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A year on, Liverpool should still have too much for improved Porto

Having met in last year’s Champions League, the sides renew acquaintances in the quarter-finals tonight.

LIVERPOOL’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE run this season can be read as an inverse of last year’s. 

They made the final in Kiev last season by beating arguably the best team in Europe at the quarter-final stage in Manchester City, but had a relatively benign run otherwise. 

Liverpool Training and Press Conference Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool training ahead of tonight's Champions League tie. Source: Peter Byrne

As third seeds in the group phase, they were handed a favourable draw: Spartak Moscow, Sevilla and Maribor. They topped the group but managed to avoid Juventus and Real Madrid when drawing Porto, and after beating City they swerved Bayern and Madrid again in the semi-final in landing Roma.

They did, of course, eventually run into Madrid, and defeat left them as third seeds again in this year’s draw. 

They didn’t get lucky this time around: PSG, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade meant they found themselves in arguably the toughest group, while the last-16 tie against Bayern Munich seemed a difficult task ahead of the first leg and looks an impressive achievement in light of Bayern’s 5-0 battering of Borussia Dortmund on Saturday. 

In earning a reunion with Porto tonight, however, Liverpool got the most favourable opponent in the quarter-finals. 

Jurgen Klopp is unsurprisingly resistant to such talk. 

“Everyone wanted Porto, but we didn’t want them” the Liverpool manager said at his pre-match press conference. 

People with a proper idea of football didn’t want to play Porto, but we have them. It will be a tough one – we are really looking forward to it.

Liverpool travelled to Portugal for the first leg of the sides’ last-16 tie last season, and a 5-0 win rendered the subsequent goalless draw at Anfield immaterial. 

This being Porto, however, much has changed in the space of a year.

Their coach is still the highly-regarded Sérgio Conceição, but they have lost a couple of players who appeared against Liverpool last season: Ricardo Pereira and Diogo Dalot have both moved to England with Leicester and Manchester United respectively.

Iker Casillas is still in goal, and returns to Anfield having contended his appearance at the same ground last season was his farewell to the Champions League.

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Imago 20190213 Eder Militao. Source: Imago/PA Images

There has been change ahead of him, most notably with the rapid rise of Eder Militao. The Brazilian can play as a right-back and as a defensive midfielder, but the 21-year-old has been impressive at centre-back for the Portuguese champions this season. 

So impressive, in fact, that having made his debut for the club last September, he agreed  a six-year contract with Real Madrid last month. He is the first signing of Zinedine Zidane’s second spell at the Bernabeu, with Madrid moving quickly to secure Militao as his €50 million buy-out clause was due to rise by 50% at the end of the season. 

He will be missing his regular centre-back partner, however as – and stop us if you’ve heard this one before – Pepe is suspended.

The centre-back was perhaps harshly booked for a tangle with Edin Dzeko in the last-16 win against Roma, but he misses out along with captain Hector Herrera. 

Porto may also be without the man who scored the extra-time penalty which nudged them beyond Roma, with Alex Telles a doubt with a hip injury. 

With Joe Gomez and Adam Lallana injured, Liverpool’s only other main absentee is the suspended Andy Robertson, with James Milner expected to play at left-back in his stead. This offers Porto a real point of attack: Milner has unconvinced when covering at right-back this season, and right-winger Jesus Corona was impressive against Roma. 

Porto should be further strengthened by the inclusion of defensive midfielder Danilo Pereira, who missed last year’s tie through injury. 

(SP)PORTUGAL-PORTO-SOCCER-CHAMPIONS LEAGUE-PORTO VS LIVERPOOL The Liverpool players celebrate their 5-0 win against Porto last season. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Domestically Porto are enjoying a similar season to Liverpool, and have this European tie wedged into a fraught title challenge. They are level on points with Benfica at the top of the league, kept from the summit on goal difference. 

Having been torn asunder by Liverpool’s counter-attacking prowess in the first leg last season, Porto may prefer travelling to Anfield first this time around as it will give them a clearer mandate at home for the second leg. 

Liverpool, however, should ultimately be too good for them, and if that proves to be the case, Klopp’s team will face either Barcelona or Manchester United in a decidedly more difficult semi-final than they faced last year. 

On TV: RTE Two; KO 8pm

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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