Porto/Liverpool: Behemoths or Underdogs?

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This game featuring Porto and Liverpool kicks off the start of the UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals

Get ready for some great football, big names, and fantastic entertainment. This is the first of eight games in this round, and this tie will be decided over two legs; the first at Anfield (Liverpool) and the second at Porto.

Fall In Love With the Underdog (FC Porto), again!

I think Porto is one of the surprise teams of the tournament for me, they started in a weaker group and managed to stay under the radar. That’s no longer an option in the Quarter-Finals, they’ve established themselves as a team that clearly belongs. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t give this team much of a shot of getting to where they are right now (and, obviously, I was wrong). They’ve managed to be incredibly consistent in the goal scoring and goals allowed across various competitions, and really, even by venue (home/away). FC Porto defeated AS Roma in the first elimination round, but it remains to be seen how they’ll fare against the current leader of the English Premier League.

In the Portuguese first division, FC Porto has had a sizable lead over most of their competition, but in recent weeks Braga has been making a push to finish in the Champion’s spot. Despite the recent slip in form for Porto, it’s starting to look like the Champions League will be a very realistic landing place for Porto next season. Although it’s definitely a slip, both of the top two sides have dropped a grand total of 15 points over the course of the season. Officially, Benfica has the lead on goal difference (in part due to the 17 more goals they’ve scored) although Porto has allowed six fewer goals than Braga. Porto has had a tremendous year defensively currently with the fewest goals allowed (by 6, next in line is Braga) having shipped only 17 goals on the season. Their offense has been good, but not “as” good, as they hold onto second place behind the blistering Braga side. At home, Porto is averaging just under 2.5 goals scored per game while allowing only 0.61 goals against, on the flip side they are scoring somewhat less on the road with 1.7 goals scored per game while allowing just 0.65 goals against them.

Obviously, if you’ve read this far (or you started here) — you’re here to read about their prowess in the Champions League. In 8 Champions League games, FC Porto has six wins (1 after extra time), one draw, and one loss. The only real struggles they have had was in a loss to AS Roma before they game back to tie up the match and force extra time. During extra time they unloaded two goals on AS Roma to seal the deal. This sets up to be an interesting match with both sides markedly stronger at home. FC Porto has been very reasonable in away games, which is how the quarterfinals will begin, with them visiting Anfield. Liverpool has been all over the place with their Champions League form, having escaped the group stages before rounding into better shape for the knockout rounds. Liverpool’s change in form has got to be frustrating for Porto fans as they’ve had a similarly timed fall. However, in spite of that, FC Porto is still enjoying decent away form, averaging better than two goals scored allowing 1.5 goals against. They’ve allowed half the number of goals and scored more in home games; so they’ll need to keep this close, to have a good chance to continue.

Players to watch:

-Jesús Manuel Corona: Corona is a monster in the Champions League for Porto, he’s surpassed (really, he’s tripled) his total from 27 games from a goal scoring perspective. His assists in the Champions League are somewhat less impressive (compared to league performance) but he’s still chipping in with two. The interesting part is that he’s played just over one-fifth of the time in the Champions League than he has in the season, against what should be much better competition. I think that Corona will be providing some key passes and/or assists that will help his side apply pressure to the Liverpool back line. Not only has he provided an average of 1.1 shots per game through his 27 appearances in the Portuguese league, he is also fouled at least twice per game, along with nearly two key passes per game.

-Moussa Marega: Some players struggle under the bright lights (or in this case, the really bright lights), but Marega is not one of them. His Champions League production has been just shy of ridiculous as he’s nearly equaled his accomplishment in the domestic division in a much smaller sample. In Marega’s 22 Portuguese league appearances, he’s managed seven goals and six assists. Here’s where it gets crazy, he’s appeared in all seven games for Porto in the Champions League where he’s added six goals and three assists in less than half of the appearances. Look for Marega just behind the striker(s); if Porto is to do well, I have to think that he’ll have a big part in the outcome.

-Tiquihno Soares: If you’re trying to get ahead me and checking out Soares Champions League stats — you’ll likely be sorely disappointed. Soares sustained an injury that kept him out for all of the Group Stage games, but despite playing in only 21 league games, he’s the top scorer for Porto. Now, obviously since he’s only played in two Champions League games, the production is also absent (–who would have thought?), but I don’t think it’s going to be long before he gets back on the sheet. In Portugal, he’s averaging a goal every 132′ (and he’s already “behind” in the Champions League), so he’s likely to start again. He’s also already provided almost as many assists as he has in the entire domestic season. I think he’s likely to add to (one of) his tallies against Liverpool either from Liverpool not marking him tight enough (because he hasn’t played) or because they mark him too tightly and allow for one of the other Players to Watch to step up.

