Brasileirão 2023 proved to be one of the craziest league seasons in recent memory… and the beginning of Endrick’s rise to superstardom.
The 2023 Brasileirão witnessed a season for the ages. At the centre of it were an underdog, Botafogo. After securing the best opening half of the Brasileirão in history, they surged to the top of the league and were projected to win the title in 94.3% of the Opta supercomputer simulations after their 1-1 draw with Athletico Paranaense on 22 October. Then came the almighty fall.
We look back at the exceptionally dramatic title battle in Brazil, one in which Palmeiras eventually prevailed, but only after Botafogo suffered an unimaginable collapse.
Botafogo Out of the Blocks
Botafogo began the season by wildly overdelivering on pre-season expectations. The team, owned by American businessman John Textor, had suffered early exits in their state championship, as well as in the Copa do Brasil. The aim for the Brasileirão was, at best, to qualify for the next year’s Libertadores, which would mean a top-six finish in the league. The expectations had to be reset following an unbelievable first half of the Brasileirão.
Amassing 47 points from a possible 57, they secured the best first half to a Brasileirão season ever witnessed in the current format of the competition. The highlight was the away game versus pre-season league favourites and closest rivals in the table, Palmeiras, in the 12th round of fixtures. A 1-0 win thanks to a Tiquinho Soares’ first-half goal sent them seven points clear at the top, ahead of Grêmio.
By the conclusion of the 19th round of fixtures, Botafogo were 13 points ahead of any other side in the league table – the biggest points advantage at the halfway point in the league era of the Brasileirão. The underlying numbers suggested that they were overachieving, both in defence and attack, however.
Their 35 goals had been accumulated from a total of 27.4 expected goals (xG), the biggest overperformance (+7.6) at that stage. Defensively, they’d conceded just 11 goals from shots totalling 25 xG – a monumental overperformance of 14, which again was the highest in the competition. A regression to somewhere closer to the average was expected for Botafogo for the second half of the tournament, but what happened was far beyond that.
After the draw against Athletico Paranaense on 22 October, the title looked inevitable. Botafogo would surely win the league – the Opta supercomputer had them as overwhelming favourites (94.3%) with just 11 games remaining and they held a seven-point lead over RB Bragantino. What everyone didn’t realise at the time was that this would signal the start of a disastrous 11-game run without a win to complete the season, winning just six points (W0 D6 L5) – the lowest tally in the league.
The tide could have turned in their favour with eight games remaining. They had a penalty in the 83rd minute to extend their lead over title-rivals Palmeiras to 4-1. It was saved and they went on to lose the game 4-3. There was another 4-3 comeback defeat two games later, when they led Grêmio with 40 minutes remaining. They then conceded three 90th-minute equalisers in the space of four games across 16 days to end November – the last of those seeing them take the lead in the 99th minute of the match and still surrendering the win.
In that space of 11 games that saw Botafogo win just six points, Palmeiras – the pre-season favourites for the title – would show their strength. They won a league-high 26 points, with their brilliant finish seeing them pip their rivals to the post at the very last.
Comeback Kings Palmeiras
Across the highs and lows of an unpredictable season, there was one team who always remained close to the top. Palmeiras would only fall outside of the top four positions in three rounds (14th, 15th and 27th) between the opening matchday and the 33rd round of fixtures. At the time of their home defeat vs Atlético Mineiro on MD 27 – which followed their semi-final elimination in the Libertadores – they fell out of the top four for the last time and found themselves 14 points behind Botafogo at the top. Their supporters had almost overwhelmingly accepted that a second consecutive title wouldn’t materialise.
Wins against Coritiba (2-0 away) and Bahia (1-0 at home) fell either side of a brilliant win over rivals São Paulo. Their 5-0 victory in the Choque-Rei game was their joint-biggest, equalling their win in 1965.
Those three wins took them into their all-important clash at Botafogo with confidence. Prior to kick-off, they still trailed league leaders Botafogo by six points, having played a game more than them. Down 3-0 inside 36 minutes of their clash, their faint title hopes once again looked dashed. Botafogo had been rampant – their 15 shots in the opening 45 minutes were the most that Palmeiras had ever faced in the first half of a competitive game under Abel Ferreira, with none of those games seeing more than the seven shots on target fired in by the league leaders in the first half. But Palmeiras had Endrick.
Four minutes into the second half, the 17-year-old wonderkid scored his first goal of the game, then, with 76 minutes down, Botafogo’s Adryelson received a red card to set up a tense finish for the home side. When they were awarded a penalty with seven minutes of normal time remaining, it looked all over. Palmeiras goalkeeper Weverton hadn’t saved any of the previous 24 penalties that he’d faced outside of shootouts – the two that hadn’t been scored in that run had hit the woodwork. So, of course, Weverton saved Tiquinho’s penalty.
Exactly one minute later, Endrick scored his second goal of the game, before José López equalised with 70 seconds of normal time remaining. A 3-3 draw felt like a disaster for Botafogo after they’d led by three goals at half-time, but it would get even worse. With the last kick of the game on 98 minutes and 46 seconds, Raphael Veiga’s free-kick found the right foot of Murilo to complete the impossible comeback and take Palmeiras within three points of Botafogo.
Despite a 3-0 loss to fellow title hopefuls Flamengo on 9 November, Palmeiras ended the season in great form to seal an unlikely title win at the expense of Botafogo. Their 1-1 draw on the final day at Cruzeiro sealed a 12th Brasileiro Série A title and their second in a row – slightly more dramatic than their previous, which they won by eight points over Internacional.
