The draw for the Champions League has been made and Liverpool now knows their route to the final, which will be held in Wanda Metropolitano, in Madrid on 1st June. After falling at the final hurdle last year, as Loris Karius gave Real Madrid a helping hand in clinching a third consecutive title, the season started with Liverpool as one of the favourites.
Fast forward to the current day and the pressure of competing on two fronts and a wobble of form has pundits and fans of other clubs questioning the mettle of Jurgen Klopp’s men.
We know we’re a better side than we were last season when we came so close to another glorious night of celebrations, so the chance is there to set the record straight. FC Porto stand in our way – again, as they did in the Round of 16 last season. Last year a 5-0 win in Portugal made progress straight forward but it would be dangerous to expect that to happen again. Let’s delve a little deeper.
Porto are widely perceived to be the weakest link in this years Quarter Final, which whilst this rings true it does throw up an interesting challenge; progress will be demanded and anything else is simply failure.
There are two things worth pointing out at this stage. Firstly, it’s cliché but a poor team doesn’t make the last eight of the Champions League and the tie won’t be easy. Secondly, they have some serious pedigree in the Champions League. Actually, they have won it twice before; once in 1987 and nobody will need reminding of 2004 when they triumphed under the guidance of then manager Jose Mourinho.
Cast your minds back 13 months and a Sadio Mane hat-trick and goals from Mo Salah and Bobby Firmino effectively put an end to the tie in the first leg. Porto were incapable of dealing with the high press that we’re experts at and two goals in quick succession around the half hour mark made the match a comfortable ride.
The fact that Porto’s coach Sergio Conceição decided, somehow, to drop Casillas for no apparent reason, for an unexperienced backup goalkeeper like José Sá, might have had some impact, since Sá was directly involved in mistakes in the two first goals.
Anyway, the return leg wasn’t so straight forward as a stalemate was played out but, if we’re honest, we didn’t need to go pushing for anything. The downside for this year is that Porto will know what to expect and, whilst it’s likely we’ll progress, it’s doubtful we’ll do so with such ease – they’ll have a point to prove after that drubbing, we handed out last time too.
Strengths and weaknesses
This season, Porto topped their group, ahead of Schalke, Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Moscow – seems like a Europa League group, doesn’t it? – racking up five wins and one draw.
They then overturned a first leg deficit to knockout Italians AS Roma, following extra time and a late VAR penalty. Their squad doesn’t lack top level experience with Iker Casillas keeping goal and Portugal centre half Pepe – who came back to the club he left 10 years ago in last January and may well become the pantomime villain of the tie. Nonetheless, Pepe saw the second yellow after an altercation with Dzeko and will not come to Anfield on the first leg (thank you Edin).
Still, they’re not just a team full of aging talent either; Eder Militão, a 21-year-old centre back, joined Porto from Sao Paulo in his native Brazil in August 2018 and has just agreed a £42.7 million move to Real Madrid ahead of next season, after the Spanish giants triggered his release clause.
It’s sure he’ll be desperate to turn in impressive displays in what will be the biggest audience he’s played to in his career. At the top end of the pitch, Moussa Marega, international for Mali, ranks highly in the goal scoring charts having netted six goals in seven Champions League outings. He does not have an incredible technique, but compensates with outstanding pace and the physical strength of a racing horse.
Mexican international midfielder Hector Herrera will be hoping to impose himself on our midfield trio, which is our weakest area. He’s a tough tackling, box to box player who has an eye for goal and has two goals to his name in this year’s tournament. However, same as Pepe, Herrera saw the second yellow in the last match against Roma and will miss the first fixture too.
Oliver Torres will probably be the man to replace him, even though he is more of a playmaker and has fewer defensive qualities. He will pair with Danilo Pereira, a defensive midfielder who has been highly overlooked by European giants but has been consistently delivering key performances for Porto.
In fact, his absence from the team due to an ankle injury in last year’s round of 16 might have had some impact in the way that Liverpool destroyed Porto’s midfield.
Finally, we have also to underline Alex Telles, who netted the decisive penalty for Porto in extra time, qualifying the Portuguese team. The Brazilian fullback has been linked with a move to Atletico Madrid in the summer and it is not difficult to understand why Simeone would be interested on him.
Reliable both in attack and defence, Telles has 7 assists to his name this season and delivers 2.6 key passes per game. He is one of the main reasons why Porto has been so lethal at set pieces, delivering the corners and the long-range free kicks into the area.
The man in charge is Sergio Conceição, as it was last year, and he’ll need to conjure a tactical masterclass to have any chance of progressing to the Semi-Final. In the Primeira Liga, Porto sit second, level on points with leaders Benfica but with an inferior goal difference. They have also lost both duels against Benfica, both at home and away, which might show they can choke under pressure.
Domestically, they are generally the stronger side and therefore have more possession but that won’t be the case against us. Expect them to set up with the intention of soaking up pressure and relying on quick, direct passing to seize an opportunity at the other end.
It’s a valid game plan, probably the only one that isn’t suicide, and an away goal for them would be huge but it’s up to us to get an early goal and take the pressure off. That way we can travel to Portugal feeling comfortable of facing Messi and Barcelona or a possible classic fixture against United in the Semis.