2019 Copa Libertadores Preview, Predictions & Players To Watch

2019 Copa Libertadores Preview, Predictions & Players To Watch

As the 2019 Copa Libertadores group stages kick off, WFi’s South American Football Show team make their predictions.

Our experts pick out some of the best teams and players to look out for in the 2019 edition.

Can last season’s champions River Plate defend their title?


Austin Miller

Who will win?

Grêmio

The 2017 Libertadores champions were a couple of questionable calls away from getting a chance to defend their title in 2018.

Now, they’ve reloaded for 2019 while keeping the core of an experienced side that knows what to do in prestigious tournaments.

Pedro Geromel and Walter Kannemann combine to form the best defensive pairing on the continent, and while Luan’s much awaited move to Europe never came to fruition, he’s still a class player.

His fellow winger Everton continues to be in the picture for the Brazilian national team, and Walter Montoya and Diego Tardelli, who was a key member of Atlético Minero’s Libertadores winning side in 2013, add class to an already talented midfield.

The draw is kind, which means Grêmio have everything it takes to lift the title again in 2019.

Surprise team

Nacional (Uruguay)

It’s never pretty with the Uruguayan giants, but it doesn’t have to be to be successful in this competition.

The group stage draw has fallen kindly to Nacional, aside from Atlético Mineiro, they should be able to handle the rest of their group, and if they can get into the knockout round, they’re never an easy out.

In addition to a squad of veterans who have sprung a few surprises in years past is the ultimate x-factor: Rodrigo Amaral. Highly rated, but oft out of favor, Amaral is back with Nacional, and if he can even find a fraction of the form he’s believed to have, he could make a difference for Nacional.

Player to watch

Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate)

No one knows how long Quintero will remain in South America (rumors of his departure next June appear to have some steam behind them) so enjoy him while you can. Few players on the continent can impact a match like Quintero, and even fewer will leave a smile on your face like Quintero.

When he’s on the pitch, sit back and enjoy.

Young player to watch

Santiago Arzamendia (Cerro Porteño)

Generally the attention in this competition is on the flair players, but it’s the left back for Cerro Porteño that I’m most excited to see in 2019.

Arzamendia, just 20 years old, made a strong impression in 2018, and is back for more this year. A pacy wingback, strong on defence and capable of giving his defensive counterparts fits going the other direction is one to keep an eye on.

A good group stage and Arzamendia could be on the move to a bigger side on the continent or even into Europe.

Reasons to watch the Libertadores

 

Tom Nash

Who will win?

River Plate

Predicting a winner at this stage is very difficult as South American sides see huge turnover of personnel in June and July (the mid-point of the tournament) and big European clubs may come in for their stars.

River Plate would be my pick based on the current squads/managers. Things could change very quickly though in June as Juanfer Quintero and Exequiel Palacios are likely to leave. Palmeiras and Boca Juniors will also likely feature in the final stages again with their abundant depth and quality.

Surprise team

Palestino come into the Libertadores on the crest of a wave after winning the Copa Chile, then taking the long route to the groups via the qualifiers, beating DIM and Talleres. They will make life tricky for River and Internacional in Group 1.

Players to watch

Giorgian De Arrascaeta will be under huge pressure to perform after his big money move to Flamengo from Cruzeiro. Could he help Brazil’s most popular club finally fulfil its potential after much underachievement?

Young players to watch

Agustin Almendra (Boca), Julian Alvarez (River Plate), Robert Rojas (River Plate)

Reasons to follow the Libertadores

  • Volatile and passionate crowds.
  • The next generation of stars.
  • Controversial governing and refereeing.
  • Jaw-dropping twists.
  • Heat, cold, rain, altitude…

The Libertadores’ unique mix of attributes really make it unique in world sport.

 

Tom Robinson

Who will win?

Palmeiras

It may be a fool’s errand making predictions at this stage but someone has to do it!

History tells us that over the last decade sides tend not to make the final two years in a row so that would seem to rule out Boca and River but given Argentinian recent dominance you wouldn’t rule either out, especially given their resources to strengthen after the group stage.

Boca under Alfaro don’t fill me with confidence so I would say River are the strongest contender from Argentina, provided they can hang onto Juan Fernando Quintero.

Having said that, this year I am going to plump for Palmeiras. The Brazilian champions have been close in recent years, have a strong, well-backed squad at this level and a canny manager in charge. Plus, Austin will probably think I have now jinxed them so what’s not to love.

Surprise team 

Internacional

I’m not sure how much you can class them as a surprise but I certainly think Internacional will be something of a dark horse. Winners in 2006 and 2010, have since suffered a humbling relegation but are now back and looking like they have enough firepower to make a dent on this year’s competition.

I also think that Atlético Mineiro could be an entertaining, if flawed, shout to make a run deep in the competition.

For more of a left-field shout, I think Emelec, Libertad and Tolima could make it through to the knock-out stages and could be awkward opponents to face.

