Liverpool supporters were jubilant when Porto’s name was pulled out to face them in the Champions League round of 16. There is no doubting that there were far less favourable draws possible for them to come up against. However, Liverpool will be under no illusion, getting past Porto will be a difficult task.
Porto vs Liverpool
The Champions League is Liverpool’s only shot at lifting a trophy this year. It is a long shot but 2005 proved that Liverpool are a team able to defy the odds. Yet, to get to the quarterfinals they must get past Porto. Here we look at who their opponents are, the threat they pose and how Liverpool can get past them.
Porto are a Champions league staple. They are in the tournament every year and regularly qualify for the round of 16. They are experienced and know what they are doing. However, they are not blessed with the teams they have had in the past. Porto have an amazing record of developing and buying talent, Danilo, Alex Sandro, Jackson Martinez, Gianelli Imbula, Eliaquim Mangala, Fernando, James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho, Nicolas Otamendi and Rademel Falcao all once played at the Estadio do Dragao. While the current group of players haven’t reached the same levels, there are reasons for the Portuguese to believe they are on the verge of having a new and extremely talented batch of players.
Porto currently sit two points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand. With 17 wins, four draws and zero losses, 53 goals for and only 10 goals against, their league form has been excellent. However, this is the Portuguese league and the standard of team they come up against is nowhere near the level of the Premier League.
In Europe, their form was more indifferent. Porto managed to collect 10 points in group G. With Besiktas, RB Leipzig and a depleted Monaco they had a favourable draw. 3 wins, 1 draw, and 2 loses, however, wasn’t a stellar qualification campaign. With two of those wins coming against Monaco, who managed only 2 points in total, Porto only registered 1 win against the other two teams. Their indifferent form, highlighted by the loss 1-3 to Besiktas at home, will give Liverpool confidence that they can win on Wednesday night.
Picking the formation that Porto will use is not easy. In the league, they have predominantly used a 4-4-2 formation. However, in the Champions League, they have been more flexible employing in the 6 group games 4 different formations.
The main issue is whether coach Sérgio Conceição will opt to play with two centre-forwards or will play with just one striker. When employing the 4-4-2 Porto play with two real wingers who will provide an attacking threat. It will be a brave decision to go with this and would offer up an exciting game for the spectators.
Porto haven’t had any problems in front of goal this season. They are free-scoring in the league and haven’t struggled to find the net in the Champions League.
In Vincent Aboubakar they have one of the top scoring forwards in Europe. The powerful Cameroonian has 26 goals in all competitions, five in the Champions League. If he wasn’t enough to terrorise the Liverpool defence Porto also have Moussa Marega. The equally strong and powerful forward from Mali adds another 16 goals to the forward pair. If used together, the two forwards will push Virgil Van Dijk and Joel Matip to the limit.
That strength in the air will be most potent at set pieces. Porto have six goals already in the Champions League from dead ball situations. They will target Liverpool who have struggled to deal with crosses into the box.
With two natural wingers, Porto have the men to be able to deliver the balls required. Jesus Corona and Yacine Brahimi will cause problems for the Reds. Both players are able to beat a defender and Liverpool’s full-backs will have to make sure that they don’t push too far forward.
How to attack them
Porto’s desire to attack may well be their own undoing. In a 4-4-2 with two wide men, they leave themselves exposed to counter attacks. In Roberto Firmino, Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane, Liverpool have one of the best counter attacks in the world. If Liverpool’s forwards are able to isolate the Porto backline they will be able to cause them problems.
One thing that will help Liverpool is that Porto will also be without key-man, Danilo. The Portuguese defensive-midfielder is injured for at least the first leg. Very much in the Fernandinho mould, Danilo along with captain Héctor Herrera provide the shield for Porto’s defence. Without Danilo, Porto’s midfield will be markedly weaker and may force Conceição into a change in formation.
Whichever formation they employ. Stopping Liverpool’s attack will take everything that they have.
With Porto conceding 10 goals in the group stage, Liverpool will be confident they will be able to score on Wednesday night. Their success in the tie will come down to the ability of the defence to deal with Porto’s attacking threat. If they can stifle Porto’s attack, Liverpool have the opportunity to put themselves into a strong position to win the tie.
Main Image Credit: