By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome FC Porto to Anfield to battle it out for a place in the last four of this season’s UEFA Champions League.
The two sides met in the round of 16 last season with Liverpool running out 5-0 winners over both legs. An injury-hampered Porto will look to seek revenge this time around, though it will be tough for the Portuguese side to get the better of the Reds.
Both sides are fighting for the title in their respective domestic campaigns – Liverpool sit atop the Premier League after coming through a difficult match against Southampton on Friday.
For the third time in as many weeks, Liverpool found a way past a resilient side late on in the game, with Mohamed Salah and Jordan Henderson scoring the decisive goals to ensure the Reds kept the pressure on Manchester City.
Porto also played Friday night, beating 14th-placed Boavista 2-0, meaning they sit second behind leaders Benfica only on goal difference.
Their squad has been hit by multiple injuries including a few to first team players. Francisco Soares and Otavio scored both goals in a routine win, their fourth in five games.
Porto’s journey to the quarter-finals
Porto qualified for the knockout stages by topping Group D. They amassed 16 points as they remained undefeated, winning all but one game in what was a relatively easy group that contained fellow qualifiers Schalke 04, Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Moscow.
Against the German side they gained four points, drawing 1-1 away on the first match day and winning by two goals in a 3-1 home victory. In Germany they came from behind to earn a point in which the Portuguese side also had a penalty saved. They were dominant in possession (61%) but both sides had 11 shots on goal.
In the return fixture again, they dominated possession with 61%, but only allowed four shots on their goal. Eder Militao and Óliver Torres scored in the space of three minutes before a late penalty gave Schalke hope. Moussa Marega scored a third goal deep into stoppage time to put the game beyond the visitors.
Against Lokomotiv they were totally dominant in both legs winning 7-2 over two legs, winning the first tie 3-1 away and the second 4-1.
Again, they registered 61% of the ball away and shared 11 shots apiece. In both games they scored two quick goals, but saw their lead halved through sloppy defending. The goals didn’t faze them, and they continued before scoring without the opposition respondent to gain six points from a poor side compared to the other elite clubs in Europe.
In their two matches against Galatasaray, they picked up six points, both matches were rather unconvincing from the Portuguese side winning by a single goal on each occasion. A 1-0 victory at home saw their only clean sheet against some poor teams.
Marega again proved to be the difference as he has taken a starring role since Vincent Aboubakar’s injury. In Turkey they scraped through a thrilling game which ended 3-2 in favour of the visitors.
Porto gained a two-goal lead twice in the match, 2-0 and 3-1, but both times saw the deficit halved which shows that they are quite vulnerable defensively, which can only be a good thing.
In the knockout stages they were drawn against last season’s semi finalist AS Roma, overcoming a first-leg defeat to progress 4-3 on aggregate.
In the Italian capital Porto were quite fortunate to come away with anything – Roma scored twice but struck the woodwork a further three times which would have put them out of sight. A deflected goal from Adrian López gave the away side hope going into the second leg.
Porto controlled large parts of the second leg and managed to scrape through to the quarter finals via a 117th minute penalty from Alex Telles. The penalty was awarded in controversial circumstances thanks to VAR and after a review of the situation it was deemed to be the right decision.
Porto drew first blood which gave them hope of progressing, edging ahead on away goals when Tiquinho scored in the 26th minute. Daniele De Rossi replied from the spot just before half time before Marega levelled the tie overall in the 52nd minute.
Edin Dzeko spurned two fantastic chances before the full-time whistle as he did a fortnight earlier, before Porto were awarded a penalty after Alessandro Florenzi was adjudged to have pulled on Fernando’s shirt in the box, which Telles dispatched coolly.
Liverpool have no fresh injury concerns for Tuesday night, though Andy Robertson is suspended after picking up a needless yellow card when the Reds’ were cruising 3-1 against Bayern Munich.
James Milner is the likely candidate to fill in though a returning Joe Gomez could also get the nod having had experience in the position in his first few months at Liverpool. Alberto Moreno is available, but unlikely to be trusted by Jurgen Klopp for this one
Alisson Becker was much better against Southampton than in previous games, he wasn’t called into much action and didn’t have to make any saves of note. His collection from crosses was as consistent as ever while his distribution was much improved.
Trent Alexander-Arnold struggled against a lively Nathan Redmond last time out and was hooked early in the second half. Porto have one of the better wingers in Europe through Yacine Brahimi and the young English man will certainly have his work cut out and could possibly need help from midfield.
Despite Dejan Lovren returning from injury and making an appearance off the substitute bench, Virgil van Dijk will likely be partnered by Joel Matip.
Jordan Henderson played a starring role in the victory at Southampton, scoring and assisting the decisive goals, and all gave somewhat of a middle finger to the Liverpool supporters who aren’t too fond of the Englishman playing for the club.
With Naby Keita also scoring the duo are expected to start in midfield sitting in front of Fabinho who should be an ever-present from now until the end of the season.
Mo Salah finally scored his long-awaited 50th Premier League goal for Liverpool, and what a goal it was. Countering from a corner, the Egyptian teased Ryan Bertrand after a lung-busting 50-yard run before slotting into the bottom corner to put the Reds into the lead.
Bobby Firmino, who registered an assist and seems back to his best in recent weeks, will complete the front three along side Sadio Mané who scored a hat-trick against Porto last season.
Porto have a number of first team players out of the tie with injury. Star man Alex Telles is a major injury concern for the first leg but should be available for the game in two weeks. Striker Aboubakar is out of both legs with a ruptured ligament. In terms of suspension Pepe, formerly of Real Madrid, and central midfielder Hector Herrera are both out.
Veteran of the game Iker Casillas will start in net and continue his tremendous record in the Champions league featuring in the competition 186 times over a record 20 seasons.
With Alex Telles supposedly out, Real Madrid bound Militao will likely fill in as he did in their match on Friday partnering Felipe. Jesus Corona replaced Militao at right back and Wilson Manafá started on the opposite flank.
A two-man midfield of Pereira of Oliver Torres will provide defensive stability, allowing Brahimi and Otavio to support the duo of Soares and Marega in attack.
With Liverpool is such a strong position domestically, Jurgen Klopp will try and put the tie to bed in the first leg, especially considering some of the key players that the visitors have absent for this one.
In my opinion, any win by two goals or greater should see the reds through with ease. A dream result would be a repeat of last season’s 5-0, which not only would allow the likes of van Dijk and firmino to be rested to be fully fresh for the remaining fixtures, but also afford Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez valuable game time as they look to regain match fitness.
Porto will probably be a bit more conservative hoping to avoid another embarrassing result, though if they are to be realistic about progressing then they would probably need to score at Anfield.
Final score: Liverpool 3 (Salah, Mané, Keita) – Porto 0