Just over twelve months ago, Liverpool battered Porto at the Estadio do Dragᾶo during their thrilling Champions League run that saw them finish runners-up to Real Madrid. Porto was forced to recover quickly, as they were in a title race of their own that would require absolute focus. As they get ready to meet again, both clubs are at crucial points of their European and domestic campaigns.
Both managers will claim that their side is stronger this year than when the two clubs met in 2018. Porto now boast a pair of Real Madrid defenders, one a central defender who donned the Madrid shirt for a decade in Pepe and a future centre-back in Eder Militão. Apart from right-back Ricardo Pereira moving on to the English Premier League, Sergio Conceição was able to retain most of his title winning squad from a year ago.
As for Liverpool, not only has the English club kept onto most of the squad that brought them to the Champions League final, but they were able to add several key midfielders to add to their strength and depth.
PortuGOAL previews this week’s rematch in the Champions League quarter-finals.
- Liverpool are currently in an intense title race in England, having only lost one league match all season. How good is this side compared to recent Liverpool teams, and what is their current form?
The club as a whole comes into the tie in energetic form. Liverpool have had an impressive string of results having not lost a match since January. Recent late wins against Southampton and Tottenham have injected further confidence through the club. They are on pace for one of the highest point totals in Premier League history, and their title race with Manchester City will be one of the more intriguing races in recent memory.
While Liverpool have had an historically successful season thus far, they have shown most of their struggles in the European campaign. Despite only losing one Premier League match all season, they lost all three of their away ties in the group stage of the Champions League. While this should give some confidence to Porto, it is also worth noting that Anfield has been a fortress for Liverpool this season and they will feel very assured in the first leg.
- Ones to watch - Who are Liverpool’s star players?
While under some criticism recently for not finding the back of the net as often as last season, Mohammed Salah has been putting in tireless shifts for his club. He has done just about everything but score over the last two months, and many of the goals Liverpool score are because of his work and movement. Having finally broken the scoring drought on Friday with a late winner, Salah looks poised to finish the season in commanding form.
The player that has flourished the most during Salah’s goal drought has been Sadio Mané. With seven goals in his last seven matches, Mané has been brilliant in Liverpool’s recent fixtures.
- Strong points/weak points – what must Porto beware of and what can they exploit?
The volatility of the movement of Salah and Mané when combined with the work rate and inventiveness of Roberto Firmino will make Liverpool’s front three a tough task for Porto. With 55 goals between them this season, they have been simply unstoppable over the last 18 months.
Defensively, Virgil Van Dijk has been colossal for Liverpool. Once a team that conceded far too often, Liverpool now are one of the most defensively sound clubs in Europe. In 33 Premier League matches this season, Liverpool have conceded more than one goal in a match on only three occasions.
One area where it is certain that Sérgio Conceição needs to spend time on this week is set pieces. It is very difficult to break Liverpool down at all, but over 30% of the goals they concede do come from set pieces. This fact makes it even more critical that Alex Telles wins his race to full fitness for the first leg and Porto make the most of their set piece opportunities.
- Formation and playing style – what system do Liverpool usually play? Would you describe them generically as an attacking or a defensive team?
Liverpool generally play with four backs, three midfields and three in the attack. The three in the attack move very freely while Liverpool build up play but are exceptionally organized defensively as Liverpool look to set up a press.
Much of Liverpool’s width comes from their dynamic full-backs. This could be somewhat of a break for Porto in the first leg as Andrew Robertson comes into the tie carrying a suspension. No matter who Klopp replaces him with, it will be difficult for Liverpool to replicate the attacking flair that Robertson gives them on a weekly basis.
Generally, Liverpool have been an attacking team that likes to control the match this season. However, they are one of the best counter-attacking teams in Europe and can turn defensive set pieces into goals at the other end in a matter of seconds. Whether they are building up out of the back or counter attacking, it is extremely difficult to keep Liverpool off the score sheet.
- Mood in the camp – judging by player/coach quotes regarding this game, do you think Liverpool come into the tie in a confident frame of mind?
Jürgen Klopp has come out this week and insisted that he is not prioritizing one competition over the other and that Liverpool have the capability to win both. Liverpool are used to winning, they have had an incredible last twelve months and the players have experience in this competition from last season’s run. Given the nature of the dramatic and emotional wins recently, Liverpool have every reason to be exceedingly confident going into the first leg.
- What are the English press saying about the match? What was the reaction to landing Porto in the draw?
The press, as well as the Liverpool fans, were delighted at drawing Porto. Given the intense run-in Liverpool will have domestically, many supporters feel that this will be a crucial respite for them. At this stage of the competition, there are very few easy draws remaining, but Liverpool supporters much prefer the trip to Portugal than a trip to Juventus, Barcelona, or even the short trip to Manchester at this stage.
Klopp and his players will not be overlooking this fixture however. Klopp will not be misguided by the inflated 5-0 score line last year at the Estadio do Dragão. He will know that Jose Sá was not at his best on that ominous night in Porto. It ended up being somewhat of an unceremonious end to his Porto season last year, with Iker Casillas playing nearly every game after.
He will also be well aware of the players that were not able to feature for Porto that night, such as Danilo, and that he will be facing a much more complete and determined side on Tuesday night. The press and supporters may be looking beyond this matchup, but Jürgen Klopp and his players will not be.
- What should we expect the result of the match will be?
Liverpool deserve to be the clear favourites in this tie. Not only are they proving to be one of the best sides in Europe, but Porto have some key players missing for the first match and in danger of losing more for the second. Pepe and Hector Herrera are both suspended for Tuesday’s game, and Alex Telles is facing a race against time to be fit for the match after bizarrely picking up an injury in scoring a penalty against Braga ten days ago.
If Liverpool are at their best, there are very few clubs that can stop them. Expect Liverpool to advance by two or three goals on aggregate.
By Justino Flores