Just as their respective domestic leagues are entering the final run-in, the remaining giants of Europe will decide this week that which four of them will progress to the penultimate stage of the European competitions. Liverpool will travel to Estadio do Dragao in Porto for one such showdown on Wednesday night. Both teams can end up losing their domestic league by very narrow margins, so it is fair to say that the Champions League provides a very desirable alternate target and not a distraction at all.
After losing 0-2 to Liverpool last week, Porto visited Portimonense on Saturday, where they won 3-0 very easily. That win and Benfica’s subsequent win over Vitoria de Setubal means that both of them are level on points, Benfica being ahead on goal difference. Overall, Porto has a great record at home thus far, losing only two league games out of 14 (W12 D0). They have also kept clean sheets in five of their last seven home games. However, Sergio Conceicao will need to inspire his side tremendously if his side are to join the ranks of those who have overcome a 2+ goal lead in this season’s Champions League.
As if the first leg lead was not enough for Liverpool, they come into this game after an excellent performance to beat Chelsea 2-0 at home. Chelsea represented Liverpool’s biggest threat during the run-in this season and the Reds overcame them with ease. One gets a feeling that Liverpool are peaking at the right time, winning important games with relative ease – the away leg at Bayern Munich to the league games against Tottenham and Chelsea and the first leg win against Porto, all of them are a proof of the Reds’ form. However, Liverpool will be better off being cautious. Last year’s 0-5 win at the Dragao does not matter this season and their hosts are in a much better form themselves than they were last season. If they progress into the semifinals, Liverpool could set a date with either Barcelona or Manchester United and given that the Premier League run-in has eased up a bit for them, they would give themselves a good chance of reaching the final in Madrid. However, before they accomplish that, they will need to ensure progress to the next stage on Wednesday.
- Two of the three teams that lost their first leg by 2+ goals in the Last 16 of the Champions League this season managed to stage a comeback in the second leg – Manchester United knocked out PSG and Juventus defeated Atletico Madrid.
- But Porto are an unlikely candidate to stage such a comeback after losing 0-2 to Liverpool in the first leg at Anfield last week. They have lost the first leg of Champions League knockout tie by 2+ goals six times and have been eliminated each of those times.
- On top of that, Liverpool have never lost a European match against FC Porto in seven previous encounters (W4 D3 L0) and have kept three successive clean sheets against them. The Reds also handed the Dragons their heaviest ever home defeat in European competition at the Last 16 stage last season.
- But not all is lost for Porto. They are the only side remaining in this week’s Champions League who have won 100% (4/4) of their home games in the competition. They last won five or more straight home games in European competition between October 1998 and December 1999 (6).
- Yet Liverpool will fancy themselves. They have won three out of four away Champions League knockout games since the start of the season, only losing to Roma during that period. They still progressed despite that loss. Indeed, Liverpool have progressed from all nine of their previous two-legged European knockout ties under Jurgen Klopp.
Pepe and Casillas are the only two players in the Porto squad to have ever tasted victory against Liverpool. That was in 2014-15. This Liverpool side seems miles ahead of the 2014-15 side and on Wednesday, they are going to be hunting a single away goal. Pepe, who was suspended in the first leg, will prove to be the biggest hurdle in that hunt. His defensive work, be it aerial duels or defensive tackles is highly productive and his passing, as well as attacking abilities, are highly efficient. Pepe could be the difference between why Liverpool managed to score twice at Anfield and might be contained better on Wednesday.
Roberto Firmino has scored 3 goals and assisted one in Champions League while scoring 12 and assisting six in the Premier League so far. Those numbers in isolation can be believed as those of an elite striker, but the presence of Salah and Mane around him downplays his threat slightly. But a threat he is – since the start of 2017-18 tournament, Liverpool player Firmino has both scored and assisted in five different Champions League matches, more than any other player in this time. His Champions League xG of 0.51 this season is lower than last season’s 0.66. However, given his off-the-ball movement and his defensive contribution, along with his productivity in front of the goal, he is someone that Conceicao’s men would be better off being wary of.
Pepe and Hector Herrera return from suspension for Porto and are expected to slot straight back into the starting XI. Porto will consider starting Yacine Brahimi in the second leg as they will need to go for it at some stage on Wednesday.
For Liverpool, Andrew Robertson returns from suspension to start at left-back on Wednesday. Jordan Henderson came off with a knock in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Chelsea but Jurgen Klopp afterwards insisted he is fine. Possibly, Gini Wijnaldum could replace his captain in the side. Dejan Lovren could again rotate back into the team replacing Joel Matip.
Porto might be strong at home but their inability to return from Anfield without an all-important away goal will make it easy for Liverpool. Porto have to attack to cover the two-goal deficit and if they do attack, they will leave room for Liverpool to attack and get their own away goal. Porto will certainly put up a fight, but Liverpool should progress easily.
FC Porto 1 – 2 Liverpool