The world’s greatest club competition resumes this week with the start of the UCL knockout stage. Portugal’s lone representative left in this season’s Champions League, FC Porto, host Liverpool in a mouth-watering encounter on Wednesday.
The Dragons are still unbeaten in domestic play and go into the match with morale sky-high after impressive performances and results against Sporting and Chaves in the past week. But in Liverpool they are facing a team capable of brilliance, as shown when becoming the only side to have overcome Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City this season.
What can Porto expect? To get the answer, PortuGOAL asked seasoned broadcaster and Liverpool expert John Bradley.
Current form. How have Liverpool looked this season so far?
After making the top four last season and returning to European football’s top table, it was always going to be interesting to see how they would balance the demands of domestic and champions league football. I’d say sitting 3rd in the premier league and in the last 16 of the CL is pretty impressive.
There have been a couple of blips of late with the defeat at a Carlos Carvalhal inspired Swansea and then an FA Cup home reverse to West Brom but the last two performances against Tottenham and Southampton have been impressive.
Ones to watch - Who are Liverpool’s star players?
Obviously, the departure of Philippe Coutinho was a blow as he showed himself capable of outstanding levels of performance against any opposition, but with his departure comes a new partnership. The link between Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah has been a revelation for Reds fans. Both have already passed 20 goals for the season and have been a joy to watch with their attitude, application and desire. Salah’s pace will threaten anyone, but it is the link between the two and the obvious understanding they have between each other that can threaten as much
Strong points/weak points – what must Porto beware of and what can they exploit?
As I mentioned, the link between Salah and Firmino is almost telepathic and they are difficult to stop. The full-backs also add a real dynamic to Liverpool’s play... and don’t give free kicks away on the edge of your own box. Trent Alexander Arnold may only be a teenager but he has a real eye for goal from set pieces.
As for weaknesses, much is made of the Liverpool defence but it is maybe the way they play that leaves them a little more vulnerable. They have worked hard up eradicate the individual errors that have led to goals and Loris Karius is coming off the back of his best performances for Liverpool in the last couple of weeks
Formation and playing style – what system do Liverpool usually play? Would you describe them generically as an attacking or a defensive team?
4-3-3, pressing high and attack, attack, attack. The recent win at Southampton was a rare game where Liverpool had less possession than the opposition, so they are capable of sitting back and breaking away from home. They’ve scored numerous goals this season where they’ve gone from one end of the field to the other to score in 10 seconds.
What are the local press saying about the tie and Liverpool’s Champions League aspirations in general?
Liverpool were expected to qualify from the group and did so comfortably, but this is where the real business against the established CL teams starts. There is a cautious optimism going in to every big game Liverpool play. On their day, they could take anyone down
Mood in the camp – judging by player/coach quotes regarding this game, do you think Liverpool come into the match in a confident frame of mind?
There is a huge level of respect to Porto as a club and their experience in this competition. Everybody is aware of what they did to Leipzig and Monaco and the level of knowhow of this competition is huge at the Dragão.
What do you think the result of Wednesday's match will be?
Genuinely, it’s tough to call. I do think it’s going to be fun though. Two sides who want to attack and play fast flowing football. It will be about who defends better and whose nerve holds. I’m going for 2-2!
Our thanks to John. For excellent insights into the game Europe-wise, be sure to follow John on twitter @jbradleymedia.