How To Make The Liverpool Behemoth Look Like A Million Bucks (Actually, 213.8 Million Bucks)

There’s not really any way to sugarcoat it, Liverpool is expected to win this year. Moreover, they are in a very reasonable position to compete for both the UEFA Champions League and the Premier League. I think that the team Liverpool needs to be most cognizant of is itself. This team has experienced definitive peaks and valleys of form. I would urge you to look at the Champions League group stage, where they lucked into advancing to the knockout rounds followed be a resurgence of form that saw them advance to the next round. The Reds also have a mostly healthy contingent of players except for Dejan Lovren, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Joe Gomez.

Liverpool has been in the running for a Premier League title the whole way. They opened their purse string this year and unloaded. Previously in the year, we talked about their incredible history in the top flights of England, but their inability to win the Premier League title. They are in a two-team race with Manchester City, where either Liverpool breaks their voodoo (and proves our early season Darkhorse pick as a great one) or City joins elite company with a repeat. Liverpool actually has played better on the road (foreboding music…), though their home form is no joke either. Through this point in the season, they are averaging 2.25 goals scored per game at home and just over 0.5 goals allowed per game. If Liverpool can stay consistent with their domestic form, they should be in a great position to advance to the Semi-Finals.

Since I cued up that foreboding music in the paragraph above, it’s time to talk about Liverpool in the Champions League. We talked ad nasuem about how much Liverpool have struggled on the road in the Champions League. After a bore draw in the first leg of the round of 16, Liverpool finally stepped up there game and won on the road. They did so rather emphatically recording three goals against a Bayern Munich team that has been a consistent factor in the league. Another difference for this Liverpool side away from home is that Mo Salah had a good performance in this game, capping it off with an assist. This hasn’t been the case across the majority of the Champions League campaign to the extent that he’s not even one of our “Players to Watch” (though obviously, he could be if he replicates his Premier League form). As a whole though, this team has still been dreadful on the road in the Champions League and only have 3 points to show for it. In fact, to illustrate my point they are averaging only one goal scored per game while conceding 1.5 (and those numbers include the 3-1 victory of Bayern). In the confines of Anfield, it’s a completely different story; they are averaging well over 1.5 goals scored per game and allowing roughly 0.5. One of these is a recipe for success, the other, clearly, is not.

Players to Watch:

-Andrew Robertson: Robertson has worked his way into a regular player for Jürgen Klopp’s side and it’s not hard to see why. In the Premier League he’s managed 9 assists across 30 appearances although, like most of Liverpool, his statistics are somewhat less. Across 8 Champions League appearances he has managed 2 assists and has been relatively quiet. Eventually, Liverpool is going to have to shake off the dust and make something happen. I think that Robertson is going to be the vehicle for that success — and a home game in the comfort of Anfield is a recipe for a few assists and a resurgence.

-Trent Alexander-Arnold: Alexander-Arnold is another one of those Liverpool players who has struggled in Champions League play. He’s the third-leading assist man for the team in the Premier League behind only Robertson and Mo Salah. Like Robertson, Alexander-Arnold hasn’t managed to find the scoresheet in Continental competition, but I think this sets up for a nice match. He’ll likely be on the right side of the defensive line with his defensive partner Andrew Robertson .

-Sadio Mané: Mané makes this list ahead of Mo Salah because he’s been in much better recent form. He seems to barely need to try to find the back of the net. He very much took a back seat to Salah last season who seemed to be in much the same rich vein as Mané is now. Liverpool are going to want to take a lead into the second leg away to Porto and surely no one else would be leading the attack. I would hardly be surprised if Mané was the intended target of several crosses from the formerly outlined players to watch. In addition, it was almost exactly twelve months ago when Mané scored a hat trick against the very same opponent.

What to expect in this Champions League game:

Liverpool is a massive favorite for this game, in the neighborhood of -300 or better. The odds for a draw (roughly +400) and an FC Porto win (roughly +800) don’t seem to suggest that Porto has much of a chance. However, I think it needs to be said that this Porto side has made a living out of defying expectations this season. Moreover, although Liverpool is a huge favorite, the consensus goals number is less than three which means that it should be tight, and in that case — who knows? We just might see a surprise!

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Last Updated: April 5, 2019

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