It wasn’t pretty but Liverpool did enough to see off Monterrey and set up a Club World Cup final clash with Flamengo. The Brazilians have enjoyed a successful year under former Benfica manager Jorge Jesus and victory on Saturday would see them complete a unique treble having already claimed the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A title and the Copa Libertadores.
The Rio de Janeiro based side share some similarities with Liverpool’s semi-final opponents. They’re dangerous on the break and they like to exploit the wide areas. However, they have less of a frenetic approach to the game and that’s perhaps down to having a European coach at the helm. It can, at times, be chaotic, but it’s very much organised.
And this European approach is carried out by a number of familiar faces.
At full-back, Flamengo have Rafinha and Filipe Luis. The former spent eight years with Bayern Munich and made over 200 appearances for the Bundesliga giants before returning to Brazil during the summer. One month after his arrival he was joined by compatriot Luis after the left-back’s deal with Atletico Madrid came to an end. The 34-year-old had a storied career in Europe, winning La Liga, the Premier League, two Europa Leagues and reaching two Champions League finals.
The pair may be in the twilight of their career but they brought experience and a winning mentality to this squad.
Flamengo also signed Pablo Mari from Manchester City. Though he never made his debut for the Premier League side, the 26-year-old made near 200 appearances in Spain and was immediately paired next to Rodrigo Caio in defence.
Keeping goal for the team is Diego Alves, another player with a lot of experience in Europe. The 34-year-old made over 170 appearances for Valencia before he returned to his homeland.
The club also brought highly-rated midfielder Gerson back to Brazil. The 22-year-old spent time with Roma and Fiorentina but failed to set Serie A alight. Yet they broke their transfer record to make him the most expensive Brazilian ever signed by Fla.
He isn’t the only one in midfield with European experience, though. Diego still pulls the strings there. Now 34, he isn’t quite as energetic as he once was but the former Porto, Juventus and Atletico playmaker is still a key part of Jesus’ team. Since the switch in 2016, he’s made over 150 appearances for Flamengo and scored 37 goals, with five of those coming during the club’s memorable 2019. The former Brazil international came off the bench against Al-Hilal to have a hand in two of the three goals.
However, the biggest threat by far is a player currently owned by Inter Milan. Gabriel Barbosa was a Football Manager wonderkid and tipped by many to be the next great Brazilian import when he moved from Santos to the San Siro in 2016. He failed to really settle in Italy and was loaned out to Benfica. He made just one appearance for the club before returning to Brazil on loan. Initially with Santos, Gabigol joined Flamengo almost a year ago and has got his career back on track. He’s scored a remarkable 43 goals in 58 appearances this year and it was his double in the Copa Libertadores final that won the match for Jesus and his team.
This winning mentality they have throughout their team means they don’t know when they’re beaten. They trailed to River Plate in a final and to Al-Hilal in the semi-final of the Club World Cup yet won both matches. It’ll be a tricky match for the Reds on Saturday.