Liverpool are primed to host Porto in the Champions League for the second consecutive season, but what has changed for the two clubs since last year?
The Reds were paired with Porto in the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the second season running, only this time it is as members of the final eight.
The meeting last year was a convincing victory for Jurgen Klopp’s men, having piled five unanswered goals against the Portuguese outfit in the first leg before playing out a goalless draw at Anfield.
While the draw may seem favourable on paper, the result from over 12 months ago will have little bearing on how the tie transpires this time around and who will face off against either Manchester United or Barcelona in the semi-final.
So what has changed for the two teams in the year since they last met on the European stage?
Domestic Titles on the Line
When the two teams met in February and March of last year their positions in their respective domestic leagues were in complete contrast.
The Portuguese outfit were in first place ahead of rivals Benfica by a margin of two points when Liverpool arrived at the Estadio do Dragao, having yet to fall to defeat in their previous 22 league outings.
They had lost only once at home in all competitions, against Besiktas in their first Champions League group game, and three in total as their newly appointed manager Sergio Conceicao hit the ground running.
Porto ultimately finished the campaign with seven losses to their name across all competitions, only two of which were in the league—a campaign which saw them clinch their 28th Primeira Liga title, finishing seven points ahead of Benfica.
The Reds, on the other hand, were third at the time of their encounters with Porto, but unlike their European counterparts, Jurgen Klopp’s side were a staggering 18 points off league leaders Man City.
Three defeats and nine draws in the opening 27 games had Liverpool facing an insurmountable comeback for top spot on the domestic front, but a second consecutive finish inside the top four would act as the springboard for the Reds’ assault on the title this term.
Fast-forward 12 months and the two teams find themselves in a similar battle for domestic supremacy.
Porto are in a tight and tense tussle with Benfica again, with Liverpool’s European opponents holding a three-point lead over their rivals—who have a game in hand—after dropping points on just six occasions this term, with six games to go.
It’s an almost identical situation to that facing the Merseysiders, as the Reds currently possess a two-point advantage over City…who also have a game in hand, with only five games remaining.
However, Porto find themselves one point off the pace after 27 games in comparison to last season, while Liverpool are in record-breaking form having collected an astonishing 82 points in 33 games—a 15 point upswing from this stage last term.
Changes to Personnel
On the personnel front, the lineups in the quarter-final tie will see a handful of fresh faces feature for both clubs.
Notably, Porto were bolstered by the addition of Eder Militao, a Brazilian centre-back who has already seen his £50 million release clause met by Real Madrid for next season, such is his ability.
The 21-year-old has helped reinforce Porto’s defence, one which has conceded only 17 in the league so far, the lowest in the competition, while also finding the back of the net at the other end having scored four goals.
He was joined by Pepe at the heart of defence in January as the former Real Madrid man made a return to his former stomping ground, quickly becoming a mainstay in the side.
The duos’ addition to the team helped ease the loss of a handful of senior players to the Premier League as Diogo Dalot (Man United), Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City) and Willy Boly (Wolves) all made the switch over the summer.
It is also important to note that their danger man this time round is Moussa Marega.
The forward has found the net 17 times across all competitions, with six of those coming in the Champions League, and has set up a further five in his 39 appearances to-date.
However, Liverpool’s individual quality should again hand Klopp’s side the advantage over the two legs, with the additions of Fabinho, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alisson elevating the club to another level.
The Reds have been meticulous in their transfer dealings and addressed key areas of weakness, without noteworthy losses.
But, significantly this time around, the team is largely settled and has grown in stature over the course of the last year. Fans only need look to the ever-impressive Virgil van Dijk as an example.
The Dutchman made his first European appearance for the club in the first leg of the last-16 tie last year, and is now set to make his 14th on Tuesday as a leading contender to be named Player of the Year.
Moreover, there are likely to be just three different names on Liverpool’s team sheet on Tuesday compared to the side who dished out the 5-0 hiding: Alisson, Joel Matip and Fabinho set to take the places of Loris Karius, Dejan Lovren and Andy Robertson.
Reds Remain Favourites
Like their previous meeting, Liverpool are undoubtedly the favourites to go through to the semi-final, despite Porto currently holding a better record in Europe so far this season.
The Portuguese outfit head to Anfield on the back of six wins, a draw and only one loss, which was suffered in the first leg of the round of 16 tie with Roma, a result they overturned at home to progress to this stage.
It comes as an improvement from last season, having picked up three wins alongside two defeats and a draw prior to their meeting with a red-hot Liverpool side.
Klopp’s chargers, although winning three and drawing three, were in stunning form in the Champions League last year having netted 23 goals in the group stage—a level of proficiency which has yet to be replicated in Europe so far this season.
A mixed bag of performances has returned a record of four wins, one draw and three losses, but a memorable win away at Bayern Munich has shown that while they can blow teams away, they are equally as capable of taking complete control and forcing the opposition into submission.
It no doubt comes as a warning sign for Porto manager Conceicao, who is unlikely to have forgotten the way in which the Reds tore his side apart on their own turf.
Despite still predominantly playing with a 4-4-2 setup, he will be wary of leaving his side vulnerable to Liverpool’s prolific attack.
But, the system itself plays into Klopp’s hands as it offers space out wide, an area which the Reds regularly look to exploit as their main source of creative output comes through the full-backs.
It suggests Porto may look to be more defensive-minded in turn and, indeed, in Europe they have usually operated with a single striker in the lineup, adding an extra midfielder instead.
Despite all the changes which have occurred over the last 12 months, one thing which remains the same is that Liverpool are heavy favourites to progress to the next round, and a last-four meeting with United or Barca.