Even though the tournament is currently on a break – considering there will be Copa Sudamericana action – it is always a good time to analyse the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent to the UEFA Champions League.
A competition historically dominated by Brazilian and Argentinian teams, this year things might be a bit different. For the first time in the tournament’s history, the Copa will be played from January to November. That’s quite a big change, because last year’s edition went from January to July. There was also an increase of the teams participating, as the number went up from 38 in 2016 to 47 in 2017.
However, more teams don’t necessarily mean more quality. Brazilian and Argentinian teams remain a step above the rest. Colombian clubs will try to build on last year’s success when Atletico Nacional lifted the trophy over Ecuador’s Independiente del Valle. But the remaining countries don’t have a realistic shot of winning the title – at least not this year.
With that in mind, let’s analyse which teams are favourites to lift the trophy once it’s all said and done. We will also mention three potential darkhorse, and a sleeper that might unsettle the top teams if things go their way.
The biggest candidates
Palmeiras won the Brazilian Serie A in 2016, and they have one of the most talented teams in the continent. However, they lost their biggest star when Manchester City signed Gabriel Jesus. Even if we consider his departure, O Verdao have an experienced squad where the names of Ze Roberto, Dudu, Felipe Melo and Edu Dracena stand out. As if that wasn’t enough, Yerry Mina is one of the most promising centre backs in the CONMEBOL region, and the duo of Alejandro Guerra and Miguel Borja joined the side following an impressive 2016 campaign with Atletico Nacional.
Flamengo might be a step below Palmeiras in terms of quality, but they will be their biggest threat. O Mengão easily have one of the most talented midfield groups in South America, featuring Federico Mancuello, Dario Conca and Diego Ribas. If that’s not class, I don’t know what it is. But every good team needs a proven scorer, and they have their marksmen in Paolo Guerrero. The all-time leading scorer in the Peru National Team, Guerrero is the main attacking threat on the team. He’s a player that can easily create havoc on opposing defences with only a few touches.
Finally, we can find Lanus as one of the favourites to go all the way. The reigning Argentinian champions are no Boca Juniors or River Plate, but they have a competent squad on both sides of the ball, and they know their strengths and their weaknesses far too well. They look a bit rusty in their debut thanks to the late-start of the Argentina Primera Division, but they will be a threatening squad once they gain full match fitness.
Which team can pull the upset?
Atletico Nacional are the reigning champions, so they deserve some credit. However, they aren’t favourites because they lost most of the players that lifted the trophy last year. Marlos Moreno, Alejandro Guerra, Orlando Berrio and Miguel Borja left the squad over the past six months. However, they remain the top of the class in Colombia. That should be enough to put them as a dangerous team.
If we talk about Copa Libertadores, then it’s impossible not to mention teams like River Plate, Olimpia and Peñarol. After all, these three teams have won the tournament in the past. And there’s no question they can upset any of the favourites on any given night. It will be hard to bet against them if they reach the final stages of the competition.
Keep an eye on The Strongest. The Bolivian side doesn’t have a lot of history, but they have a few traits going their way. First, they play their home games in the altitude of La Paz – which means opposing teams need to face them at 3600 meters above sea level. As if that wasn’t enough, The Strongest has several members of the Bolivian National Team on their squad. Their chances rely solely on what they can do at home. However, it would be a huge mistake to sleep on them. They have enough weapons to contend with any team on the continent.
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