Last year's finalists, Santos, head to Argentina in the third preliminary round of this year's Copa Libertadores, who are struggling to field a recognised striker. Nathan Joyes explains further...
"Santos, struggling to rush back their first team strikers and having not played a game since their match against Lara in mid-March, are unlikely to go all guns blazing in Argentina, especially with the second tie back in Brazil."
San Lorenzo v Santos
7 April, 01:30
Welcome to one of the greatest football tournaments in world football. Spread across ten months, the best South American teams lock horns in both a group and knock-out format, hoping to have their name go down in history.
Having closely followed the tournament for several years, I'll be previewing every round, bringing you closer to the action.
We're currently one qualifying round away from the group stages, with some heavyweights hoping to avoid any kind of early exit.
We start our journey in Argentina, where last year's finalists, Santos, will be hoping to go one better this time round.
Despite reaching last year's final, the Brazilian outfit have changed manager, with Universidad Catolica's Ariel Holan taking the reigns this season. His first aim, most importantly, is to make sure his side qualify for the group stages - and there's plenty of pressure on the Argentine to do just that.
Holan's side were able to squeeze past Venezuela's Deportivo Lara in the penultimate qualifying round, although it was far from comfortable.
The Brazilian side won the first leg 2-1, despite the visitors causing them plenty of problems and deserved their away goal. However, a well-placed free kick from Soteldo in the second leg was enough to see the Brazilian side progress to face San Lorenzo in the next round.
Santos may count themselves fortunate to not have played the second leg in Venezuela due to covid restrictions, as even without fans, home advantage plays a significant role in this tournament, largely due to altitude or plastic pitches - this will no doubt crop up in my columns as the tournament progresses.
Admittedly, against Lara, Santos' team were depleted with injuries for both legs.
Holan had to start both 16-year-old Angelos Borges and 17-year-old Marcos Leonardo, who both failed to find the back of the net in either tie and are both still in search of their first senior goals for the club.
San Lorenzo, on the other hand, easily dispatched their opponents in Universidad De Chile, winning the second leg at home 2-0, and if it wasn't for a man of the match performance from De Paul between the sticks, San Lorenzo could have won by four or five.
However, away from their routine victory over an admittedly poor Chilean side, San Lorenzo endured a slow start to their domestic season.
San Lorenzo won just one in seven, losing two home fixtures on the bounce to Aldosivi and Central Cordoba, shipping nine goals in the process.
But two solid 2-0 victories have since followed, beating Estudiantes away and then Rosario Central at home last Friday. After a sluggish start, that's now just one defeat in five in the league.
Unlike Santos, they've had a busy schedule to endure, but the team seem to be finding their feet and will come into this match full of confidence.
Santos, struggling to rush back their first team strikers and having not played a game since their match against Lara in mid-March, are unlikely to go all guns blazing in Argentina, especially with the second tie back in Brazil.
Star of the previous round, Soteldo, visited Venezuela after the match with Lara but was unable to travel back to Brazil due to covid regulations, losing three weeks of training with his side. It's reported that he will travel to Argentina, but he's highly unlikely to start.
Last season's top goalscorer, Marinho, who was also voted Copa Libertadores' best player in 2020, remains on the side-lines and may well miss the second leg on home soil.
It's also worth noting San Lorenzo's home record in the competition in recent years, which has been nothing short of perfection. Since 2017, they've won 7, drawn one and lost one.
Even the match they lost (0-1 to Emelec) they qualified to the next round via a penalty shoot-out. In fact, that's one of three goals they've conceded within those nine matches, with six clean sheets on the bounce since that game against the Ecuadorian side.
With Santos looking likely to be without a recognised first-team striker, there is a strong possibility the Argentine side will try and take advantage of the lack of threat Santos will possess.
With San Lorenzo looking a confident side again, and with many attacking options missing for Santos, a home win at 1.9520/21 looks a worthy bet. San Lorenzo will need and want to take a lead to Brazil.
Stay tuned for a full ante-post column and group stage selections next week.