Barcelona 0-2 Flamengo (0-4 agg): Bruno Henrique brace sets up Libertadores final with holders Palmeiras

By Sports Desk September 29, 2021

Flamengo will face Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras in an all-Brazilian final after Bruno Henrique continued his red-hot form in Wednesday's 2-0 victory at Barcelona.

After scoring a brace in the opening leg, Flamengo star Bruno Henrique scored another two goals to set up a comprehensive 4-0 aggregate triumph over the Ecuadorian side.

Flamengo are unbeaten in their last 17 matches in the Libertadores (W12 D5) – the joint-longest undefeated streak of any team in the history of the tournament, alongside Sporting Cristal from 1962 to 1969 (W8 D9).

Two-time South American champions Flamengo – who last prevailed in 2019 – and holders Palmeiras will meet in the Libertadores showpiece on neutral ground in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo on November 27.

Bruno Henrique broke the deadlock in the 18th minute away to Barcelona in Guayaquil – the forward breaking the offside trap before rounding the goalkeeper and finishing into an empty net.

Having provided the assist in the first half, Everton Ribeiro was the provider again for Bruno Henrique five minutes into the second period.

Starting from the goalkeeper, Flamengo navigated Barcelona's high press, keeping the ball before a swift move resulted in Bruno Henrique completing a stunning team move.

Bruno Henrique (16) and team-mate Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa (21) have together scored more than half of Flamengo's goals in the last three editions of the Libertadores (37 of 73).

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  • Merseyside derby: Benitez desperate for a win in Liverpool reunion Merseyside derby: Benitez desperate for a win in Liverpool reunion

    Liverpool have two reunions with fan favourites coming up in the space of 10 days.

    While Steven Gerrard will bring his Aston Villa team to Anfield on December 11, Liverpool first make the short trip to Goodison Park to face the manager under which they enjoyed their best spell of the 21st century prior to Jurgen Klopp's arrival.

    Rafael Benitez was a contentious appointment, to say the least, when he replaced Carlo Ancelotti at Everton.

    After a strong start to his tenure at Goodison Park, a combination of injuries to key players and questionable tactical decisions have left Benitez under pressure.

    Everton are on a seven-match winless run in the league, their worst run since 2016, and a streak of just one victory in 10 matches across all competition. 

    It does not look pretty, the mood around each club could hardly be more different, and the last thing Benitez needs is a reunion with a fanbase that once idolised him and may well be singing his name again on Wednesday.

    Where did it all go wrong?

    Benitez has inherited a mess and Everton's director of football Marcel Brands and majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri must face scrutiny. The Spaniard, however, must ultimately shoulder part of the blame for the current malaise.

    Of Everton's Premier League managers, only Howard Kendall (in his ill-fated third spell at the club) and Walter Smith took fewer points than Benitez's tally of 15 across their first 13 league games.

    Everton went unbeaten in their three league derbies under Ancelotti, albeit they did suffer a 1-0 loss to very much a second-string Liverpool side in the FA Cup in January 2020.

    However, Ancelotti oversaw Everton's first derby victory since October 2010 when the Toffees beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield in February, ending a winless run at that ground stretching back to September 1999.

    That win at an empty Anfield inflicted a fourth successive home league defeat on Liverpool for the first time since 1923 and left the Merseyside rivals level in the race for Champions League qualification.

    Since then, Everton have won just nine of their 27 Premier League outings, losing 11, with Liverpool winning 17 of 26, only suffering three defeats. The Reds have scored 62 goals, 36 more than their city rivals, while only Chelsea's defence is stingier of sides to have been in the top tier for the entirety of that timeframe.

    If Evertonians hoped a corner had been turned in February, Klopp's team have proved they are still worlds apart.

    Similar derby records... differing approaches

    Speaking of Klopp, he has won seven Merseyside derbies since joining Liverpool in 2015, drawing five and suffering that solitary defeat. 

    Benitez will be the sixth Everton boss Klopp has faced, and the German holds an impressive record over his Liverpool predecessor, winning four of seven meetings, losing just once, when Napoli beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the 2013-14 Champions League group stage.

    Liverpool also won their last three league games against Benitez's Newcastle by an aggregate score of 9-2. 

