Flamengo continued to show why they are outright favourites when brushing aside Olimpia 4-1 away from home in the first leg. They are 1.201/5 to win inside 90 minutes and progress to the semi-finals, where they will face either Barcelona or Fluminense.
Brazil is where I will start this week, although it’s the current champions under the spotlight…
Champions to continue their Copa journey
Palmeiras v Sao Paulo
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One of the two Brazilian giants will march on to the semi-finals and with this particular match I’m going against any recent form and head to head statistics, so bear with me here…
The last time Palmeiras beat Sao Paulo was back in 2019 and they have met eight times since that victory – a potentially concerning stat heading into this encounter.
The reigning champions have also failed to win any of their last four matches in all competitions, including two draws with Sao Paulo – one in Serie A, the other in this competition.
Palmeiras lost 3-2 to Fortaleza in their domestic league, a match which saw second take on third, and unfortunately for the hosts, fortune was with Fortaleza as they won the match in the 95th minute.
A 2-0 loss away to Atletico MG followed, (a side also in the quarter finals of this tournament), which was largely down to de Paula Carreiro’s dismissal in the 36th minute, when the game was still 0-0.
Upon closer inspection, Palmeiras heavily rotated their side for this one, with only their goalkeeper, Weverton, and centre back, Gomez, keeping their places after their Copa Libertadores match against Sao Paulo.
This was a clear indicator that Palmeiras manager, Abel Ferreira, is completely prioritising retaining their title.
Although Ferreira’s side seemingly struggle to win against Sao Paulo, they managed the first leg superbly, playing counter attacking football, fully deserving the draw.
Despite sitting back and soaking up the pressure, finishing the match with just 41% possession, Palmeiras mustered up 14 shots and 9 corners. Weverton was busy, as expected, but the 33-year-old stood firm and made six saves.
Expect the champions to have more possession in this leg, which should naturally create more opportunities, especially for a side which have found the net in every home match in this competition, scoring an impressive 15 goals.
With the second leg at home, this will be hugely advantageous, with or without fans, and one in which I feel Palmeiras can finally break Sao Paulo at the ninth attempt. Going deep in this tournament is second nature for Palmeiras in recent years, which also gives them the edge in this second leg.
With no injury concerns to worry about, Ferreira’s side have the capabilities to progress to the semi-finals for the second year in a row and 2.206/5 is a price well worth taking.
Atletico to show resilience once more
Atletico MG v River Plate
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Despite being top of Serie A, Brazil’s Atletico MG seem to have snuck through the side door in this year’s Copa Libertadores, with not many talking about their chances, and now find themselves 90 minutes away from a place in the semi-finals.
More focus than ever has been on them this week, however, having signed former Chelsea and Atletico Madrid striker, Diego Costa, who will partner Hulk up front – a terrifying duo for any defence to face.
This match will come too soon for Costa, but Atletico will remain confident enough that they can get the job done on home soil.
The Brazilian side have not conceded in the knockout stages so far. That’s 225 minutes of football without conceding against Boca Juniors in two matches, as well as keeping River Plate quiet in their own back yard.
As mentioned, they have Hulk up top, who, unsurprisingly, is their top goalscorer with six to his name.
Captain and goalscorer from the first leg, Ignacio Fernandez, will miss the second leg due to a rash tackle late on saw him see a straight red – the only negative after a fine, dominant performance.
Time and time again they calved open River Plate’s back line, with Arana and Vargas linking up well down the left hand side throughout. They were probably rather unfortunate to come away with just the one goal lead.
A home win at 2.407/5 looks rather enticing, but I’ve been more impressed with Atletico’s defensive backline in this competition and I get the feeling this will be a tight affair. You can back “Goal Scored in Both Halves NO” @ 1.758/11 and I’ll be surprised if that doesn’t shorten closer to kick-off.
Barcelona can dare to dream
Barcelona v Fluminense
Live on Betfair
Before a ball was kicked in this tournament, Barcelona were not mentioned as potential champions whatsoever. This was reflected in the market with the Ecuadorians priced around 67.066/1.
Yet they progressed out of a strong group including Boca Juniors and they’ve proven to be very strong at home – which is why they caught my eye for my ante post column.
Four straight wins against The Strongest, Boca Juniors, Santos and Velez Sarsfield will concern Fluminense to say the least on Friday.
As stated in last week’s column, Fluminense have had an easy ride in this competition in terms of opposition and they’ve certainly overachieved to reach this stage.
A late Fred penalty last week meant they used yet another “get out of jail card” and salvaged a 2-2 draw – and now they’ll have to go to Ecuador and do what no team in this competition has done this year – win.
In fact, Barcelona have only lost one home match in their last 25 games in all competition.
Although Fluminense have unbeaten on the road in this year’s Copa Libertadores, a win against Colombia’s Sante Fe and Paraguayan Cerro Porteno would be expected from a team this far in the competition, and their 3-1 victory away to River Plate can be ignored due to the amount of first team players self-isolating after a covid outbreak.
Since Fluminense’s 1-0 win over Cerro Porteno, they’ve lost two league games as well as the draw against Barcelona. They’ve shipped in seven goals within those matches and the fact Barcelona have only conceded two at home so far shows their defence will once again prove vulnerable against top class opposition.
I’m surprised by Barcelona once again being underrated in the market and at 23/20, it’s a huge price worth chancing. I was expecting 17/20 at best, which is why I’ll be advising a 1.5pt stake on the Ecuadorians to progress in 90 minutes.