One of the hallmarks of sports’ slow return after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a stoppage is surprise at seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar place - or the opposite when an old standby appears to no longer be part of a team with whom he’s long been associated.
So, here’s a little refresher for fans in the United States and Europe of five of the most intriguing storylines ahead of the return of the Copa Libertadores:
Former NYCFC boss looking to defend the Libertadores title
After a season and a half in New York City with MLS side NYCFC, Domenec Torrent was in no rush to find a new job. The former assistant coach to Pep Guardiola said he would wait and take on a project he found interesting. Well, he found one.
Torrent replaced Jorge Jesus, who returned to Portugal this summer, as the manager of reigning Libertadores champion Flamengo. After a rocky start, it looks like Torrent has things going in the right direction with one of the most talented squads in South America. Flamengo have won four straight, and are beginning to find the back of the net at a high rate.
With Gabriel Barbosa, Giorgian de Arrascaeta, Felipe Luis and Diego Alves among others in the fold, there is quality in every line for Torrent. League wins are positive, but fans will expect a strong defense of the Libertadores title from the new man in charge.
Keep Asunción weird
The future of Austin FC is in Club Guaraní. The Paraguayan team had a decent start to Group B with a win against Bolívar and an away loss to Palmeiras enough for second place in the group at this early stage.
Guaraní got a boost in the summer, with a pair players bound for MLS expansion side Austin FC set to suit up fort them until Austin’s squad assembles in 2021. For 20-year-old winger Rodney Redes, it means more time with the club at which he developed before he moves abroad for the first time. For fellow winger Cecillo Dominguez, it’s a return to his home country after spending the last several years with Club América and later Independiente.
Dominguez has had success both in the Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana and could be an X-factor as Guaraní looks to move into the knockout stage for just the second time since 2015’s historic run to the semifinals.
Familiar names of stars who played in Europe …
Many players who made an impact at clubs in Europe are working to do the same in the Libertadores. Perhaps the most recognizable is former Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain defender Dani Alves, who currently is playing with Sao Paulo. Though currently out injured, Alves should return before the end of the Group Stage, welcome news for a São Paulo side who have been in good form domestically.
⭐️🇾🇪🤩 One of the stars of the #Libertadores, @SaoPauloFC's number 🔟 Dani Alves is currently recovering from an injury, but hopes to return to chase #GloriaEterna in 2020!
🏆 So far in his first Copa he's scored 1⃣ goal in 2⃣ Group D matches. pic.twitter.com/H0wQdwdiO9 — CONMEBOL Libertadores (@TheLibertadores) September 5, 2020
River Plate boasts its own players who had success in Europe, including Enzo Perez, who helped Benfica to a pair of Europa League finals and later moved on to Valencia before making his Argentina return.
Elsewhere, players like Roque Santa Cruz, the former Bayern star who also spent time with Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City and now plays for Olimpia in Paraguay, and of course the Boca Juniors duo of Carlos Tevez and Mauro Zarate, both veterans of the Premier League and Serie A, are hoping for deep runs in the tournament.
…and stars of the future
There is no doubt that players who excel in the Libertadores today will be stars in the future. You can usually take your pick of matches and find one or two players sure to make an impact on world football in the years to come.
This tournament, some of the most talented players include Gabriel Barbosa, the reigning South American Player of the Year and someone who already has played abroad, Independiente del Valle winger Moises Caicedo, Racing’s midfield maestro Matias Zaracho, River Plate standouts Nicolas de la Cruz and Nacho Fernandez and their rival Boca’s backstop Esteban Andrada.
Palmeiras' Gabriel Veron is another one to keep an eye on in Brazil, while Universidad Católica's young Chilean Marcelino Núñez is worth a mention as well.
🇨🇱⚽ Marcelino Núñez equalized for @CruzadosSADP with this spectular freekick at home against @AmericadeCali in the #Liberadores pic.twitter.com/fHckYQ0Nky — CONMEBOL Libertadores (@TheLibertadores) March 11, 2020
There are more top talents to be found in the tournament, plus surely some who are set to make their name what remains of the group phase and the knockout portion of the competition.
The pandemic and subsequent action in the local leagues has seen plenty of comings and goings, both with players transferring in and out but also managers who will bring new ideas to the clubs which now employ them.
It isn’t only Torrent who is looking to make a positive impression and do it quickly. Respected Argentine manager Ariel Holan will try to help Universidad Católica turn things around after a difficult start to life in a Group E that also includes Internacional, Gremio and América de Cali.
Mario Saralegui, who won a Copa Libertadores crown as a player with Peñarol now looks to do the same as a manager, taking over for Diego Forlan after a rocky start to the domestic campaign.
And Alianza Lima, sitting at the bottom of Group F has put its hopes in the hands of Chilean manager Mario Salas.
The ball gets rolling again in the Libertadores on September 15 with four matches, followed by five games the next day and seven on Thursday the 17th.
Viewers in the United States, Austrailia, New Zealand and in other select countries around the world can catch the action on beIN Sports, while viewers in the United Kingdom can watch the action via the LiveScore App. More information on how to watch the Libertadores can be found here.