Porto will attempt to take their excellent domestic form onto the European stage in midweek as they welcome Italian powerhouse Juventus to the Estádio do Dragão.
Nuno Espírito Santo’s team have clocked up six straight victories in the past month and are unbeaten this season at home in all competitions (13 victories and 5 draws in 18 matches). However, they are yet to face a team of the quality of Massimiliano Allegri’s side, winners of the last five Serie A titles and Champions League finalists in 2014/15.
Juventus expert Adam Digby, author of “Juventus: A History In Black & White” tells PortuGOAL what the Dragons can expect on Wednesday night.
Juventus look on course for yet another Serie A triumph, but from afar it seems they have not been as dominant as in recent years. Is that fair? How does this Juventus team compare to the sides that got to the UCL final and that ran Bayern so close in the last couple of years?
I think that overall it’s as good as the team that got to the final and probably better than the team that was eliminated by Bayern last term. They have much greater depth and have gotten used to playing without the likes of Tevez, Vidal and Pirlo, which was still very new at this stage last season, while Allegri has been far bolder in his team selection.
I’d also add that without Pogba, the team as a whole has grown. They’re a more cohesive unit without him and are always looking to make the right pass rather than have one player doing his own thing all too often.
Ones to watch - Who are Juve’s star players?
The obvious ones are Gigi Buffon and Gonzalo Higuain. The skipper remains truly great, making crucial saves regularly despite turning 39 last month, while the Argentinian striker is simply deadly. He looks much more of a team player than he did at Napoli and is scoring all types of goals at a frankly astonishing rate.
Outside of that duo, Paulo Dybala continues to mature, while Alex Sandro and Leonardo Bonucci are arguably the best in the world at their positions.
Strong points/weak points – what must Porto beware of and what can they exploit?
The strongest points of this team remain central defence and the attack, simply because of the sheer quality of players Juve can and do field there. Further to what I’ve already said above, this side are deadly at set pieces, with Miralem Pjanic and Dybala providing a right-left combo that’s tough to beat while Higuain, Mandzukic, Bonucci and Chiellini provide a strong aerial threat.
As for weaknesses, I would say the right-back and midfield area, with Stephan Lichtsteiner and Dani Alves both struggling for form. If Porto can get at them down the left and isolate a player one-on-one, that could be a source of goals for them. Same in midfield where anyone other than Claudio Marchisio and Tomas Rincon has looked off the pace all season, with Sami Khedira seemingly well past his sell-by date at the moment.
Formation and playing style – what system do Juventus usually play? Would you describe them generically as an attacking or a defensive team?
They’ve been playing 4-2-3-1 of late, with Juan Cuadrado, Dybala and Mandzukic lining up behind Higuain. The Colombian and the Croatian drop back to make it a 4-4-2 defensively and ensure the team aren’t overrun in midfield but it’s definitely made them more attacking. Surprisingly it’s also improved their defensive record, with the team conceding just twice in the seven games they’ve played since making the switch.
Mood in the camp – judging by player/coach quotes regarding this game, do you think Juventus come into the tie in a confident frame of mind?
Both the players and the press are confident Juve can progress, seeing Porto as a favourable opponent while the obvious re-match between Buffon and Casillas has been getting a lot of play. I’d say the team are confident, but a January loss to Fiorentina means they’ve also suffered a recent bump that has stopped that edging into complacency.
What do you think the result of the match will be?
I think Juve will likely emerge winners by a two-goal margin over the two legs, largely because I think their front six are just too strong for Porto.
Our thanks to Adam Digby. For more from Adam follow him on Twitter @Adz77.