Copa Libertadores 2022: Previewing the Round of 16

South America’s premier club competition resumes this week with the round of 16 matches. Below is a thumbnail sketch of the eight matches with my own (hopefully data-informed) predictions thrown in. I’ll fill in the predictions during the week.

(Expected goal “slash lines” are in format: goals from open play / goals from set play / goals from penalty.)

Corinthians vs Boca Juniors

xG per 90 minutes xGA per 90 minutes
Corinthians 1.65 (0.74/0.81/0.10) 1.12 (0.57/0.37/0.18)
Boca Juniors 1.81 (0.79/0.92/0.09) 0.81 (0.58/0.23/0.00)

Corinthians and Boca Juniors, who occupied the top two spots in Group E, meet once again in the Copa Libertadores round of 16. This matchup features the two sides that scored the fewest goals of those that advanced to the knockout stage — five goals apiece. The discrepancy between the actual and expected goals scored — 7.04 goals for Boca, 6.64 goals for Corinthians — is the widest of any two group stage participants. Boca will have to move on from Eduardo Salvio, who is about to move to Liga MX and featured among the team leaders in expected goals and assists. They did rely once again on Darío Benedetto for their goals, but it would be nice for someone under 30 to convert chances. Can Óscar Zeballos be that man? As for Corinthians, Vítor Pereira will be limited by a suspension to Cantillo and injuries to Maycon, Paulinho, and Ruan Oliveira to such an extent that he is activating four reinforcements from the reserves. Goals look likely to be at a premium for this tie, which just might tilt the advantage to Boca.

Prediction: Boca advance on aggregate.

Emelec vs Atlético Mineiro

xG per 90 minutes xGA per 90 minutes
Emelec 2.45 (1.56/0.78/0.11) 1.38 (1.00/0.38/0.00)
Atlético Mineiro 2.21 (1.18/1.02/0.00) 1.10 (0.60/0.50/0.00)

Emelec have most of the players with whom they finished second in Group A, including Rodríguez and Cabeza who scored the bulk of the goals, but will have to make do without Leguizamón or Quintero in their defense. For Atlético Mineiro, Hulk — still banging in the goals at 36 — is o Galo‘s point man up top, with Ademir providing support and Ignacio Fernández a threat from midfield. Emelec are a slightly more threatening side from open play, but Atlético have a better defense and they have the benefit of more match sharpness.

Prediction: Atlético Mineiro on aggregate.

Athletico Paranaense vs Libertad

xG per 90 minutes xGA per 90 minutes
Athletico Paranaense 1.93 (1.17/0.58/0.18) 1.55 (0.60/0.95/0.00)
Libertad 1.84 (0.84/0.91/0.09) 1.35 (0.64/0.63/0.08)

Another rematch from the group stage in the round of 16. (I’m not sure if I like that.) These two teams are as closely matched as can be in the win/loss/draw record, but if you drill down into the advanced metrics you will see that Libertad’s ability to generate chances from set plays matches up well with Athletico’s vulnerability to set plays. That said, Libertad have a very old squad. Their average age is 29.8 (Athletico’s is closer to 26), with multiple players over the age of 35 logging significant minutes. Roque Santa Cruz is still playing at 41! And their youngest player who also happened to be the team leader in expected assists is off to the Premier League. Given the available players I’d have to prefer Athletico’s chances to Libertad’s.

Prediction: Athletico to advance on aggregate by a single goal.

Vélez Sarsfield vs River Plate

xG per 90 minutes xGA per 90 minutes
Vélez Sarsfield 1.93 (1.11/0.82/0.00) 1.43 (0.93/0.41/0.09)
River Plate 2.80 (2.08/0.64/0.08) 0.59 (0.35/0.22/0.02)

On paper, this looks like a mismatch, featuring a Vélez that made a late surge to scrape into the knockout stage against a River side that emerged as one of the elite teams in the Libertadores. But as Hristo Stoichkov famously said, football isn’t played on paper. The most significant change for River, and perhaps the entire Copa Libertadores, has been the departure of Julián Álvarez to Manchester City. His goals and his movement will be the most challenging elements for Marcelo Gallardo to replace. Vélez have found their goals through Lucas Janson, but it’s a much more famous Lucas — Pratto — who will be eager to show his former club that he still has something to offer. River have had the best defense in the group stage, but perhaps something could give when the matches get pressurized.

