 2-1 on home turf at the weekend.

The run sees Cruzeiro occupy third place behind champions Palmeiras, and the former Vitoria Guimaraes and Paços Ferreira boss says it will be important for his players to remain grounded. “What’s done is done and has been done well,” he said. “What’s important is to not walk in high heels and become conceited. We must keep our feet on the ground.

“[Against Santos] it could have been 2-2 or 3-3. It was a very intense game. But we knew how to suffer for the 90 minutes and gave everything. Getting points costs a lot of work. We’ve done it well so far, to our credit. Now the focus is on Fluminense and getting more points, which is so important on our return to Serie A.”

Abel’s Palmeiras ominous, as new arrivals settle

Champions Palmeiras, led by Abel Ferreira, issued a warning shot to the rest of the league with a crushing 5-0 away win at Goias at the weekend. Undefeated with three wins and one draw, Palmeiras took advantage of a red to their opponents (41’) while leading 1-0 and punished Goias with four second-half goals.

“It was a very good victory by a consistent team,” Abel said after the match. “We started the game very well and the opponent reacted well. But after the sending off the game became simpler and easier for us. Maybe 11 v 11 we’d have had more intensity. I was expecting us to need to be more physical than them second half after their midweek trip [to Argentina] so I can’t say we didn’t have a big physical advantage in the second half.”

Renato Paiva is showing signs of recovering from a worrying start at Bahia, who have recently been taken over by the City Football Group backed by the Abu Dhabi United Group. Paiva’s side lost their first two matches, but have recovered with a 1-0 win at Vasco da Gama and a 3-1 home win against Coritiba.

“My work is based on convictions,” Paiva said. I’m a coach like the others, I win and I lose. How we lost and how we won gives us indicators. We came from two games with positive indicators, but with results that failed. I wasn’t weighed down. I knew this team was going to come up with an answer sooner or later.”

Pedro Caixinha’s RB Bragantino are next best-placed of the Portuguese-led sides, sitting in 12th place with five points. Intriguingly, Caixinha faced a countryman in each of his first three games in the Campeonato Brasileiro, beating Renato Paiva’s Bahia 2-1, drawing 1-1 at Ivo Vieira’s Cuiaba and losing 3-0 at home to Pepa and Cruzeiro.

Finally, the weekend saw a first victory in Brazilian football for Ivo Vieira at Cuiabá, who surprisingly won 2-1 at Atletico Mineiro to move up to 13th with four points.  “[The victory] was the big goal,” Vieira admitted. “In addition to playing well, a positive result was essential. 

“In my opinion, I think that the team deserved to have more in terms of number of points for what the previous three games were, when they had a great offensive volume, created several goal opportunities and competed. Today we had to be a little more focused on what the result was in order to add points.”


Midweek fixtures:

Santos vs Bahia

RB Bragantino vs America Mineiro

Cuiabá vs Atletico Mineiro

Palmeiras vs Gremio

Cruzeiro vs Fluminense

Botafogo vs Corinthians

By Sean Gillen