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Copa Libertadores Group Stage: Flamengo to top Group A while Fluminense the team to watch



Group A: Flamengo & Racing to progress


Flamengo Racing Aucas Nublense


Last year’s champions should have no issues progressing to the knockout stage, who are likely battle it out for first spot with Argentine outfit Racing.


Despite fans not warming to new manager Vitor Pereira, the Brazilian club shouldn’t face any issues against Ecuador’s champions, Aucas, and Chilean debutants, Nublense.


Aucas’ squad worth is around £12m, x12 smaller than Flamengo’s, while Nublense’s manager Jaime Garcia admits his focus is on domestic prizes rather than the Libertadores recognising his team’s stature in the competition.


The main issue for Aucas is Francisco Fydriszewski’s departure to Barcelona SC. Last year’s top goalscorer was the key to Aucas’ success, and without a sufficient replacement lined up it will hard work for Aucas in the Libertadores.


Racing lack an attacking edge having sold last year’s top goalscorer Enzo Copetti to MLS side Charlotte. Attention turns to Paraguayan midfielder Matias Rojas who has scored in each of his last four games for Racing, as well as for the national side in a recent 3-2 loss to Chile.


Racing will rely on their midfielder for those game changing moments, but he alone won’t be enough to topple Flamengo’s roster of talent.

With last year’s Libertadores top goalscorer Pedro back fit and firing, Flamengo should breeze through Group A without too many issues.


Prediction:


🥇 Flamengo 🥈 Racing 🥉 Aucas 🔻 Nublense


Players to watch: Racing’s Matias Rojas & Flamengo’s Matheus Goncalves.


Group B: Internacional to showcase their class

Nacional Internacional Metropolitanos Independiente Medellin A much harder group to predict should see Brazilian club Internacional top the group, after finishing third in Serie A last campaign.


Manager Mano Menezes oversaw victories against Palmeiras, Fluminense and Athletico PR domestically last campaign, with his fluid 4-2-3-1 formation playing to the strengths of his players.


At home, Internacional’s attacking prowess should be too strong for the other three clubs in this group, with the likes of Alan Patrick and Mauricio being at the forefront of the action.


That leaves one spot up for grabs. Nacional no longer have Luis Suarez leading the line, but at the age of 35 Emanuel Gigliotti still poses a threat in the lone striker role manager Ricardo Zielinski prefers.


In behind, young prospect Franco Fagundez is one to watch. The attacking midfielder has all the attributes to make it to the top and Nacional will be hoping he can be the difference in a challenging group.

Independiente Medellin had to battle through the qualifiers but have two proven strikers in their ranks who can certainly cause issues. Argentine Luciano Pons hit 18 goals in 2022, as well as scoring a brace against Magallanes to secure their group spot.


Colombian striker Didier Cambindo scored a crucial qualifying goal against El Nacional and the athletic striker can prove to be a real handful on his day.


Metropolitanos make their Libertadores debut having won their first ever Venezuelan Primera title last campaign. The club only in it’s eleventh year of existence and this may be a learning curve for the club, who are likely to be without their star midfielder Walter Araujo due to injury. A steep learning curve awaits.


Prediction:


🥇 Internacional 🥈 Nacional 🥉 Independiente Medellin 🔻 Metropolitanos

Players to watch: Internacional’s Mauricio and Nacional’s Franco Fagundez.


Group C: Barcelona & Cerro Porteno to fight for second


Palmeiras Barcelona Bolivar Cerro Porteno Another group in which a Brazilian team should dominate features last year’s semi-finalists Palmeiras, who look to be in a league of their own compared to their three opponents.


With Raphael Veiga and Rony recently making their Brazilian debuts, as well as soon to be Real Madrid player Endrick amongst their ranks, Group C may just be the one with the most goals.


Bolivar are almost certain to be the whipping boys away from home, but the extreme altitude in La Paz always throws up a surprise or two – and their opponents will know any points secured in La Paz will be crucial in the hunt for second place.


The Bolivian club have lost their three main strikers from last campaign, but Universidad De Chile’s Ronnie Fernandez has made the move to La Paz and has found his feet already, scoring five goals in his first six domestic matches.