    This game will take Klopp onto the same amount of Merseyside derbies that Benitez managed as Liverpool boss. The former Real Madrid coach oversaw 14 meetings with David Moyes' Everton, winning eight and losing only three times. The Toffees' failures in this fixture have not been limited to the past decade.

    Across the last seven matches, Benitez's team rank 17th for possession (39.5 per cent), joint-18th for shots on target (21) and joint-20th for goals (four), albeit they have underperformed their expected goals (xG) value (7.58) – the absence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin has not helped this.

    Liverpool, on the other hand, have scored a league-leading 24 times in that time. Their xG of 16.4 also tops the competition, though it does suggest their finishing is above the standard that would be expected based on the quality of the chances.

    Their high press has been back at its best, with no team producing more high turnovers (sequences that start in open play and begin 40 metres or less from the opponent's goal) than the Reds' 145. Everton's 78 ranks above only Watford (74) and Tottenham (72).

    Another concern for Benitez will be Everton's tally of 101 high turnovers against. This ranks 11th in the league, but an issue for the Toffees all season has been an inability to keep the ball for sustained spells, even if it has been their aim to counter-attack. Their number of sequences of 10+ passes stands at 63 (16th). Liverpool's total is 220, placing them behind only Manchester City (283).

    Everton had just 22.7 per cent of the ball in their recent 3-0 defeat to Manchester City, allowing 17 shots. It is hard to imagine Wednesday's statistics turning out much differently.

    Injuries giving Toffees the blues

    Mohamed Salah came seventh in the Ballon d'Or voting but if he continues his current form into 2022 then he could be a shoo-in for next year's award. He has been sensational, scoring 17 times in 18 appearances across all competitions, and also leads the league in assists (eight). 

    Salah scores every 92 minutes, on average, while Sadio Mane has bounced back from his struggles last season with seven league goals.

    Mane has played in 14 derbies, contributing to seven goals, scoring five himself, while Salah has netted twice across five appearances against Everton.

    While Liverpool's talismanic duo head into Wednesday's fixture in fine fettle, Everton are in the midst of an injury crisis that has exposed their weak squad.

    Richarlison should return from suspension and Abdoulaye Doucoure played at Brentford, but Calvert-Lewin and Yerry Mina remain out.

    Calvert-Lewin has been a huge miss but the influence of Doucoure and Mina should not be understated.

    With the pair playing, Everton have won three of six league games, averaging 1.8 goals for and 1.3 goals against, picking up 1.8 points per game. Without at least one of them, Everton have won just one of seven and averaged 1.7 goals against and 0.7 goals for. Their points per game drops to 0.6.

    Liverpool's last league win over Everton came on December 4, 2019, a 5-2 thrashing at Anfield marking the end of Marco Silva's tenure.

    Eight of Liverpool's last nine top-tier trips to Goodison have finished level but, unless Benitez can pull off an unexpected result, his fate may be similar. 

  • Merseyside derby: Stephen Warnock warning as Benitez and Everton target Liverpool scalp Merseyside derby: Stephen Warnock warning as Benitez and Everton target Liverpool scalp

    Liverpool have the class to "walk the game" when they tackle Everton in Wednesday's derby, and former Reds defender Stephen Warnock believes that would pile pressure on Rafael Benitez.

    A series of worrying injuries have hampered Everton in recent weeks, and they will be without Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Yerry Mina and Tom Davies for this midweek tussle.

    Warnock has sympathy for Benitez, whom he played under at Liverpool, but he feels the big game will only go one way unless Everton can raise their levels.

    A run of seven games without a win in the Premier League, their longest such streak since 2016, has seen Everton plummet to 14th in the Premier League going into the midweek round of games.

    As a former Liverpool boss, Benitez needed a strong start to earn the affections of those on the blue side of the city, and having seen his team lose their way after promising early signs, he can ill afford a bruising defeat to the Reds.

    "Rafa's reign sort of started well, but then it's gone probably horribly wrong for him," Warnock told Stats Perform.

    "But you have to look at injuries to key players – Dominic Calvert-Lewin being injured, Richarlison was out for a long time, [Abdoulaye] Doucoure [was] a huge, huge miss in the midfield.

    "I look at Ben Godfrey and he's obviously suffered a little bit from long COVID. The effects of that have been tough on him.

