If a football team is going into a game having won their last four matches, having scored 15 goals and conceded 3, in general circumstances they might be considered favourites to win. However, when FC Porto travel to Merseyside on Tuesday night for the second leg of the Champions League Last 16 tie with Liverpool, the odds for their progress into the quarterfinals will be extremely long. That is so because, Liverpool have all but sealed the tie with their first leg performance, which saw them win 0-5 at the Dragao in Portugal.
If that first leg performance was commanding in itself, what has followed from the Reds against sides they have usually struggled to break down, has been even more confidence inspiring. Since the game in Portugal, Liverpool have played West Ham United and Newcastle United in the Premier League and beaten both of them convincingly, scoring six goals and conceding just one. In their last five games, the Reds have won four and drawn one, scoring 15 goals and conceding only 3, with three clean sheets. Thus, not only are the Reds in the pole position in the tie, they are also in good form. It would be completely acceptable if Jurgen Klopp rotated his team heavily for this second leg, especially as a derby against bitter rivals Manchester United is the next match for the Reds – on Saturday afternoon.
Porto have been busy trying to forget that first leg humiliation by creating a mountain of goals themselves. As mentioned, in their last four games, since that first leg game, they have scored 15 goals and conceded just 3, winning all four matches. The last of those matches was against their bitter rivals Sporting Lisbon on Friday night and Porto won the game 2-1. Domestically, Porto are doing very well as they are just a few more wins away from a Liga NOS title win and they have a cushion of five points over the second-placed Benfica. Porto have also reached the semi-finals of Taca de Portugal. However, despite having a dominant season domestically, Porto’s European adventure will likely end on Tuesday night, unless they literally produce a miracle at Anfield.
- As of the first leg, Liverpool were unbeaten against FC Porto in their previous four encounters. Now the Reds are unbeaten against the Portuguese side in five games (W3, D2). Other than the first leg win, their previous two victories have come at Anfield.
- If Porto can progress to the next round, it will be a first. No team has ever progressed to the next round following a 0-5 home defeat in the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie.
- However, the odds are clearly stacked against the Portuguese. Not only is the second leg at Anfield, where they have never won or drawn but Liverpool have also never lost by more than two clear goals at Anfield in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Further, Porto have never won a Champions League away game against an English side (D2, L10).
- Liverpool’s form is also fearsome. They are one of only three unbeaten teams in this season’s Champions League so far, alongside Barcelona and Tottenham. They are also the top scorers in this season’s Champions League (28 goals), including 25 in last five games.
The first leg at Dragao saw the return of goalscoring form for Sadio Mane. Mane has scored 5 goals in last three matches, including the three in the first leg. Liverpool fans were extremely pleased with Mane’s first season last year as the Senegalese scored 13 and assisted 5 goals in all competitions. There are a handful of games yet to be played and he has already contributed 20 goals in all competitions this season, scoring 14 and assisting 6. This season, Mane’s achievements have been dwarfed by Mohamed Salah’s feats, but he is still having a great season and is showing great improvement in form as well. He will fancy a goal or two on Tuesday night.
In the continued absence of their top striker in Europe – Vincent Aboubakar, FC Porto will likely depend on Moussa Marega to lead their line at Anfield. Marega has scored 20 goals and assisted 3 in the Liga NOS, but in Champions League, he only has two assists to his name. However, he has run into some form since that first leg match scoring braces against Rio Ave and Portimonense and also providing an assist in the Portimonense game.
Other than Nathaniel Clyne, who might not be match fit yet and Georginio Wijnaldum who sat out the Newcastle game on Saturday due to illness, Jurgen Klopp has his entire squad to choose his team on Tuesday from. It is likely that the likes of Joe Gomez, Alberto Moreno, Adam Lallana and Dominic Solanke get a chance as Klopp will definitely look to rotate his side.
Sergio Conceicao is not as fortunate as Klopp. He has several of his top players sidelined due to injury. None more important than Vincent Aboubakar, who sat out of the first leg also due to a thigh injury. Danilo Pereira, Bruno Martins Indi, and Alex Telles are all first team regulars who are likely to miss out on the Anfield game due to their injuries. Tiquinho Soares missed out on the Classico with Sporting Lisbon on Friday but could be back on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see if the manager reverts to Iker Casillas in goal after horrendous goalkeeping from Jose Sa cost them dearly in the first leg.
The odds against Porto are enormous. It is difficult to beat Liverpool in a normal game at Anfield, especially this season. But Porto have a 5-goal deficit to recover from. Given their natural tendency, I feel Porto will try to attack but that will suit Liverpool as they will be able to find space to their own attacking play. Porto might play bravely and even trouble the Reds a bit but it is unlikely that Liverpool will lose a home game. Even with a rotated side, Liverpool should win on Tuesday and book their slot in Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2008-09.