Liverpool vs Porto - Expected lineups and what to expect
Porto are set to take on Liverpool in what is a repeat of the Champions League round of 16 of last season.
Porto fans may still be having nightmares of what was a disastrous night at the Dragao in that last encounter, a match that ultimately ended 5-0 to the away side, leaving Porto humbled and humiliated.
The home support may have been terrific from start to finish, but Porto fans were well and truly put in their place after such a horrific defeat.
They go into the quarter final match seeking revenge, and hoping for a place in the semi-final of the Champions League for the first time since 2003-04 - the year that Porto eventually went on to win the competition with Jose Mourinho at the helm.
Porto fans and players alike are well aware of the fact that all of the pressure is on their opponents; nobody is expecting Porto to cause an upset, and indeed they are seen, perhaps fairly, as the weakest team left in the competition.
Nevertheless, with no pressure comes more freedom and increased motivation to prove the doubters wrong, and that can only be a good thing.
Overall though, you have to say that expectations have diminished significantly from the last time these two met. On that occasion, many can be forgiven for falling into the trap of thinking that Liverpool weren’t quite as good as they proved to be. After several recent years of relative mediocrity for a club of their stature before that Champions League campaign, they weren’t perceived as one of the absolute European giants in the game, and they were underestimated - what a mistake that proved to be.
As such, this time around, Porto fans are under no illusion as to how difficult the task facing them will be. Optimism can only take you so far, and it’s understandable that the main objective for many fans is to simply be competitive, and remain within contention heading into the second leg in Portugal.
It was interesting to hear what Pepe had to say about Porto’s chances. Commenting on his desire to win the Champions League with Porto this season, he showed the sincerity and fighting spirit that Porto fans would have been looking for, and he seems to think that Porto can do it as long as the team play their usual game and not let the occasion get the better of them.
But of course Pepe won’t be in contention for the first leg at Anfield due to the accumulation of yellow cards in European competition, a disappointing blow to Porto’s chances that will see a slight shift to the backline.
And of course he’s not the only one missing. Captain Hector Herrera will also be absent for the same reason, which is another potentially significant absence for the side.
You would think that if Porto had any chance of pulling off an upset, they would need all their players in contention, but that is not the case.
There is also a small doubt about left back Alex Telles and whether he will be fit to start versus Liverpool. There is quiet optimism that he will be ready for the outing, which is huge news in the context of the tie. If he weren’t available, Porto’s backline would be incredibly makeshift, and would no doubt be exploited heavily by Liverpool’s stunning attacking trio.
A 0-5 home loss last campaign - what’s changed this year?
It is a fair point; only 12 months ago, Porto were smashed 5-0 by this very team at an earlier stage of last season’s edition of this competition. So what’s changed?
First thing to point out is that for that embarrassing first leg match which Porto ultimately lost 5-0, Porto were missing several key first-team players. The likes of Felipe, Danilo Pereira, Iker Casillas and Vincent Aboubakar were all out of contention through injury, suspension or otherwise, and this was undoubtedly a huge factor in why they failed to remain competitive in the match.
Indeed, it is very arguable that they went into that match without their best goalkeeper, best centreback, best central midfielder and best striker. And while Vincent Aboubakar is going to be injured again for this rematch, the other three are all available for selection - and will be involved heavily.
That should be a huge boost to Porto, with three defensive stars coming into the side to try and help limit the attacking threat of Liverpool. There shouldn’t, touch wood, be a repeat of the thrashing of last season.
And while Aboubakar is not involved, Porto have very capable replacements for the Cameroon international, with Tiquinho Soares and, more importantly, Moussa Marega both fit and ready to go.
Moussa Marega has been outstanding this season; while he wasn’t effective last season against Liverpool, he seems a different player this time around. Indeed, the ungainly striker has 6 goals in 7 Champions League appearances this campaign, a terrific return that sees him sit 3rd top scorer in Europe’s most prestigious club competition, only behind Robert Lewandowski and Lionel Messi. So he’s in good company.
His power, strength, hunger and finishing ability makes him a terrific all-round target man, and as we saw against Roma in the second leg of the round of 16 only a couple of months ago, when he’s up for it and on his game, he can cause any defence serious problems.
How they got to where they are
Porto came through a group which, being frank, was more than favourable. Drawn alongside Lokomotiv Moscow, Schalke and Galatasaray at the group stage, Porto obliterated the field and secured 1st place in the group with 5 wins and a draw.
While you can only beat who’s in front of you, Porto fans would have been more than disappointed had they failed to advance from that group, but they did what they had to do.
They then took on Roma in the round of 16, and just about edged through, winning 4-3 on aggregate in what was an epic encounter over two legs.
Liverpool, meanwhile, made hard work of their qualification from the group stage, drawn in what was a significantly more challenging group alongside both Barcelona and Napoli, as well as Red Star Belgrade, who actually beat the English Premier League side in Serbia to make the group stage very interesting.
Liverpool ultimately only sealed their passage into the round of 16 on the final day, narrowly beating Napoli 1-0 to leapfrog the Italian outfit into 2nd place in the group, behind PSG.
In what was a tricky group, Liverpool only qualified with a grand total of 9 points from their 6 games, owing to the strength of the group they were assigned.
Jurgen Klopp’s side then overcame German champions Bayern Munich, defeating them 3-1 on aggregate thanks to a convincing victory in Germany after a deadlock at Anfield.
What to expect
We’ve become accustomed to seeing Porto dominant virtually every match they play, far superior to 80% of their domestic league counterparts and therefore able to see the vast majority of the ball every time they step out onto the pitch.
Almost always permitted to play attacking, stylish, possession-based football, Liverpool will no doubt prove a very different proposition for the Portuguese champions, and how they will approach this game will be a source of intrigue.
Indeed, you can make a very serious case that haven’t actually played against a vastly superior team this season, even in the Champions League. No side they have played against over the last 12 months have been clear runaway favourites to beat them, and in fact it is Porto that are almost always the favourites to win any match they compete in, with exception perhaps to only two - their away matches against Benfica and Roma. But even those they were far from underdogs, and had every chance of walking away with a positive result.
Liverpool, therefore, is the first time in over a year that they have faced a team they are fully expected to be beaten by - and quite comfortably at that.
We may be in store to see a very different Porto side we’ve become accustomed to seeing, one that will spend far more time defending and looking to counter than usual.
Porto will, in essence, have to try and play against Liverpool like many sides play against them; stay organised, allow Liverpool to see the majority of the ball, and pick their moments to attack.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson; Milner, Matip, Van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mane, Salah, Firmino.
Porto (4-4-2): Casillas, Telles, Felipe, Militao, Maxi; Danilo Pereira, Oliver Torres, Corona, Brahimi; Marega, Tiqiuinho.
If Porto get anything out of the game against Liverpool at Anfield, they would be absolutely delighted. If you offered them a 0-0 draw now, they would surely take it in an instant. I can’t see that happening though. Head says 2-0 to Liverpool, heart says 2-1. If they do manage to secure the narrowest of defeat and get a goal in the process, they’ll be very content, knowing that they return to Portugal with a decent opportunity of progression to the next round, knowing that they’ll perform to a much higher standard at home than they did last season.