    "But when you look at Everton, if Everton went into the derby with their strongest team, I think it'd be a competitive game. But if you look at the teams on paper, Liverpool will walk the game, it'll be a comfortable game.

    "I think Rafa needs a result in the game, because if he doesn't get then I think the fans could possibly start to turn on him a little bit."

    Warnock made his Liverpool breakthrough in the 2004-05 season but missed out on Benitez's teams for the Champions League and League Cup finals in that season.

    He considers Benitez a mastermind when it comes to creating a game plan, but not the ideal man for rallying players to the cause.

    "Well, I don't think man-management is his biggest strength, if I am being completely honest," said former England international Warnock.

    "Rafa is more of a tactical genius, if you like, he understands how to set teams up.

    "You've got to understand that that's his strength, but he has to have people in and around him, who are good at man-management, understanding the players what their needs are.

    "He's not the type of manager who's going to put an arm around you. He doesn't have that sort of that personality to do that. But if you want someone who's going to sort of be able to take a team forward tactically, then Rafa is your man."

    Benitez knows the significance of Wednesday's game and has called on his players to generate a spicy atmosphere, the sort that can allow underdogs to overturn expectations.

    In the 1980s, these were the dominant sides in English football, and although Liverpool remain serious silverware contenders, Warnock says the game remains a significant occasion in the city. 

    "The Merseyside derby will always be more special to me, purely because I grew up a Liverpool fan. I understand what it means," he said.

    "I come from a split household, where myself and my mum are Reds, and my dad and my brother are Blues, and that's the way it is quite a lot around Merseyside.

    "But come derby day, it's changed a lot in the last sort of five or 10 years. It has got a little bit more hostile, it used to be a friendly derby, but now that's changed.

    "And I love it. I love derby day. I think it's always a special occasion to play in those games, to be up the ground, to take it all in. Yeah, enjoyable games."

  • The fans know we need them – Benitez calls for unity ahead of Merseyside derby The fans know we need them – Benitez calls for unity ahead of Merseyside derby

    Rafael Benitez believes the Goodison Park support will be crucial when Everton host rivals Liverpool in the Merseyside derby.

    The Toffees welcome rampant Liverpool having failed to win any of their last seven matches; their joint-third longest such run in the Premier League, and longest since 2016 under Roberto Martinez.

    Everton sit 14th in the table having collected just 15 points, with only Howard Kendall (13) and Walter Smith (12) registering fewer than Benitez in their first 13 Premier League games in charge of the club.

    The Spaniard, who was Liverpool boss between 2004 and 2010 and guided the Reds to Champions League glory in 2005, has also won only once in 10 league games against sides he has previously managed in the English top-flight, as he aims to guide Everton to a second successive top-flight Merseyside derby win for the first time since 1984-85.

    Meanwhile, Liverpool arrive unbeaten in their last 10 away Premier League matches against the Toffees and Jurgen Klopp's side have scored at least twice in each of their last nine league games away from Anfield.

    Although the form book does not favour Everton, Benitez insists that anything is possible with the Goodison faithful right behind the team. 

    "A derby is a derby, everything can change," he told a news conference. "It depends on the atmosphere, how well we can do, and the connection with the fans. If we can create a good atmosphere, anything can happen.

    "A derby is always special. Here, the passion is massive; we know it's really important for everyone. I want to win and do well, for us as a team it's important to bring back the confidence.

    "The fans are intelligent, they know we need them. They're crucial and the main thing for us. I think they will realise how important they are for the players

    "We have to stay focused, go back to the principle of defending as a unit. After, we try to play the best way possible on the ball, if we have to play counter-attack then do it."

    Benitez's pleas may well fall on deaf ears, however. He was a contentious and, in some quarters, unpopular selection with the Everton fanbase, given his Liverpool connections.

    Indeed, while a good start to the season allayed some of those concerns, injuries have hit Everton's squad hard and Benitez has so far struggled to fully adapt.

    Should they fail to beat Liverpool, it will mean Everton have won just one game in 10 across all competitions, with that run including an EFL Cup exit at Queens Park Rangers and a humiliating 5-2 home defeat to Watford.

    Everton will be able to welcome Richarlison back from suspension while Andre Gomes is available for the first time since September, but Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Yerry Mina remain sidelined.

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