Cerro Porteno had their Brazilian goalkeeper, Jean, to thank for his heroics in qualifying against Fortaleza, to return to the groups for the second year in a row. The Paraguayan club know their limitations but can prove a tough nut to crack on home soil, having qualified for the knockouts last campaign.


Barcelona reached the semi-finals back in 2021, and the man who guided them on that occasion, Fabian Bustos, has since returned to the dugout.

Club captain Damian Diaz remains an integral part of Barcelona’s midfield at the age of 36, while the addition of Independiente del Valle’s Jonatan Bauman looks to be a fine addition having scored four goals in his last six starts for his new club.


With first and fourth place set in stone, the battle for second looks well and truly on between Barcelona and Cerro Porteno. I’m rolling the dice with Barcelona, due to Bustos' return and the attacking talent within their squad.


Prediction: 🥇 Palmeiras 🥈 Barcelona 🥉 Cerro Porteno 🔻 Bolivar Players to watch: Palmerias’ Endrick and Barcelona’s Jonatan Bauman.


Group D: German Cano can sink River

River Plate Fluminense The Strongest Sporting Cristal Group D appears to be having its own separate battles. River Plate and Fluminense are both eyeing up top spot, while The Strongest and Sporting Cristal are set to fight out for a place in the Sudamericana.


Martin Demichelis appears to be enjoying life at River with his team sat top of the Primera Division and with plenty of young talent coming through the squad, yet he has an experienced defence he can rely on.


He’ll need to rely on that backline to try and stop Fluminense’s German Cano, who is quite frankly in frightening form. Having scored 26 domestic goals last year, he’s already fired in 14 in his last seven matches.

If Cano stays fit, Fluminense have a real possibility of going far in this tournament and the addition of former Real Madrid icon Marcelo has certainly bolstered their chances.


As discussed with Bolivar, The Strongest can tough it out at home, but so can Sporting Cristal, who’s new Brazilian manager, Tiago Nunes, has looked to address his side’s defensive issues. Third place may well come down to goal difference.


Prediction: 🥇 Fluminense 🥈 River Plate 🥉 Sporting Cristal 🔻 The Strongest


Players to watch: Fluminense’s German Cano and River Plate’s Lucas Beltran.


Group E: Corinthians can take control


Independiente del Valle Corinthians Argentinos Jrs Liverpool What a group we have here. Liverpool aside, there’s no reason why IDV, Corinthians and Argentinos Jrs can’t compete for first place.


Either way, one of those three clubs will be bitterly disappointed to drop into the Sudamericana. Last year’s Sudamericana winners IDV may have lost several players from that squad, but they proved they were still more than capable of competing when beating Flamengo on penalties to win the Recopa Sudamericana.


Goalkeeper Wellington Moises Ramirez Preciado no doubt has a huge career ahead of him, and the 22-year-old will be able to showcase his talents in the Libertadores and look to frustrate both Corinthians and Argentinos Jrs.


Keep an eye out for 15-year-old Kendry Paez, who has been linked with plenty of top European clubs.

Corinthians have promoted within after Vitor Pereira’s departure to Flamengo but are very fortunate to have two quality attacking players leading the line. Yuri Alberto and Roger Guedes are both reliable in front of goal and stopping them will take some doing.


They are direct operators, who are capable of punishing teams, which should see them get out of the group.


Argentinos Jrs have endured a steady start to their 2023 campaign but do rely on 32-year-old Gabriel Avalos in order to pick up points. If Avalos isn’t firing on all cylinders, the Argentine club may struggle to come out of this competitive group.


Liverpool are very much up against it having drawn against three very capable sides, and the Uruguayan club look destined to finish bottom of the group.


Prediction: 🥇 Corinthians 🥈 IDV 🥉 Argentinos Jrs 🔻 Liverpool


Players to watch: IDV’s Wellington Moises Ramirez and Corinthians’ Yuri Alberto.


Group F: Boca can breeze into final 16

Boca Juniors Colo Colo

Monagas Deportivo Pereira


Hugo Ibarra will be delighted with Boca Junior’s draw compared to others, although nothing is ever certain in the Libertadores.


