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The Longest Copa Libertadores Ever Comes To An End

 

Finally, a team will lift the Copa Libertadores trophy on Saturday. By then, it will have been more than a year – 375 days to be exact – since the tournament kicked off back on 21st January 2020. It’s the longest Copa Libertadores ever, for obvious reasons. Ahead of the final, we assess the chances of Santos and Palmeiras who will face each other for the first time in CONMEBOL competitions.

By: Augusto Rammauro

The Copa Libertadores was suspended between March and September 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. After restarting behind closed doors, the lack of fans in stadiums had a clear impact on results. 30.5% of the games since have been won by the away team. You need to go back 50 years to find a better away win percentage: 31.1% in 1971.

History:

Santos and Palmeiras will face each other for the first time in CONMEBOL competitions. Both teams will play their fifth Copa Libertadores final, but while Santos have won three of their previous four, Palmeiras have lifted this trophy just once.

Ahead of the final, there are two certainties. One, that there will continue to be 25 Copa Libertadores champions, and two, that this will be the 20th title for a Brazilian team, something only surpassed by teams from Argentina, who have won this tournament on 25 occasions. All the remaining CONMEBOL countries combined do not reach Brazil’s total (16, with half of those being won by Uruguayans).

This will be the third Libertadores final containing two Brazilian teams. São Paulo beat Athletico Paranaense in 2005, and then lost to Internacional in 2006. There has only been another final between teams from the same country in the history of this tournament: the unforgettable 2018 Superclásico, between River Plate and Boca Juniors.

Current Form:

Both teams have lost just once on their way to the final, although it is safe to say that Palmeiras best Santos in almost every main stat in the 2020 Copa Libertadores:

Head To Head Comparison:

StatPalmeirasSantos
Games played1212
Games Won98
Games Lost11
Goals Scored3220
Goals Conceded69
Clean Sheets74
Touches in the Opp Box244218
Shots Attempted175169
Shots on Target7656
Shots Faced155163
Shots on Target Faced4446
Possession (%)53.647.1
Passing Accuracy (%)81.778
Passing Accuracy in Opp Half (%)74.171.1
Successful Passes43993375
Successful Passes in Opp Half20101674
Duels Won687662
% Duels Won52.349.8
Aerial Duels Won208171
% Aerial Duels Won53.144.4

Formations:

Palmeiras have used a back four in 10 of their 12 games in the tournament so far, but changed to three central defenders in the semi-final against River. We’ll see if Abel Ferreira sticks to the recent back three or goes back to the 4-2-3-1 formation he has used most often in both the 2020 Copa Libertadores and the Brazilian Serie A.

Santos’ Cuca will probably choose between a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation, as he has done across the whole campaign.

Different Playing Styles:

Palmeiras and Santos have differing playing styles and it will be fascinating to watch the styles clash on Saturday.

Palmeiras have had the most build up attacks – the number of open play sequences that contain 10+ passes and either end in a shot or a touch in the box – in the 2020 Copa Libertadores. They’ve had 34, more than twice as many as Santos (16). Those attacks have come from 127 open play sequences with 10+ passes, the second-highest figure in the competition and almost twice as many as Santos (65).

This means that more than a quarter of their build up sequences result in a shot or touch in the opposition box. This is the highest proportion in the competition among teams with 5+ games played.

Santos, on the other hand, have had the second-most direct attacks (effectively a proxy for successful counter attacks) in the 2020 Copa Libertadores (25), with only River Plate managing more(28). Palmeiras have had considerably fewer direct attacks (18), but both teams have scored twice from these situations.

Both sides press at a similar rate. We can use PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action) to measure this.  A lower figure indicates a higher level of pressing, while a higher figure indicates a lower level of pressing. Santos (10.1) and Palmeiras (10.6) have very similar PPDA figures in the 2020 Copa Libertadores, a little below average (11.5), but still a long way off Marcelo Gallardo’s super intense River Plate (6.8).

The Key Players To Watch: Palmeiras

Palmeiras’ Rony has had a hand in the most goals (12) in the 2020 Copa Libertadores, scoring five and assisting seven. He is their dangerman.

Alternating between the different attacking positions, whether playing through the middle as a centre forward or on either flank, he has managed to score or assist every 64 minutes of play.

Rony has provided the second-most assists (7) in the 2020 Copa Libertadores, and he also has the most carries ending with an assist (4), demonstrating his ability to dribble with the ball in wide areas before looking to slide in his teammates.

Gabriel Menino has been Palmeiras’ wild card in the 2020 Copa Libertadores. In his debut season, the 20-year-old Brazilian has already become indispensable, playing in different positions on the right flank.