Players to watch

Too many to mention but I’m fascinated to see what the constellation of stars at Flamengo (De Arrascaeta, Gabigol, Diego etc) can do and I’m interested to see the firepower Nico Lopez, Paolo Guerrero and Jonatan Alvez at Inter. Other than that, the likes of Dudu, Juan Cazares and Luan are all joys to watch and I enjoy the sight of Oscar Cardozo rumbling on.

Of the less fancied Argentinian clubs, keep an eye out for Juan Garro and Lucas Gamba at Huracan, Santiago Garcia at Godoy Cruz, plus the barrel chested penalty expert Nestor Ortigoza at Rosario. Finally, worth keeping an eye on Gabriel Fernandez at Penarol before his move to Celta Vigo.

Young players to watch

With Palacios injured for River, all eyes should be on young midfielder Cristian Ferreira, while across at Boca I’m a huge fan of Agustin Almendra.

Penarol’s Ezequiel Busquets and Atlético Mineiro’s Guga are good full backs, plus it’ll be interesting if we see some of Flamengo’s highly rated Reinier Jesus.

Other names worth a mention Brian Ocampo (Nacional), Marcos Senesi (San Lorenzo), Ignacio Saavedra & Cesar Munder (Uni. Católica), Billy Arce & Bryan Cabezas (Emelec)

Reasons to watch the Libertadores

The most unpredictable competition on the planet with the best atmospheres and drama you’re likely to see.

True, the quality may not always be the highest but it’s not just about what happens on the pitch – sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worst as last year’s farce proved.

Plus the chance to see the stars of tomorrow and yesteryear’s legends on the same pitch is a heady concoction for football lovers out there.

Oh yeah, and at some point there will probably be a dog on the pitch!

 

Simon Edwards

Who will win?

River Plate

River Plate again look like very strong contenders for this year’s title. They have lost Pity Martinez which is a blow but that should mean more opportunities to marvel at the wonderful talent that is Juan Fernando Quintero.

Quintero has incredible vision and intelligence, which combined with astonishing left footed precision makes him a joy.

The tireless and technical Borre playing off Pratto should be a very effective attacking pairing, plus they have the best goalkeeper on the continent in Franco Armani.

Palmeiras is another side that should be in the picture, having retained the core of a very solid side from previous tournaments.

With quick, powerful Borja providing a constant presence in attack, tricky Dudu on the wing, scheming Bruno Henrique and no nonsense Felipe Melo all buzzing around Lucas Lima – there is a lot to like with the Brazilians.

Lucas Lima dropped off over the last couple of years following a lot of big European interest but he is a player full of quality and creative plus in Moises Palmeiras have an excellent plan b.

Palmeiras have shown in previous tournaments they have the quality to thrill but also the guile to foul, dive and fake injury their way to a result when they have to.

Finally, it will be very interesting to see what Flamengo do this year.

They have probably the most expensive side in the tournament and if competitions were won on paper, they would be right up there. Recent history indicates that however exciting things look at Flamengo, they do tend to implode and underwhelm.

While I have my reservations, with classy Uruguayan playmaker Giorgian De Arrascieta pulling the strings behind clinical Gabriel Barbosa, Flamengo are definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Surprise team

Emelec

I have high hopes for what looks like a very exciting Emelec side this year.

Quick, tricky, creative Gabriel Cortez will pull the strings in the hole, with plenty of excellent attacking options buzzing around.

They have 21 year old international Joao Joshimar Rojas on one wing, with the highly rated Bryan Cabezas on the other behind the dynamic forward Bryan Angulo with all three offering pace, invention and direct running.

The question remains if their defensive work can match what should be an exciting attack.

Junior have a tactically more balanced side this year, which still retains much of the quality from previous tournaments. Victor Canillo will run the show in midfield, the lanky ball playing midfield is defensively solid and superb at receiving and moving the ball.

In attack Luis Diaz will look to find pockets of space to drive with the ball just behind the experienced, intelligent Teofilo Gutierrez.

Finally, Libertad have a very solid, experienced side that could do well.

The Paraguayans have big Oscar Cardozo as the focal point in attack, who is real quality if he can get the right service. Colombian boss Leonel Alvarez is one of the better managers in the tournament and has pulled some strings to bring in a couple of 2016 winners Macnelly Torres and Alex Mejia.

Mejia is an incredible leader who will run the midfield while aging playmaker Macnelly still has the creativity to unpick a defense.

Players to watch

Santiago Arzamendia (Cerro Porteño)

One of the best players in his position last year, the complete attacking fullback is overdue a big move.

Victor Canillo (Junior)

Linked with a number of Brazilian clubs over the break, the tall, elegant deep-lying midfield playmaker is full of class and creativity.

