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Atletico MG's Magic Square Lifts Galo Towards the Top


Atletico MG's Magic Square Lifts Galo Towards the Top


Someone in Brazilian football needs to put a call in to De La Soul and break the news: the results are in and - for now at least - four, not three, is very much the magic number. 


That's certainly the case for the Brazil men's team at the Olympics. After watching his charges slump to back-to-back goalless draws against South Africa and Iraq, coach Rogério Micale decided that enough was enough and decided to play all of his forwards - Neymar, Gabriel Jésus, Luan and Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa - against Denmark, Colombia and Honduras.


The outcome? Three victories and 12 goals scored, some of them stunners. Credit must go to the defence, but the attention has focused on the brilliant attacking quartet, whose movement and combination play has simply been too hot to handle. Going for broke is risky, but Micale has reaped the rewards since belatedly deciding to live up to his 'Kamicale' nickname.


But it's not just at international level that four is the law. In the Brasileirão, which naturally hasn't paused for the Olympics, Atlético Mineiro have rocketed up the standings courtesy of their storied fantastic four: Fred, Robinho, Maicosuel and Lucas Pratto.  


Not so long ago, Atlético were languishing in the relegation zone, having picked up just four points from a possible 21 between mid-May and mid-June. Coach Marcelo Oliveira was feeling the heat, unable to find a winning combination with a host of players in the treatment room and others away on international duty. A number of Brazilian giants have suffered the ignominy of relegation over the past decade and it looked as though the Belo Horizonte club could be heading for a similar fate, despite significant spending on the squad. 


Atletico MG's Magic Square Lifts Galo Towards the Top


Relief came when the Copa América ended, returning left-back Douglas Santos and Ecuador pair Frickson Erazo and Juan Cazares to the fray. A handful of more positive results temporarily lifted the gloom, but another mini-slump followed.  


Then, against Coritiba, a winning formula was found, albeit more by luck than design. Wide man Carlos was forced off after 38 minutes and Marcelo opted to throw on Pratto alongside Fred, with Maicosuel and Robinho in support. Three minutes later, Atlético went ahead.  


On paper, the combination didn't look like it would work. Fred and Pratto are both traditional number nines, trading in close-range finishes and keeping things simple in the build-up. Robinho and Maicosuel are both flighty creators. Given the age of some of the cards, Marcelo's hand looked like a busted two-pair. 


Yet the results since the four came together speak for themselves. They beat Coritiba and won the next five on the spin, moving to within touching distance of the summit before the loss to Santos. Over that run, all four attackers contributed. There were four goals and two assists for Robinho, one goal and two assists for Fred, two goals for Maicosuel and one for Pratto. Suddenly, the Independência was a playground. 


Not just in terms of goals has Robinho been the standout player. He may be slower and a touch less lithe than was in his pomp, but he has adapted his style cleverly: there are now fewer dribbles (only 0.6 per game) but his passing is more probing. No teammate has managed more than his 29 key passes this term, while his finishing more ruthless: eight goals have come from just 28 shots.  


His understanding with Fred was a feature of Atlético's play even before the other two points of the square were put into place. Their backheel-heavy combination in the lead-up to Atlético's second goal against Santa Cruz rolled back the years, while there have been countless other flashes of brilliance since Fred joined from Fluminense earlier this year. The 32-year-old may trail his former Brazil colleague in the scoring stakes, but his value as a target man is clear: Fred has won 26 aerial duels and laid on four assists so far. 


Atletico MG's Magic Square Lifts Galo Towards the Top


That contribution dwarfs that of Pratto, who may struggle to replicate his 2015 numbers of 13 goals and 3.1 shots per game this term. But the barrelling Argentine has only played 392 minutes thus far and will probably kick on in the weeks ahead, having worked his way back into favour. He remains a firm fan favourite and recently revealed that he turned down the chance to join São Paulo this year. 


The most intriguing story is probably that of Maicosuel, whose Galo career had stalled to such an extent that many did not even notice when he was loaned to Al Sharjah last July. However, the former Botafogo man has begun to tap into his best form in recent weeks, showing the kind of trickery and running power that earned him the moniker 'The Magician' and once tempted Hoffenheim and Udinese to gamble on him. 


Maicosuel gives the side speed and unpredictability - he completes far more dribbles per game (1.7) than his colleagues - and says he is enjoying the best form of his playing career to date. "Not even I expected this, after being away for so long," he told Globo. Supporters have also been pleasantly surprised.  


The actual tactic may not be a great deal more complex than 'chuck them all on the field and see what happens', but sometimes these things are best left to develop organically. Other Atlético players are certainly aware of the transformation that has taken place since the quartet came to the fore. "With the ball at their feet, they're the s***," swooned midfielder Leandro Donizete. "They're beasts, that's all there is to it. There will be lots of great goals like the ones we've seen recently. We know that good things will happen when we get the ball to them." 


Good things indeed: after dipping as low as 18th in the table, Atlético are now fourth, just four points behind leaders Palmeiras.  


That's the kind of disappearing act that only be explained by magic.


Can Atletico MG spring an upset this season after a poor start to the campaign? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below

Atletico MG's Magic Square Lifts Galo Towards the Top

Comments (1)

  • Well it is suprising that this Atlectico minero had the same transformation that Micale Brazil had. Both of them were suffering from series of bad result both of them decided to take gamble in Micale case introduce Luan, Neymar, Gabigol and Gabriel Jesus at the same time. The result have been great for them Atlectico Minero. Enjoyable read though. Keep up the good work.

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