It is perhaps a sign of things to come next week that the Dragons from the Iberian Peninsula will fly to the north-west of England on Tuesday night. While Game of Thrones fans will have to wait for a couple of months before they learn the fate of the on-screen dragons, FC Porto and Liverpool fans will learn the fate of their teams in terms of progress in the Champions League, in the next couple of weeks, starting with the first leg of their quarterfinal at Anfield. The two teams have a few things in common this season. Both Liverpool and Porto are in their respective domestic title races, competing against stronger teams. Both teams have excellent domestic defensive records.
As if an extremely close Premier League title race is not enough, Liverpool have had to overcome the likes of PSG, Napoli and Bayern Munich to reach this stage in the Champions League. They barely scraped past the Italians in the last group stage game and ended up drawing Bayern in the last 16-round. But they played the two legs against Bayern like they meant to go the distance in the competition. That’s how they find themselves awaiting Porto in the first leg of the quarterfinal. They come into this game on the back of three come from behind victories in the Premier League. However, the next three games could either keep them alive in both the competitions or kill their dreams in both. After Porto’s visit on Tuesday, Liverpool will host Chelsea on Sunday before themselves flying to Portugal the following Wednesday.
With Mohammed Salah ending his 55-day goal-less run with a crucial goal against Southampton on Friday night and with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino too going great, Liverpool seem to be edging closer to the attacking form they displayed last season. However, it is their defence that has stood them in good stead throughout the season. Between that steadfast defence and the rampant attack from Liverpool, Porto’s chances of progress beyond the quarterfinal seem bleak.
By the time Porto arrive on Merseyside, Benfica could have overtaken them in the Primeira Liga table but only on goal difference. That makes it Tuesday’s encounter as interesting for Porto as it is for their hosts. With six domestic games to go in an extremely close title race, the increasingly difficult Champions League fixtures will seem daunting, but Sergio Conceicao will want his team to chase both the goals. His team arrive in this fixture not having lost a game in the last six games in all competitions, since losing to Benfica in the home league game on March 3rd. Porto have scored 13 goals in those games. In the Champions League this season, Porto have an xG per game of 1.71 just slightly lower than the 1.73 xG per game of their opponents so far. In terms of attack, they are more likely to attack from positional play but are also capable of counter-attacks.
- Porto are familiar foes for Liverpool. The Reds have never lost a European match against FC Port in six previous encounters (W3 D3 L0). But the Portuguese can take heart from the fact that the previous game at Anfield ended goal-less.
- When they qualify in the Champions League and when they manage to reach the knock-out stages, Liverpool tend to gather momentum. They have progressed from four of their last five quarterfinal appearances. The only time they have been upstaged at this stage in this run was by Mourinho’s rampant Chelsea in 2008-09.
- For Porto the portents are a bit ominous – they have never faced an opponent a greater number of times (4 thus far) and not won. They have failed to win any in four games against Juventus and Zenit St. Petersburg as well. They have also failed to win any of their last 12 away knockout games in the competition (D4 L8) since a 1-0 victory at Deportivo La Coruna in May 2004. They won the competition that year.
- But there is a ray of hope for Porto. Liverpool have not been as rampant in scoring as they were last season and of their 12 goals in Champions League this season, not a single has come from outside the penalty area. If the Portuguese manage to park a bus, they might succeed in frustrating Liverpool.
Sadio Mane’s brace in Munich is the reason why Liverpool are still alive in the Champions League. He will make his 20th Champions League appearances on Tuesday night and he has scored 13 goals in 19 appearances so far. He can equal the records of greats such as Del Piero, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Andriy Shevchenko if he scores just one more goal on Tuesday as he will have 14 goals in 20 appearances. Mane also loves the knockout stages of the competition as he has scored 69% (9/13) of his Champions League goals in the knockout stages. Only (players with more than 10 goals) Ivica Olic has a higher such percentage (70%). His xG per game of 0.57 in the Champions League this season might not seem extraordinary, but when his knockout stats are seen in the context of what he achieved in the previous round, Klopp will certainly depend on Mane to deliver goals in this tie too.
Moussa Marega has contributed 23 goals to Porto’s 2018-19 campaign, assisting 7 and scoring 16, including six in his last six Champions League appearances. In fact, Marega is looking to become just the fourth different player in Champions League history to score in seven successive matches in the competition. In Europe this season, Marega is averaging 0.75 goals per game (0.48 xG per game) and 0.26 assists per game, meaning that one goal contribution is almost certain from the Mali international.
Jurgen Klopp can call upon most of his squad for this game – just Joe Gomez and Oxlade-Chamberlain are injured. However, given the impact Henderson had on the Southampton game after his second-half introduction, he might be preferred over Naby Keita in the midfield, despite Keita scoring his first goal for Liverpool in the same game.
Conceicao has more players who are unavailable. Vincent Aboubakar will miss through injury. Fabiano, Marius Mouandilmadji and Alex Telles are doubtful. Hector Herrera and Jesus Manuel Corona are suspended.
While Porto left Anfield last season with a 0-0 draw, such a result is unlikely this time around, primarily because this is the first leg while the corresponding game last season was the second leg after Liverpool had trounced Porto in Portugal. Liverpool are “greedy” for wins this season, according to their manager, and they are huge favourites to add one more to their kitty on Tuesday.