With the knock-out stage finalised, Nathan Joyes analyses the ante post market and tips up three teams all looking to topple the favourites, Flamengo.
"Barcelona defeated Boca Juniors 1-0 at Estadio Monumental Banco Pichincha, before holding them to a mightily impressive 0-0 draw away in the La Bombonera. Considering Boca brushed both Santos and The Strongest to one side at home, without conceding, indicates Barcelona's strong defensive unit – an integral part to achieving any kind of success in this tournament."
We've made it out of the hectic group stages this year in profit and now the dust has finally settled after the knock-out stage draw, it's time to reflect and look at potential champions, before the football resumes in July.
Prior to the draw, Flamengo were 5.04/1 favourites to win, which in fairness, seemed rather generous. However, their potential route to the final has been very kind to the 2019 champions and they have shortened up to 13/5 on the sportsbook.
As much as I agree with the market, I'm going to steer away from the Brazilian side and look at those representing a little more value.
Barcelona the surprise package
A team I have thoroughly enjoyed watching this year is Ecuador's Barcelona. Put in a group with Santos, Boca Juniors and The Strongest, they've outperformed their rivals, topping their group with four wins, one draw and one defeat.
As always, we can put a line through their 2-0 defeat away to The Strongest, due to the insufferable altitude in La Paz, Bolivia, where barely any side gets out alive.
Instead, I'll focus on their other matches against Boca Juniors and Santos, both finalists in the last two Copa Libertadores editions.
Barcelona defeated Boca Juniors 1-0 at Estadio Monumental Banco Pichincha, before holding them to a mightily impressive 0-0 draw away in the La Bombonera. Considering Boca brushed both Santos and The Strongest to one side at home, without conceding, indicates Barcelona's strong defensive unit - an integral part to achieving any kind of success in this tournament.
Prior to their achievement in Argentina, Barcelona headed to Brazil to face last year's finalists, Santos, surprising many by defeating them in their own backyard 2-0. An opening goal from their leading talisman in the competition, Carlos Garces, has so far proven to be a good bit of business since his arrival from domestic rivals Delfin.
But it's the other end of the pitch which deserves the plaudits as well. As touched upon, Barcelona are defensively solid, and the partnership between Riveros and Leon has proven to be just that, conceding just three goals (two of which in Bolivia) in six matches.
Another vital partnership to the Ecuadorian side is Pinatares and Molina, who sit just in front of the two centre backs and offer a defensive unit when out of possession. Molina has more of a license to go forward out of the two, but their overall shape and formation when out of possession has been professional and very hard to break down.
With a share of goals split equally between their forward line, and not heavily relying on Garces, there is a good balance throughout the side and have shown already they can compete on the big stage - both home and away.
I do feel as though they have a tough fixture against Velez Sarsfield in the last 16, a team which held Flamengo to a draw in the group stage, but a potential quarter-final against Fluminense or Cerro Porteno instead of the likes of Boca, River Plate or Palmerias on the other side of the draw is rather favourable.
The main reason for their 23.022/1 price, however, is down to the fact they are on the same side of the draw as Flamengo. Without a doubt, if they had managed to avoid the Brazilian giants their price would have been at least half, but with Flamengo facing a potential banana skin against Defensa y Justicia, (which I will discuss later), I'm happy to put up Barcelona as a potential winner.
Trophy can remain in Brazil
Despite the trophy potentially destined to head to Flamengo, current reigning champions, Palmeiras, may just have a say with that one.
They aren't many competitions in the world where the current champions have breezed into the knock-out stage and are still 7.06/1 to lift the trophy once more - and considering their potential route to the final, the price has baffled me a little.
Prior to the tournament kicking off, there was a lot of talk about how Palmeiras were one of the worst winners of the competition, but this is an opinion I do not share, not even in the slightest.
I'm not sure if any of this talk was relayed to the current squad, but they've certainly gone out and proven a point during their group campaign.
Five wins, one defeat, 20 goals scored and seven conceded. Whatever happens, Palmeiras are never dull to watch. Their only defeat came at home, losing 4-3 to current Copa Sudamericana holders, Defensa y Justicia, who have cruelly been drawn against Flamengo.
But Palmeiras went to Argentina and took all three points from Defensa y Justicia earlier in the campaign, as well as destroying Ecuadorian side Independiente Valle 5-0 at home, before beating them away 1-0. The away victory was the first time IDV had lost a home Copa Libertadores match on home soil. Ever. It was definitely a "are you taking us seriously now" moment for Palmeiras' critics.
Palmeiras only know one way to play, and that's relentless attacking football. It may well have some weaknesses, especially shown when conceding four against Defensa y Justicia, but their bravery and ability to play the same home and away rewarded them last season and has so far again in this year's competition.
Now, scoring 20 goals you'd imagine a few different goalscorers, but within those six group matches, there has been a total of 12 different players who have all found the back of the net. Rony, their main leading striker, has bagged six, whilst Ze Rafael, Gomes and Veiga have all scored two apiece.
I may sound as though I am contradicting myself a little tipping up both Barcelona, a defensively sound side and Palmeiras, an all-out attacking team, but the firepower the Brazilian side have, as well as currently being the reigning champions, shows me there are far more positives in Abel Ferreira's side than negatives.
A kind draw against Gus Poyet's Universidad Catolica, as well as being on the other side of the draw to Flamengo, 7.06/1 is a price I simply can't ignore.
50/1 outsiders intrigue me
Before the draw was made, I had my eyes firmly on two sides at big prices to potentially go far in this competition. The first being Velez Sarsfield, but after their draw against Barcelona, I put them to one side. The other team I liked was Defensa y Justicia, who were a massive 41.040/1 to win the Copa Libertadores, a year after lifting the Copa Sudamericana.
However, that price soon drifted to 51.050/1 after they drew Flamengo in the round of 16. I was bitterly disappointed and felt for Sebastian Beccacece, who has done an unbelievable job with his squad.
But, if they can pull off a victory over Flamengo, those odds will be slashed in half, at the very least.
With just the one defeat during their group stage, Beccacece's side have shown they have been able to make the step up and compete in the Libertadores.
Despite losing to Palmeiras at home 1-0, they went toe to toe with them and came out 4-3 winners in Brazil. They also managed to draw twice with Independiente Valle, the Ecuadorian side who knocked out Brazilian giants Gremio in the final qualifying round and as previously mentioned, have only ever lost one Copa Libertadores home match in their history.
It's also worth pointing out Defensa y Justicia defeated Palmeiras over two legs in the Recopa Sudamericana prior to the Copa Libertadores kicking off, and they are clearly capable of competing against the best.
To defeat Flamengo is one hell of a tall order, which is why I'm not going crazy and only having a 0.5point on them to lift the trophy at 51.050/1, but if they perform how they have done against Palmeiras this year, we might just see a surprise in the first knock-out round.
Nathan's Copa Libertadores P/L