Now it is time to turn our attention to the Champions League. For a quick recap on how we did in the group, we finished first with twelve points in Group E. Sevilla finished second. We could have drawn Madrid, Juventus, or Bayern Munich, but drew Porto instead. On paper it is a great opportunity to advance, but Porto are a very strong side. They are currently on top of the Portuguese league and have not lost a game in the league. Clyne and Klavan are back in training, and Can is suspended for this game.
Out of all of the teams that progressed in the Champions League, Porto allowed the second most goals. So although they may struggle a bit defensively, they make up for it with their attacking prowess. They have a front three who are formidable, and also have the player with the top assists in the Portuguese league in their left back. Knowing that this game is at home and the next one will be at Anfield, Porto will try to go all out for this game to leave themselves in the best position possible for the return leg.
For us, we stick with our 4-3-3 and go with Karius; Gomez, Lovren, VVD, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Henderson, Milner; and finally Mane, Firmino and Salah up top.
I mentioned that their left back is the top assist man in Portugal and a great offensive threat. So I think we try to take that away from them. If their forwards do not get the service they need, they will not produce many chances to score. So in attack I think we station Salah as high and as wide as possible. Firmino will also drift over to the right side and combine with him. Mane can fill in for Firmino and manoeuvre centrally to take that space. With all this going on in that side of the field, the chances of Porto’s left back bombing forward is less likely, because he will not want to leave Salah and Firmino free to wreak havoc in the Porto defence. And now the top source of opportunities for Porto’s forwards is gone. With these extra numbers on the right-hand side it should be easier to win the ball as well.
Defensively I think we show no fear and press higher than usual, but not for very long. We still have the league to worry about and we do not want to run our players into the ground, but we have to be aggressive in these kinds of competitions if we want to win them. An emphasis on overloading our right side defensively may be in order to leave less room for their attack on that left-hand side. Maybe we start the game for ten minutes with the high block and go all guns blazing. Hopefully this will strike fear psychologically and we can then take advantage. Overall a zonal approach should be the way to go in this game.
Both Porto and Liverpool have high octane offences with maybe questionable defence. I expect a high score. That being said, I think we have higher quality defensively and offensively, so if I had to pick a winner I would pick Liverpool.