Corinthians and Gremio Set the Pace Early, But Who Has the Upper Hand?

With things settling down a quarter of the way through the Brazilian Serie A season, there’s two teams in particular already standing out from the crowd: Corinthians and Gremio, who find themselves nine and five points clear of third-placed Flamengo. Gremio, topping the league’s goalscoring charts, hosted Corinthians and its toughest defence in last weekend’s clash between the two giants, which could have been a potent message of what is to be expected for the rest of the season.

Buoyed by their talisman Luan, Gremio play on the front foot, young and energetic. The 24-year-old is sleek and elegant, quick and cultured like the perfectly crafted lines of a Bentley. And he’s definitely versatile, performing in a variety of roles including a forward able to play as a second striker, an ‘off the shoulder’ no.9, and on the left of a front three.

Luan is a handful to deal with for defenders, with his odd step-over, sharp change in direction and then blistering acceleration. He also links up well with Pedro Rocha and Lucas Barrios as he roams the pitch to make sure he’s picking up the ball, knocking it on and keeping the ball moving. Liverpool have consequently been heavily linked with the Brazilian striker, although it’s hard to imagine how he’d fit into a team also boasting compatriot Roberto Firmino.

Gremio had 17 shots to Corinthians’ three, and bossed possession for most of the game, and yet it was Corinthians who came out eventual 1-0 winners. Corinthians are a tough team to beat—their mean defensive record is testament to that—but don’t let that make you think they’re a boring team who set themselves up to defend; they’ve scored almost 2 goals a game too.

Corinthians do, however, approach games with pragmatism and experience. And it’s experience that’s the key word when thinking about their title push with Jo and Jadson. Jo, the ex-CSKA, Man City and Everton striker is typical of the kind of players you find at top clubs in the Brazilian Serie A; they’re either players breaking through, as he was in 2005, or seasoned professionals, who have tasted the delights of European football but decided to return back home in their early 30s. The way he uses his 6’3″ body comes from the experience of all those titles and trophies. Drawing defenders in, holding them off and either turning them or passing off to onrushing midfielders, he’s a struggle for any defender to handle.

Corinthians aren’t a massively different team from that which finished a lowly seventh last season, but it’s the introduction of these two players that’s made the difference. Corinthians of last season were lacking a serious threat up front. They tried several options yet none of them worked, in part because the service they were receiving wasn’t of the standard that Jadson can produce.

Old heads on relatively old bodies. Corinthians have been there and done it, and the feeling is already growing that they’ve got the ability to grind out a result and manage games. This is something Gremio, on early season form, need to learn. They’re entertaining, with goals galore, but the club will need to box clever against the big guns like Corinthians if they’re going to lift their first Serie A trophy in 21 years.

Corinthians, meanwhile, will be hoping the words of Julius Caesar ring true; Usus magister est optimus—experience is the teacher of all things.