Liverpool take to the Estadio do Dragao for their Champions League last-16 first leg against Porto on Wednesday. Here’s Harry Hogg on what to expect.
The Reds are favourites to progress to the quarter-finals, and when the Portuguese giants came out of the hat back in December’s draw, many were relieved to have avoided the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich.
On paper it was arguably the best draw for the Reds, and it represents a golden opportunity to make the last eight.
So what will Liverpool be coming up against?
The Season So Far
Head coach Sergio Conceicao has made a blistering start to his tenure at Porto, having taken over from Wolves-bound Nuno Espirito Santo in the summer.
Just past the halfway stage, his side sit top of the Primeira Liga, unbeaten, and two points clear of nearest rivals Benfica with a game in hand.
Like the Reds, they have been impressive at home, winning all but one of their league games at the Estadio do Dragão. On the road they have also been excellent, winning seven of their 10 games, conceding just three in the process.
An electric front three in Vincent Aboubakar, Moussa Marega and Yacine Brahimi have been the main source of goals, while the tireless duo Hector Herrera and Danilo Pereira provide the legs and industry in middle of the park.
The Portuguese leaders enjoyed a rich vein of form during the Christmas period, putting together 10 straight victories—a run that recently ended away in the cup at Sporting Lisbon, where they lost out on penalties.
Meanwhile in Europe, Porto racked up 10 points in their six games, enough to take second place in what was a difficult group alongside Monaco, RB Leipzig and Besiktas.
But they had to do it the hard way after a sluggish start to the European campaign saw them lose two out of the first three games. However big wins at home to Leipzig and Monaco along with a hard-fought point in Turkey secured passage to the knockout stage.
But Porto struggled at times defensively, shipping 10 goals in Group G.
Only Sevilla conceded more out of the 16 sides that qualified. In fact their one and only clean sheet in the six group games came against a winless Monaco.
The Key Men
The main man. Aboubakur spent last season on loan at Besiktas, but since his return he has been on fire and formed a formidable partnership upfront with Moussa Marega.
The Cameroonian striker has netted 26 times in 32 appearances so far this season, including five in the group stages of the Champions League.
Thankfully for Liverpool, he missed Saturdays 4-0 win at Chaves which makes him a doubt for Wednesday. His replacement though, Francisco Soares, hit a double.
Signed from Maritimo in 2015, Marega had a fairly successful loan spell at Vitoria Guimaraes last term, scoring 13 times in the league.
On his return to Porto in the summer, the Malian international has been sensational, scoring 16 times in 21 league games. Although, Marega has failed to find the net in Europe so far.
Despite this the 26-year-old forward has been part of a very effective all-African front three for Porto this season.
The left side of that front three is Yacine Brahimi, arguably Porto’s best player over the last few years.
Now in his fourth season in Portugal, the Algerian has attracted plenty of attention from some of Europe’s top clubs due to his frightening pace and trickery.
The winger is also deadly from set-pieces.
Porto’s top assist-maker with nine in total in the league. The rampaging Brazilian loves to get forward and, if allowed the space, will deliver quality crosses into the box for the two big men.
Stopping the energetic and incredibly pacy Telles may well be the key to the Reds progressing to the last eight of the competition.
However despite being one of Porto’s biggest threats going forward, Telles may well represent a weakness: the Brazilian’s defensive capabilities have been questioned at times.
How the Tie is Setting Up
On the whole, Porto have many similarities to Liverpool: a fierce front three full of goals, pace and creativity, but also a defensive vulnerability when coming up against top-quality opposition.
So this should make for an entertaining tie with plenty of goals.
Surprisingly, Porto’s home form in the Champions league over the past few years has not been brilliant, with just four wins in their last nine, three of which have been defeats, keeping just one clean sheet.
Despite their very impressive domestic form, if the performances we saw in the group stages are anything to go by then Liverpool should feel very confident going into this last-16 tie.
With all due respect to the Portuguese domestic league, this is a noticeable step up in class for Porto.
Interestingly, just four days before the second leg at Anfield, Porto host Sporting Lisbon in a crunch game at the top of the Primeira Liga.
It will be intriguing to see how much that potentially takes out of them ahead of the return fixture.
Ultimately, if the Reds can produce one of their trademark high-energy pressing displays it’s difficult to see the Portuguese leaders containing them.