At the beginning of this tournament, under previous coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo, he was first deployed at right back. He then played as a right midfielder and scored a great goal against Bolívar, in La Paz.

Later, with the arrival of Abel Ferreira, he played as a right-attacking midfielder against Delfín, in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and scored again. In the quarter-finals second-leg against Libertad, he played as a defensive midfielder alongside Danilo, and scored his third goal in this campaign. Finally, in the semi-finals against River Plate, the only two games in which his team used a back three, he played mainly as a right wing back. In short, he can play everywhere, as demonstrated by his touch map below.

Only Rony (42) has had a hand in more shots for Palmeiras than Gabriel Menino (29) in the 2020 Copa Libertadores, with 15 shots attempted and 14 chances created. Beyond that, his versatility is reflected in several metrics in which he ranks in the top three among Palmeiras’ players.

Santos:

Marinho has won the most fouls (42) in the 2020 Copa Libertadores, with thirteen of those fouls coming in the semi-finals against Boca Juniors. Opposition defences have been forced to bring him down to stop him, and he’s been fouled five times following an attempted take-on, a competition-high.

As a left-footer operating primarily on the right, the 30-year-old winger has been a constant threat for his opponents: he has the joint-most shot ending carries (12, level with Carlos Tevez).

Marinho has also attempted the joint-most shots in the tournament: 38, level with Boca Juniors’ Carlos Tevez and River Plate’s Rafael Santos Borré.

However, most of his shots have come from outside the box (25). Excluding the penalty that he took and scored against LDU Quito in the round of 16, his 37 shots have produced an Expected Goals (xG) total of just 2.7. With an average xG per shot of just 0.07, we’d expected just 7% of his shots to go in. He might do well to try and shoot from better positions as a result.

On the other flank of Santos’ attack, we find Yeferson Soteldo. With the freedom to roam to other areas of the pitch, the 23-year-old Venezuelan has the most carries ending with a chance created (11).

Santos will look to Soteldo to generate attacking chances for his teammates. He has created a total of 28 chances in the tournament, which puts him third behind River Plate’s Nicolás De La Cruz (31) and Boca Juniors’ Carlos Tevez (30). Soteldo has created the second-most open play chances (24), only behind River Plate’s Matías Suárez (26).

Yeferson Soteldo has also completed the most dribbles (23) among those who will play this final.

Finally, in the centre of the attack is Kaio Jorge, arguably Santos’ main threat. The Brazilian forward, who has just turned 19, has scored the most goals for Santos in this tournament (5).

As can be seen in his touch map below, he is not a classic number nine, and usually drops deeper to link up play.

Despite dropping deeper, Kaio Jorge manages to still shoot from great locations. In contrast to Marinho, the vast majority of Kaio Jorge’s shots have been from inside the box (20/24). Shooting from good locations doesn’t guarantee you’ll score though, and as we can see in the shot map below, he has missed some clear chances in this tournament, with his five goals a little below than his expected goals value of 5.8.

Clarity vs. Uncertainty In Goal:

For Palmeiras, their goalkeeping equation is simple: Weverton has played all Palmeiras’ 12 games in the 2020 Copa Libertadores, keeping seven clean sheets. Only Boca’s Esteban Andrada and Internacional’s Marcelo Lomba have more (8 each).

Weverton has conceded the joint-fewest goals among the 13 goalkeepers to have played at least eight games in this tournament: 6, level with Boca’s Esteban Andrada.

Palmeiras’ 33-year-old goalkeeper has the second-highest save percentage (86.4%) among those with at least five games played in the 2020 Copa Libertadores, only behind Nacional’s Sergio Rochet (87.5%, in 7 games played).

Weverton has saved the most shots from outside the box (21), conceding none from long range in the 2020 CONMEBOL Libertadores.

If we look at our Expected Goals on target model (xGOT), Weverton has prevented 4.6 goals in the 2020 Copa Libertadores. He has only conceded five goals (excluding penalties), with a total xGOT conceded of 9.6. This means an average goalkeeper would have conceded roughly twice as many goals as he did. This is a post-shot model, so the quality of the finishing is considered.

Santos, on the other hand, have already used three goalkeepers this tournament, and could even use a fourth one in the final. Cuca will most likely opt for either John (3.1 goals prevented) or João Paulo (0.7 goals prevented).

Although an empty stadium will make the atmosphere very different from what we are used to in Copa Libertadores finals, it will still be raw with emotion. Both the promising youngsters and the most experienced players will do their best to win the trophy that is the obsession of the entire South American continent.

A parting fact: 20% of the Copa Libertadores finals have been resolved by penalties (12/60), with Brazilian teams involved in eight of those…

Might history repeat itself?


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