Liverpool

The Key To Liverpool Unlocking Porto

 • by Sam McGuire
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There are no easy matches in the Champions League knockout stages. But Liverpool were fortunate to be handed a favourable tie, at least on paper, when they were paired with FC Porto.

However, those expecting the match against Sérgio Conceição’s charges to be a walk in the park might be in for a surprise. Porto top the Portuguese league, two points ahead of Benfica and Sporting Lisbon having played a game less, and are undefeated. They’ve won 17 games, drawn four and have a goal difference of plus 43.

Spearheaded by reported one-time Liverpool transfer target Vincent Aboubakar, the Dragões are a threat going forward. The 26-year-old has 26 goals in 33 matches this season, five of which came in the Champions League, but there are doubts over whether he’ll be fit enough to start against the Reds – he’s missed the last two Porto matches with a muscle injury.

However, Conceição isn’t reliant on just the one forward. The former Nantes manager primarily plays a 4-4-2 system and partners the Cameroon International with Moussa Marega, who has netted one more goal in the Portuguese league than his strike partner.

However, beyond those two the goals dry up. Only Yacine Brahimi, linked to Liverpool by O Jogo, has five or more goals in the league.

That’s Porto in their domestic league. In the Champions League they’re a completely different animal. They finished second in their group behind Besiktas but ahead of RB Leipzig and last season’s semi-finalists Monaco.

Porto picked up ten points from their six matches and scored 15 goals. The big difference comes in the goals conceded column . Conceição’s men have shipped as many goals (ten) in the Champions League as they have in 21 league games.

They kept just one clean sheet in the group stage – a 3-0 win over Monaco – and were breached on two or more occasions in three of the matches, with Besiktas hitting them for three at the Estádio do Dragão.

Exposing Porto’s Weaknesses

When looking at the goals Porto have conceded this season there are two obvious flaws.

The first is their inability to defend crosses into their own area. Of the 25 goals they’ve conceded this season, 11 have arrived from crosses. The types of balls into the area vary – from pull-backs to floated deliveries to the back post – but the fact remains they’re not being stopped at the source.

Of those 11 goals, seven came from the right hand side, the area of defence one-time Tottenham Hotspur transfer target Ricardo Pereira patrols. He earned rave reviews for his performances on loan at Nice and he’s impressing when in possession in Portugal. But defensively there are issues.

Portugal's Ricardo Pereira celebrates scoring his sides first goal of the game

Last season, playing in France, he was blocking 0.8 crosses per 90 minutes as opposed to the 0.3 he’s managing this campaign. This could be down to the fact teams rarely attack Porto so he’s not as busy, but Football Whispers‘ very own Ligue 1 expert, Andrew Gibney believes it’s to do with style:

“The game is mostly played in front of defenders in France. Wingers often cut inside, they rarely try to get beyond a defender. That’s why full-backs, and most defenders, from Ligue 1 struggle in England. They simply aren’t used to being turned around to face their own goal.”

The crosses coming in from the left flank vary but five of them have arrived beyond the 18-yard line, that means the opposition have worked their way behind the Porto defence and Pereira is having to face his own goal.

This, without doubt, is an area Liverpool cold exploit. Andrew Robertson has come off the boil in recent weeks, perhaps due to fatigue, but he could have a lot of joy against the Porto right full-back.

Alternatively, if Jürgen Klopp opts to freshen things up then Alberto Moreno has more than enough energy and attacking drive to cause Pereira problems. Even though he’s not famed for his crossing, his dummy runs down the line would stretch Porto and free up space in central areas.

In the group games against Besiktas and RB Leipzig it was noticeable how poor Porto are at closing down passing lanes. The opposition would easily thread the ball through midfield into the feet of the attackers which would allow the runners from midfield to break into the area.

The speed at which RB Leipzig attacked Porto caught the Portuguese side cold. On more than one occasion Emil Forsberg was able to glide past their midfield and into a dangerous areas.

It’s how they scored their second goal, which you can see in the pictures below.

Liverpool bound Naby Keïta picks possession in his own half and carries the ball forward before playing a pass to the left-back.

The Bundesliga runners-up have overloaded the left side with Marcel Sabitzer dropping off and Forsberg picking up a central area, too.

The left-back drives forward, engaging four Porto players, before playing a pass into Forsberg who had drifted into space just ahead of the defence.

The Swedish playmaker flicks it back to Sabitzer who has continued his run off the back of the Porto midfielder.

The Austria international lines up a shot but instead threads the pass to Forsberg, who found himself in acres of space between the two Porto centre-backs. The Swede calmly stroked the ball past the goalkeeper to give the home side an advantage. It was that easy.

RB Leipzig are ‘Liverpool lite’ in terms of how fluid their front four are. If the Bundesliga club were able to cut through Porto with relative ease then the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané should be looking forward to the damage they could do on Wednesday night.

If Liverpool have done their homework they should have more than enough to trouble the home side and take a positive result back to Anfield.

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