Prediction: River on penalties.

Deportes Tolima vs Flamengo

xG per 90 minutes xGA per 90 minutes
Deportivo Tolima 1.20 (0.71/0.49/0.00) 1.78 (0.94/0.66/0.18)
Flamengo 1.99 (1.35/0.55/0.09) 0.94 (0.45/0.49/0.00)

Another match that looks like a mismatch, and might end up becoming one. Tolima snatched a surprise second place in a group with Atlético Mineiro and Independiente del Valle despite being outmatched in the majority of their matches. Their front duo of Anderson Plata and Michael Rangel is as good as any frontline pair in the competition. The problem for Tolima is that Flamengo’s front trident — Gabriel Barbos, Pedro, and Éverton — is even more potent. Add De Arrascaeta and Willian Arão, and Flamengo become a dangerous side. I can’t see Flamengo struggling over the two legs.

Prediction: Flamengo win on aggregate by more than one goal.

Cerro Porteño vs Palmeiras

xG per 90 minutes xGA per 90 minutes
Cerro Porteño 1.04 (0.73/0.22/0.08) 1.73 (0.83/0.81/0.09)
Palmeiras 3.83 (1.99/1.53/0.31) 0.64 (0.31/0.33/0.00)

Paraguayan clubs have demonstrated that they are not to be underestimated in recent editions of the Copa Libertadores. But for almost all but a small minority of cases, the Round of 16 is the limit of their abilities. This matchup looks likely to fit in the latter category. Just one player — Fernando Romero — has scored more than one goal for Cerro Porteño in this year’s Libertadores, while four Palmeiras players have exceeded that mark. Between Rafael Navarro up front, Raphael Veiga and Gustavo Scarpa in the middle, and Danilo as the defensive linchpin, Palmeiras have too many weapons and shields for Cerro.

Prediction: Palmeiras to win on aggregate by multiple goals.

Talleres (Córdoba) vs Colón (Santa Fe)

xG per 90 minutes xGA per 90 minutes
Talleres de Córdoba 1.13 (0.67/0.46/0.00) 1.36 (0.58/0.69/0.09)
Colón de Santa Fe 1.95 (0.96/0.99/0.00) 1.17 (0.75/0.41/0.00)

This match will feature the rarest of events: a matchup of two Argentine Interior clubs in the Copa Libertadores. Neither team has scored all that much in the group stage. Federico Girotti has proven himself to be the one Talleres player most likely to put the ball in dangerous places and Héctor Fértoli has been able to convert them. Facundo Farías has been the most dangerous striker for Colón; Christian Bernardi and Rodrigo Aliendro, the midfielders of interest. The wildcard is 37-year-old Luis Rodríguez. At his age and fitness, he’s not going to play a full 90 minutes, but he has proven capable of entering the match and bending it to his will. He’s been taking the free kicks and corner kick; is there a magic moment?

Prediction: Colón on penalties.

Fortaleza vs Estudiantes (La Plata)

xG per 90 minutes xGA per 90 minutes
Fortaleza 1.46 (0.83/0.63/0.00) 1.39 (0.93/0.37/0.08)
Estudiantes de La Plata 1.75 (0.76/0.99/0.00) 0.93 (0.62/0.26/0.05)

Not enough time to do a proper preview, but I’ll just say that Estudiantes have emerged as a possible candidate thanks to their defense and goalkeeper and I expect them to continue riding both into a quarterfinal berth. If Fortaleza are going to cause an upset, it will be through Moises.

Prediction: Estudiantes advances by a goal on aggregate.

Match data used to develop match analytics have been supplied by DataFactory Latinoaméricano.


Source link