Endrick ended the season with 11 goals across 1,558 minutes of action in 2023 Brasileirão, with his minutes-per-goal ratio of 142 better than any of the other 42 players to score more than five times. Six of his goals came in his final eight appearances, when Palmeiras needed him the most. He became the first player to score at least 10 goals in a Brasileirão season while aged under 18 since Neymar in 2009. Not bad company to keep.
They ended the tournament with the best home record (44 points), the most goals scored overall (64), and the longest period of time in a winning game state (40%). Supporters also celebrated the relegation of their state rival Santos to the second division for the first time in history. The team where Pelé scored more than a thousand of his goals had their worst moment in the history of the Brasileirão in the first edition played following the death of the king of Brazilian football.
A Season to Forget for Santos
Santos had begun 2023 already preoccupying their supporters by fighting against relegation in the state championship for the third consecutive year. Their local battle was well succeeded, but they didn’t have the same luck in the national league, nicknamed Brasileirão Rei in homage to Pelé.
Although starting out with a reasonable campaign in the first six matches (W3 D1 L2), Santos won only two of their next 17 games (W2 D5 L10). There was even a point when they had conceded a goal in 21 consecutive games, their longest such run in the history of the tournament.
The negative numbers reached their peak in a 7-1 defeat against Internacional, their worst in a Brasileirão game, equalling the 7-1 defeat against Corinthians in 2005. However, the awful defeat on 22 October looked like changing things for the better for Santos in the tournament – they followed that emphatic defeat with a seven-game unbeaten run (W3 D4) and gave themselves a fighting chance of avoiding relegation.
Their hopes rested on 13-goal Marcos Leonardo, as he matched his most prolific year in the Brasileirão, set in 2022. With 35 goals across Brasileirão history, only Yuri Alberto (two years older) has scored more often than him among players born in the 21st century.
But in the end, their overreliance on his goals was their undoing. He failed to score in his final eight league appearances for Santos, with his teammates only managing to find the net four times in those games. That, aligned with their defensive frailties, saw them suffer a historic relegation on the final day with a 2-1 defeat at home to Fortaleza, while relegation rivals Bahia and Vasco both picked up much-needed wins.
2023 Brasileirão Season: The Best of the Rest
The battle between Botafogo and Palmeiras and the relegation of Brazilian giants Santos weren’t the only noteworthy stories from the Brasileirão in 2023.
Red Bull Bragantino may have eventually finished eight points off the top of the table, but they had their best performance in a season since their promotion in 2020. The team maintained their identity, with the lowest starting XI average age (25 years and 30 days), and by being one of the five teams that didn’t change their manager across the tournament, alongside Fluminense, Fortaleza, Palmeiras and Grêmio.
If the strength of RB Bragantino was built on the consistency of their coach, that was the weakness that stopped Flamengo from having a clearer shot at the title. Since the departure of Jorge Jesus in 2020, Mengão haven’t been able to find a manager that consolidates his work.
They initiated 2023 with Vítor Pereira, who gave way to Jorge Sampaoli after a 4-1 defeat against Fluminense in the final of the Campeonato Carioca. Sampaoli also said goodbye after losing a final, this time at the Copa do Brasil against São Paulo. The man that Flamengo chose to finish 2023 and already plan for the next year was former Brazil coach Tite.
The most memorable moment under Tite was the 3-0 win against Palmeiras that put Flamengo back in the fight for the title. They shut down the soon-to-be champions allowing them only one shot on target, the fewest Palmeiras had during the title campaign, alongside a 0-0 away against Santos.
Besides Tite, another former Brazilian national team coach did a good job this season in the Brasileirão. Luiz Felipe Scolari returned to a coaching position only six months after announcing his retirement, accepting the position at Atlético Mineiro after Eduardo Coudet said his goodbyes.
Atlético struggled in the first few matches with their new coach in charge – their first win came 10 games in, across all competitions. The winless period caused the elimination of Galo from the Libertadores for the third consecutive year against Palmeiras. However, the experienced coach found the path for yet another comeback in his career. His side amassed 39 points in the second half of the season, the most of any team, largely because of Paulinho and Hulk. Although a league-low 12 players scored in the tournament for Atlético Mineiro, they were the only side to have two players with 10+ goals.
Paulinho finished the tournament as the top goal scorer with 20 goals, while he also had the highest expected goals (xG) tally of the tournament (15.1). The forward overachieved his numbers by having an excellent accuracy – among players with more than 50 shots, he was the only one to hit the target on more than half of those (53.3%).
Hulk also remained a key player for Atlético Mineiro in his third season at the club, being the league leader for assists across the league season (11) alongside Luis Suárez. He was also the second player with most goals involvements in the tournament (26), only behind the Uruguayan legend.
Suárez had his most prolific league season in goals involvement since 2017-18 for Barcelona. Having scored 17 goals and provided 11 assists, the former Liverpool player delivered a typical return in the twilight of his career.
The superb numbers of Suárez put Grêmio in the runners-up position at the end of the tournament, higher than anyone was expecting for a team recently promoted from the second division. In fact, Grêmio had the best placing of any newly promoted team in the history of the tournament in the league format (since 2003). They also had the second-highest percentage of points won for a promoted team, winning 59.7% of the total points available (68 of 114), only behind their local rivals Internacional (60.5%) in 2018.
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