Porto no pushover as Liverpool’s trophy hopes come down to Euro dreams
Liverpool’s remaining hope of a winning a trophy this season comes in the form of a trip to Porto in the last 16 of the Champions League. The Portuguese side are currently enjoying an unbeaten league campaign and will be stern opposition in the first leg on Wednesday night. Preview by Kris Gourlay
Call me mad, but with Liverpool being more than capable of dismissing Porto within a 20-minute frenzy, and ties such as Real Madrid vs PSG, Jurgen Klopp’s men are definitely in with a shout of making the semi-finals of the Champions League this season. Something which I’m sure every Liverpool fan would embrace and see as a major step in the right direction.
The Reds travel to Portugal having endured another disappointing season in the domestic cups, with an early exit from the Carabao Cup as well as an embarrassing defeat to West Brom in the FA Cup last month. With Manchester City already looking like having the league wrapped up, a royal rumble containing Europe’s heavyweights is now all that Klopp is left with as the wait to bring the glory days back to Anfield goes on.
Porto will certainly be no pushovers, but as we’ve seen so many times in the Premier League and in the Champions League group stages, Liverpool have the attacking quality to completely blow teams away in the opening half hour of a game, even if they often lack that composure and stability in the second-half.
The Portuguese champions also have a mini injury crisis to deal with as three of their regular first-team players are looking unlikely to start the game. Key defender Ivan Marcano has been missing for a few weeks and faces a late fitness test to decide his involvement in the game and with regular centre back partner Felipe injured as well, Porto’s defence could be vulnerable to Liverpool’s pace and power going forward.
Top scorer Vincent Aboubakar is also subject to a late fitness test, but manager Sergio Conceicao will be desperate to use the powerful striker to give his side hope going to Anfield for the return leg.
Liverpool’s only absentee comes in the unfortunate form of the suspended Emre Can, leaving the Reds strapped for options in midfield. Captain Jordan Henderson is still struggling to find regular fitness having returned from a muscle injury a few weeks ago and while James Milner is always at risk of playing a howler, he is probably Klopp’s safest option for stability in midfield.
Either Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or the ever-disappearing Gini Wijnaldum will provide that creative spark as Adam Lallana is still not 100% match fit.
Klopp’s side go into the game in decent form, with a 2-2 draw against Spurs and a 2-0 win at Southampton in recent weeks setting them up well for the tie. Porto are unbeaten all season though, and at the weekend regained first place in the league. So it will still be a tough test which will need Klopp’s best tactics so ensure Liverpool go back to Anfield with it all to play for.
A smart move would see Klopp set up to play conservatively, not take any risks and maybe nick a goal on the counter to take an away goal back to Anfield, but will he be able to put is beloved all-out attacking football aside for once?
In defence, Virgil Van Dijk is finding his feet in this Liverpool side and will most likely keep his place after the win at Southampton but his defensive partner is still not clear. Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip have both played with Van Dijk and Klopp looks like he’s still experimenting with his preferred partnership.
The front three of Firmino, Mane and Salah are the only real concrete starters in the team, despite Mane’s incredibly poor run of form. Whether it’s the impact of Salah stealing the headlines or just a blip, he needs to start finding his form of last season or his place in the team could be up for debate in the summer as Klopp continues to monitor more attacking wide men.
A win on Valentine’s day is what all fans want but Liverpool will need to play with caution as this will be their biggest test in the Champions League this season. One thing about this game that is for certain is that Klopp’s team will need to be ruthless in front of goal as they will not be gifted second chances in what has the making of a thrilling tie. It’s just a shame that Real Madrid vs PSG is being shown at the same time.
Predicted Lineup: Karius, Gomez, Van Dijk, Matip, Robertson, Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum, Mane, Firmino, Salah
Score Prediction: 2-2 (Brahimi, Aboubakar, Firmino, Salah)