This year’s Copa Libertadores final is contested between an unsurprising power and an unlikely underdog. Unfortunately for the underdog, this is not a one-off, neutral site match. Unlike Europe’s premier club competition, the UEFA Champions League, the final of the Copa Libertadores is contested as a two-legged, home and away tie. Unlike previous rounds, away goals do not count. The underdog is going to have to continue to be the better side.
That underdog, of course, is Chivas de Guadalajara. Despite a collapse in the second half and playoffs of the Bicentenario and losing most of their key players to international duty, Chivas were able to plow their way through the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals. In the semi-finals, despite still not having Javier Hernandez (after selling him to Manchester United), Chivas convincingly defeated a Universidad de Chile side that had previously dispatched Brazilian giants Flamengo. They got the benefit of playing a La U side without Alvaro Fernandez. The Uruguay World Cup squad member was a major part of their Copa Libertadores campaign, but after his loan with the club expired, he moved on to Seattle Sounders. Chivas have managed to get to the final of Copa Libertadores without having to face a single Brazilian side or defending champions Estudiantes, but that string of luck in the draw comes to an end today. This is the final, and they finally have to face a giant in Brazilian side Internacional.
Inter have had a much more difficult road to get to the final. They opened the knockout stages with a match against Banfield and their star youngster James Rodriguez (who has since moved on to Porto), a tie which they squeaked out on away goals. In the Quarterfinals, they had to play defending champions Estudiantes and their plethora of top-notch talent. Veteran playmaker and member of the Argentina World Cup squad Juan Veron, versatile forward Leandro González, and star striker Mauro Boselli (now with Wigan Athletic) made life difficult on Inter, but they squeaked out another away goal win. In the Semi-Finals, Inter faced fellow Brazilian giants Sao Paulo and their superstar Hernanes (now a Lazio player) and once again, in dramatic fashion, won on away goals.
If you haven’t noticed so far in this piece, Copa Libertadores is a great showcase for players to get bigger contracts elsewhere. This tie features another player who will be soon applying his trade overseas, Inter’s Brazilian holding midfielder Sandro. Lucky for Chivas, he may not be available for the first leg because of his call-up to the Brazil side that played the United States last night. He did not feature in that game, so Sandro’s availability or lack thereof for tonight’s tie is not entirely clear. Also not available for the first leg is Tinga, as he was sent off in the second leg of the tie against Sao Paulo. The lack of availability of two central midfield players is just the latest piece of good luck in a string of fortunate events for Chivas in this competition.
With two of Inter’s best midfielders (likely, in the case of Sandro) unavailable and the first leg of the tie being at the new Estadio Chivas, the Mexican side have a bit of an advantage. The disadvantage they have, though, is that they’re just not quite as talented of a side at the end of the day. Guiñazú, Alecsandro, D’Alessandro, Taison, and Giuliano are among the quality midfield and attacking players that Internacional will have at their disposal even without Tinga and Sandro on the field. Let’s not sell Chivas short, though. Omar Bravo and Adolfo Bautista are no pushovers up front, and defender Jonny Magallon is among the best in Mexico.
Tactically, what we see from Chivas should be pretty straight forward. Expect them to line up in a 4-3-3 with Bautista, Bravo, and Arellano up top. The latter two were not in the squad on the weekend against San Luis, but indications are that those moves were made to rest the players, not because of injury. Inter is a little less straight forward. They have been lining up in a 4-2-3-1 setup and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it stay that way, but with Sandro and Tinga unavailable, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them change it up.
Chivas de Guadalajara’s string of great luck should finally come to an end. Internacional is the first team they have had to face in this competition who are significantly more talented than they are. Inter will miss Tinga and Sandro, but even if they lose by a couple of goals at Estadio Chivas, I expect them to make up the differential at Beira-Rio.
Leg 1: Chivas 1-1 Inter
Leg 2: Chivas1-2 Inter
Internacional win 3-2 on aggregate