By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to the Estádio do Dragão to face FC Porto with a comfortable 2-0 lead as they look to progress to face a mouth-watering Champions League semi final clash with Barcelona or Manchester United.
Compared to the tie a year ago, Porto are still very much in this game, yet you still can’t consider that the Portuguese side will progress barring a huge collapse from Liverpool.
Both sides are sitting high in the table in their respective league, the Reds are top after successfully progressing through a difficult 10 days, winning four from four against Spurs, Southampton, Porto and Chelsea. Two goals from Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah saw Liverpool win 2-0 against the Blues in a game that truly signalled the side’s ambitions this season.
Porto played last on Saturday, beating 11th-placed Portimonense 3-0 which kept them level on point at the top of the table with Benfica but sit second due to inferior goal difference.
Striker Moussa Marega was man of the match in the league win, scoring his 18 goal of the season but only his 3rd since the start of the year. Hector Herrera also scored and should return to the squad after missing the first leg through suspension.
Reminder of the first leg
Liverpool were victors in the first leg scoring two unanswered goals to put them in a very strong position. Porto had a few injuries which resulted in a weaker midfield and back line and from the first minute you could see that they were going to be open considering the result last season which came about with similar tactics.
The comfort only lasted five minutes – good build-up play down the right saw James Milner send Mané down the wing, The Senegalese drew two Porto players before passing to Firmino who laid it off to Naby Keita, who scored his second goal in as many games via a deflected shot to send Liverpool well on their way to a comfortable win.
The early goal startled Porto, making their midfield drop five or so yards deeper, yet they still kept allowing Liverpool players to wander the space just in front on defence. Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah were both sent through on goal, but poor finishing let the duo down as Liverpool looked to double their lead.
The Reds did that in the 26th minute, a defence-splitting ball from a rejuvenated Jordan Henderson sent through Trent Alexander-Arnold, who assisted his eighth goal this season by setting up Firmino for a tap in.
Porto were dangerous on the break. Marega had a stellar start to the season scoring 15 goals before the start of the year but hasn’t been the same in 2019, and has only scored three. The striker missed a host of opportunities to score a very important away goal as it’s likely Liverpool will score in Porto.
Sadio Mané had a goal ruled out for offside despite been being level as shown on VAR, the next 15 minutes of the first half was quite end-to-end. Both sides had chances to scored but failed to capitalize in decent positions.
The last half hour was more of a training session than a Champions League quarter final, Liverpool were camped inside Porto’s half but failed to register any real chances which saw both teams settle down happy with a 2-0 score line.
Liverpool have no major injury concerns for Wednesday night, Jordan Henderson was substituted after picking up a knock to the ankle against Chelsea but Jurgen Klopp allayed fears of a long-term injury in his post-match press conference.
Alisson Becker has been much better in recent weeks. In his last two games, important saves against Eden Hazard and Marega made sure Liverpool kept their comfortable 2-0 leads in both games. His collection from crosses was as consistent as ever while his distribution was much improved.
Trent Alexander-Arnold excelled against Chelsea, dealing well with Hazard and Willian while his passing of the ball has seemed to have gone up another level. He’ll start, with Andy Robertson returning from suspension at left back.
Dejan Lovren returned to the starting XI in the first leg and was rested against Chelsea, the Croatian dealt with Marega quite well but showed a few signs of rustiness which is understandable considering he hasn’t played since January. He misses this one through illness, so Joel Matip should keep his place this time around, alongside the imperious Virgil van Dijk.
Jordan Henderson played a huge role in the victory against Chelsea, with the captain assisting the Reds’ first. It was his third goal involvement in as many games, adding to the goal and assist he notched against Southampton.
Naby Keita realistically should start every game from now until the end of the season. The Guinean hasn’t played as much this season and should be quite energetic compared to his midfield compatriots. His defensive contribution has majorly improved and looks to have added that creative spark to Liverpool’s midfield which we have been sorely missing.
Liverpool’s front three have hit form exactly when we wanted it – all three have played exceptionally over the last four games, scoring five goals in that time with an extra three coming from midfield.
Porto have no new injury concerns, but striker Vincent Aboubakar is still out with a ruptured cruciate ligament and will miss the remainder of the season.
Pepe and Hector Herrera will return after missing the first leg through suspension and it is likely both will start from the first XI. Iker Casillas will start in goal in what is probably his last season in football.
Alex Telles shrugged off what looked to be a serious injury to be fit for the first leg. The Brazilian is one of the better full backs in Europe and is a master from dead ball situations. Real Madrid bound Eder Militao will move out to his favoured right back position to make way for Pepe, who will partner Felipe in defence.
A two-man midfield of Herrera and Danilo Pereira will provide defensive stability and will cover the while pitch with both layers possessing immense fitness levels.
Soares and Marega proved to be a handful in the first leg and won’t miss the chances that they spurned at Anfield if afforded those types of breaks again. Supporting them in attack will likely be Jesus Corona and Otavio.
The Reds will know their potential semi final opponents before kick-off – Barcelona welcome Manchester United to Camp Nou with a single goal lead, in the first leg both teams failed to impress, making Liverpool arguably the favourites to progress to the final on this side of the tie.
With Liverpool only needing one goal to pretty much guarantee progression, this game should be relatively routine compared to other matches in recent weeks.
The Estádio do Dragão is one of the most intimidating stadiums in Europe and could play a part if Porto score first. Their fans can be the difference and spur them on to get a second, though it could also play into Liverpool’s favour too.
Inspired by the crowd, Porto could lose their shape and attack in numbers allowing Liverpool to catch them on the counter, which happened in last season game.
If Liverpool do score an away goal, which I think we will. Joe Gomez could be given some minutes ahead of the season’s end so he can be rotated with Alexander-Arnold, who hasn’t had much rest since Gomez’s injury.
I think the game will end 1-1, Liverpool will score first and will slightly ease up the intensity to save fitness going into the last few games of the season. Porto may score on the night, but it will be nothing more than a consolation.
Final score: Porto 1 (Marega) – Liverpool 1 (Firmino)