However, with Dario Benedetto and Luca Langoni leading the line for the Argentine giants, Boca should make light work of their group and look to have top spot wrapped up as soon as possible.


Boca have very little excuse to not top Group F, with both Colo Colo and Deportivo Pereira having lost their top goalscorers from last campaign.

Juan Lucero left Colo Colo for Brazilian club Fortaleza, while Leonardo Castro who scored 24 league goals in 2022 departed for league rivals Millonarios. Both clubs have failed to replace them.


Venezuelan club Monagas have only appeared in the Libertadores once back in 2018, where they lost five of their six matches. Monagas also lost their top goalscorer from last campaign, and having failed to replace him, the minnows look destined to finish bottom of the pile.


Prediction: 🥇 Boca Juniors 🥈 Colo Colo 🥉 Deportivo Pereira 🔻 Monagas Players to watch: Boca’s Luca Langoni and Deportivo Pereira’s Carlos Andres Ramirez.


Group G: Brazilians to flex their muscles

Athletico PR Libertad Alianza Lima Atletico Mineiro Similar to Group D, there appears to be two groups within one here. Atletico Mineiro and last year’s finalists Athletico PR will fight for top spot, while Libertad and Alianza Lima will be hoping to achieve qualification to the Sudamericana.


Athletico PR look to have the edge of Atletico MG, with Felipe Scolari leaving his side in good order after his retirement last campaign.


With former Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho in the middle of the park, and one of the most exciting talents in Brazil up front in Vitor Roque, Athletico PR should cruise into the knockout stage.

Atletico Mineiro had to battle through the qualifiers in order to be here, and with Hulk leading the line, anything is always possible. However, on loan striker Paulinho from Bayer Leverkusen has taken like a duck to water at his new club and both strikers have built a good relationship already.


Alianza Lima consistently struggle in the Libertadores, who haven’t won a Libertadores group match since 2015. Libertad on the other hand qualified for the knockout stage last year, before coming up short against Athletico PR.


With Lorenzo Melgarejo leading the line, the forward with Champions League experience on his CV should guide his team into third place at the expense of Alianza Lima.


Prediction:


🥇 Athletico PR 🥈 Atletico Mineiro 🥉 Libertad 🔻 Alianza Lima Players to watch: Athletico PR’s Vitor Roque and Atletico Mineiro’s Paulinho.

Group H: Nacional can qualify in wide open group

Olimpia Atletico Nacional Melgar Patronato By far the toughest group to predict, Group H looks to be very much up for grabs for all four teams.


Last year’s Sudamericana semi-finalists Melgar managed to knockout Internacional in the quarter-finals, and with club legend and all time goalscorer Bernado Cuesta leading the line, Melgar will certainly back themselves on home soil to spring a surprise once more.


Argentinian club Patronato are in the Libertadores thanks to their impressive Copa Argentina victory – but due to being relegated, most of that squad have moved on and they now have players more equipped for the Argentine Nacional rather than the top division.


Atletico Nacional have brought in former AC Milan defender Cristian Zapata and although he’s 36, his experience will prove invaluable, and he’s already slotted straight into Nacional’s backline.


Having not lost in 2023 at the time of writing, the Colombian club appear to be building a foundation which can see them through the group stage.

Not only are they proving to be defensively sound, but veteran striker Jefferson Duque continues to lead the line, who has been the club’s top goalscorer for the last two seasons. Despite being 35, he’s continuing to be amongst the goals, and he’ll be a threat to all three teams in Group H.


Last but not least, Olimpia are experienced in the Libertadores and despite finishing third in their group last year, there’s every reason they can make up for that this time round in a much weaker group.


Derlis Gonzalez scored 18 goals in 32 matches last campaign, but the club has decided to add more firepower this season having struggled to score in the 2022 Libertadores. Olimpia signed Facundo Bruera from domestic rivals Nacional Asuncion, who scored 19 goals in 42 appearances in 2022.


With so much proven firepower, Olimpia will fancy themselves to squeeze in to the top two and qualify for the knockout stages.


Prediction: 🥇 Atletico Nacional 🥈 Olimpia 🥉 Patronato 🔻 Melgar Players to watch: Olimpia’s Derlis Gonzalez and Atletico Nacional’s Nelson Palacio.

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