Barcelona SC aim to crash Brazilian party

  • First legs of Copa Libertadores semis take place this week

  • Defending champion Palmeiras meet compatriots Atletico Mineiro

  • Ecuador’s Barcelona SC have sights set on claiming Flamengo's scalp

The semi-finals of the 2021 Copa Libertadores get underway this week and feature three former winners from Brazil, among them defending champions Palmeiras, and an Ecuadorian side in search of a maiden continental crown.

Palmeiras (2), Flamengo (2) and Atletico Mineiro (1) have five Libertadores titles between them, while Barcelona SC have twice been beaten finalists, in 1990 and 1998.

The winners of this year’s Libertadores will represent CONMEBOL at the next FIFA Club World Cup, the date and location of which will be confirmed by FIFA in due course.

Palmeiras vs Atletico Mineiro

  • First leg, 21 September (21:30)

  • Second leg, 28 September (21:30)

The two teams with the best record in the group stage go head to head in what should be a fascinating clash of styles. Palmeiras can be explosive going forward and are the second highest scorers of the four semi-finalists with 26 goals in 10 games. That tally shows they have lost none of the firepower or attacking intent that brought them the continental title last year. The Sao Paulo club play the first leg at home, where they won their last three Libertadores games without conceding after their solitary defeat in the group phase at home to Defensa y Justicia (4-3).

Atletico Mineiro racked up more points than any other side in the group stage (16 from a possible 18) and are one of two unbeaten teams left in the tournament. That run owes much to their defensive solidity: after shipping three goals in their first four games, they have now gone six games without conceding. Among those frustrated by their formidable rearguard were Argentinian big guns Boca Juniors and River Plate, their respective victims in the last-16 and quarter-finals.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - APRIL 27: Rony of Palmeiras celebrates after scoring the first goal of his team during a match between Palmeiras and Independiente del Valle as part of Group A of Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores 2021 at Allianz Parque on April 27, 2021 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Andre Penner - Pool/Getty Images)

The stats

6 – The number of goals netted by Rony, Palmeiras’ top scorer in this year’s tournament. The striker chipped in with five goals en route to the title last year and was also the top provider of assists (9). So far in this edition, he has added one further assist.

606 – The number of minutes since Atletico Mineiro last conceded in this competition. Santiago Moreno of America de Cali was the last to breach their defence on 13 May during matchday four of the group stage.

7 – The number of goals netted by Hulk, Atletico Mineiro’s top scorer in the current edition. That impressive return is one of reasons the 35-year-old striker has been recalled to the Brazil squad after a five-year absence.

Flamengo vs Barcelona SC 

  • First leg, 22 September (21:30)

  • Second leg, 29 September (21:30)

As well as being undefeated in this year’s competition, Flamengo are also its top scorers, with 28 goals in 10 games. Worryingly for their opponents, they seem to be getting better as the tournament goes on: after racking up 14 goals in their six group games, they weighed in with another 14 in the four games thus far in the knockout phase, including nine at home.

Facing them will be a battle-hardened Barcelona side, who have shown they will not be cowed by anyone and can make the most of the chances they create. In this edition, they have already faced two Brazilian clubs and remain unbeaten, with two wins over Santos and two draws with Fluminense, who they eliminated to prevent an all-Brazilian line-up in the semis. The Ecuadorian outfit even managed to score four times in Brazil.

The stats 

10 – Gabriel Barbosa’s goal tally in this year’s competition, in which he is currently top scorer. The Flamengo front man has also provided four assists, thereby playing a part in 50 per cent of his side's goals.

15 – The number of assists a quartet of Flamengo players have between them. Leading the way is Giorgian De Arrascaeta, the joint top assist-provider this edition (along with the Venezuelan Jefferson Severino of Atletico Mineiro). The other trio comprise Bruno Henrique (4), and Gabriel Barbosa and Rodinei (3 apiece).

4 – Ecuadorian midfielder Gabriel Cortez and Argentinian forward Leandro Martinez have each had a hand in four of Barcelona’s goals. While the former has two goals and two assists, the latter has one and three respectively.

3 – The number of former Copa Libertadores winners who have lost to Barcelona in Guayaquil in this edition. Can Flamengo now avoid the fate suffered by Santos, Boca Juniors and Velez Sarsfield?

GUAYAQUIL, ECUADOR - MAY 26: Damián Díaz of Barcelona SC celebrates after scoring the first goal of his team during a group C match of Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores 2021 between Barcelona SC and Santos at Estadio Monumental Isidro Romero Carbo on May 26, 2021 in Guayaquil, Ecuador. (Photo by Marcos Pin - Pool/Getty Images)