Jorman Campuzano (Boca Juniors)

The Colombian defensive midfielder has made a good start in Argentina and was a real standout performer for a disappointing Nacional side last year. Tenacious winning the ball but also incredibly mature and composed in possession.

Young players to watch

Jefferson Gomez (Junior)

The complete Colombian central defender has been on the verge of a huge breakthrough for four or five years, with a year long injury scuppering a proposed move to Italy. Quick, composed, tenacious and classy on the ball, he really has everything to go to the top.

Hugo Quintana (Olimpia)

Quintana made his debut at just 16 and is already an important first team player in the Paraguayan side’s midfield. With excellent passing stats, good technique and the ability to get forward and support the attack, definitely one to watch.

Joao Joshimir Rojas (Emelec)

The exuberant, flamboyant winger has a great touch and bundles of charisma. Typifying everything we love from an Ecuadorian winger, he has pace and can go both inside and out. Will take risks and lose possession but definitely one to watch.

Reasons to watch the Libertadores

The atmosphere and unpredictability has rendered Champions League dull and uneventful for me now.

The Libertadores is where the next world superstars will forge the personality and strength they need to harness their incredible talent and overcome the adversity of playing in front of 50,000+ lunatics.

The fans are truly a part of every game, playing away can be an intimidating and overwhelming ordeal for sides to face. The home side will be lifted and the entire stadium will shake for 90 minutes.

No team will lie down and accept their inferiority; if they can’t outplay their opponent they will get creative and use every trick in the book to push the balance in their favour.

You never know what will happen and there are no uneventful days following the Libertadores.

 

Adam Brandon

Who will win?

Palmeiras

Boca Juniors will surely be desperate to put last year’s final heartbreak behind them, while reigning champions River have kept most of their squad together and it would be a surprise to see either fail to make the latter stages again.

Last year’s semifinalists Palmeiras still look strong and will be hard to beat, I have a feeling they may just get the job done this time around, although it might not necessarily be thrilling to watch.

Surprise team

Palestino have already surprised many by knocking out Deportivo Independiente Medellin and Talleres on their way to the group stage.

If ex-Inter and West Ham man Luis Jimenez, who is looking a class above so far at this level, stays fit, then they might just sneak into the last 16 despite being in a difficult group containing champions River Plate and Brazilian giants Internacional.

Long-term listeners to the South American Football Show will remember our love for Jorge Wilstermann in 2017. It was the year that saw Peñarol, Atlético Tucuman, Atlético Miniero, Palmeiras and River Plate all beaten in the altitude of Cochabamba.

Their group opponents are Copa Sudamericana holders Athletico (not a spelling error) Paranaense, Colombian champions Tolima and last year’s Libertadores runners-up Boca Juniors – none of those will be relishing a trip to the Bolivian city.

Players to watch

The aforementioned Luis “Mago” Jimenez has already been a joy to watch in the qualifying stages for Palestino with his top class dribbling and defence splitting passes. He is this year’s “Mago” after the other one, Jorge Valdivia of Colo-Colo, lit up last year’s competition.

It is hard to ignore the stars of the latter stages of the 2018 Copa Libertadores – Juan Fernando Quintero of River Plate and Dario Benedetto of Boca Juniors. Both players scored fantastic and important goals as the pressure got ramped up.

Young players to watch

Ezequiel Busquets – Peñarol

A talented right-back that recently impressed at the U20 South American Championships, the defensive qualities you’d expect from an Uruguayan combined with an attacking threat too.

Bryan Cabezas – Emelec

Cabezas impressed in this competition at just 18 years of age in 2016 as he helped little Ecuadorian side Independiente del Valle to the final.

Unsuccessful spells in Italy, Greece and Brazil since means he needs to restart his career back in his homeland. With regular game time, I expect Cabezas to get back to his best again so expect plenty of pace and trickery from the Ecuadorian flying winger.

Ignacio Saavedra – Universidad Católica

Saavedra is a classy holding midfielder who suffered a terrible foul that put him out for at least 4 months at the end of last season.

He’s already missed (and was terribly missed by Chile) the U20 South American Championships, but he is on the road to recovery. He could make a return in April where he may just tip the balance in Católica’s favour if they are still contention for a last 16 place.

Adolfo Gaich – San Lorenzo

A player that appears to be the work of a mad Argentine scientist trying to create their own Harry Kane clone. Similar build and playing style to the England star and is very hit and miss just as Kane was at the same age (20). In a side that looks like it might struggle, Gaich could be the one to breakthrough and salvage them.

Reasons to watch the Libertadores

Livid losers
Intense rivaries
Bolivian teams upsetting the odds
Eclectic kits
Refereeing controversies galore
Tremendous golazos
Altitude and amazing atmospheres
Dogs on pitches
Own goals and gaffes
Red mists, red faces and red cards
Entertaining matches
Superstars emerging


Copa Libertadores 2019 map, courtesy of Bill Turianski, the full map with information on each team can be found on billsportsmaps.com

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