Liverpool’s Champions League fate was decided on Monday morning when they were drawn against FC Porto in the last 16 of this years competition.
The Reds qualified as group winners with 12 points out of a possible 18 and knew that they could face the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or Juventus in the last 16.
But former Reds midfielder Xabi Alonso paired Liverpool with FC Porto, with the two legged tie set to take place in the new year.
The two sides last met in November 2007, with the Reds overcoming the Portuguese outfit by 4 goals to 1. But lots has changed for both sides since then.
To get some more information on the sort of team Liverpool will be coming up against, we spoke to Jan Hagen, a freelance writer that specialises in Portuguese football.
— Anfield HQ (@AnfieldHQ) December 11, 2017
What was your reaction when you saw that Liverpool would be facing FC Porto in the last 16? Do you think this could be an interesting tie?
I’m really looking forward to this Porto vs Liverpool tie. The two teams’ set-up and tactical approach isn’t too contrasting and they should suit each other well as they are both best when going forward with great pace.
How will FC Porto fans be feeling about this draw?
Many Liverpool fans celebrated the draw, understandably, considering the opponents they potentially could have faced, but so did plenty of Porto fans as well.
Liverpool’s incredible top-level is known to everyone, but if Porto can catch them on an off-day, they would be more than capable of punishing the Merseyside club.
Porto will hope to shock football Europe once again, like they did less than 3 years ago, when big favorites Bayern München traveled to north Portugal and lost 3-1 to Os Dragões in the quarter-final of the Champions League.
Unfortunately, the Portuguese side was unable to hold onto their impressive lead and lost the opposite tie in Germany 6-1 to Pep Guardiola’s team after a complete Porto meltdown.
The round of 16 #UCLdraw has been made 😍
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What can you tell us about FC Porto? How have they performed this season and what type of team are they?
Porto have seen great improvements under the guidance of Sérgio Conceição this season. The Portuguese left his job at Nantes and cut his salary in half this summer to manage Porto, the club he won five titles with in three seasons as a player, including three consecutive Liga titles.
The reunion was an instant hit and 14 Liga games into the season Os Dragões are still unbeaten and topping the table ahead of eternal rivals Sporting and Benfica.
The optimism is finally back in Oporto after the city’s proud football club has gone more than four years without winning a single trophy. Such a title drought hasn’t hit Porto in more than 40 years.
Who are FC Porto’s most eye-catching players?
Compared to the 2016/17 version, Porto have looked far more threatening going forward under Sérgio Conceição’s leadership.
Especially Vincent Aboubakar and Moussa Marega, who for some reason were loaned out last season, to Besiktas and Vitória Guimarães respectively, have been outstanding and given the Portuguese side a whole new attacking dimension, with their pace and strength.
The African duo have already hit the target a doubled figured number of times this season, with the Cameroonian scoring 20 times in 22 games, while the Malian has netted 10 in 19 games.
The third and last member of FC Porto’s terrifying front three is Yacine Brahimi. The Algerian, who has been heavily linked with Liverpool’s Merseyside rival Everton, has resurrected following a disappointing season and performed at a consistently high level the first half of this season.
The 27-year-old doesn’t have the same pace or strength as his fellow African teammates, but his technique and abilities one-on-one are outstanding and he is often the man launching Porto’s lightening counter-attacks with brilliant passes.
Porto also have two very talented fullbacks in Alex Telles and Ricardo Pereira, who have proved to be key when the Portuguese side is attacking.
Not only to provide width, as both Marega (when playing out wide) and Brahimi tends to cut inside rather than stay wide, but also with their great abilities to pick out Porto’s frontmen with some incredible crosses.
Alex Telles already have four assists this season, mainly due to his accurate left-foot that has been behind many of Porto’s set-piece goals this season.
And on the subject of set-pieces, Sérgio Conceição’s side has scored an impressively eight of their 15 group stage goals directly from or following set-pieces, most by any team in the Champions League. With the Reds’ struggling with defending set-pieces of late, it might be Porto’s (not-so-)secret weapon to eliminating Liverpool.
Porto’s centre-back duo, Marcano and Felipe, have already scored 6 goals from corners this season. The latter will miss the ties against Liverpool through suspension, but Porto have plenty of tall players that will provide a big threat in the air, such as the already mentioned Aboubakar and Marega, but also midfielder Danilo Pereira could be a danger man inside Liverpool’s box.
Speaking of Danilo Pereira, the Portuguese international will be key if Porto want to eliminate the Merseyside club. He has had a great season so far and the 26-year-old is more than good enough to make life very complicated for Liverpool’s attacking players.
His ability to read the game, cut off passes and muscles his opponents off the ball will make him a frustrating man to Jürgen Klopp’s men. Danilo is likely to have Héctor Herrera by his side in midfield when Porto and Liverpool walk out at Estádio do Dragão in February.
The Mexican has had a few underwhelming and quiet seasons in Portugal, but the Porto captain, with the help and guidance of Sérgio Conceição, has finally woken up and is looking more and more like the hard-working pit bull Os Dragões signed him to be.
Do you think Liverpool’s strengths could expose FC Porto’s weaknesses? What would you say their weaknesses are?
Porto biggest uncertainty is their goalkeepers. Goalkeeping legend Iker Casillas had a marvellous 2016/17 season, but the 36-year-old was relegated to the bench after just a couple of months of the current season.
The choice of giving the 23-year-old José Sá the chance was “purely technical” according to Porto manager Sérgio Conceição himself and the Portuguese international has repaid Conceição’s trust him in by delivering performances at a decent level.
Although Sá’s displays have been satisfying, his authority and off-the-line goalkeeping are something that needs improving and something Liverpool could try to exploit. The ginger-beard goalkeeper has looked increasingly more confident between Porto’s sticks, though, and with even more games and experience under his belt before the Champions League returns in February, he should be ready for Liverpool’s visit.
The squad debt might be a problem as well for Porto, who due to breach of the financial fair-play, only are allowed to register 21 first team players for the Champions League. With Felipe already out through suspension, Sérgio Conceição’s side can’t afford to lose many more.
Lots are looking at this game as one that should see Liverpool progress to the next round. Do you think it could be harder for Liverpool than many think?
All in all I think these clashes between two of Europe’s most free-scoring teams will be extremely interesting and entertaining. While Jürgen Klopp’s heavy metal football is a joy to watch, it might also be the perfect match for Sérgio Conceição’s superb counter-attacking side.
Playing at Estádio do Dragão is far from a walk in the park, either. Just ask the two latest English teams, both reigning Premier League winners at the time, to visit Porto’s dragons’ den. Leicester left with five goals to null last season, while Chelsea lost 2-1 on their Champions League visit the year before.
One thing’s for sure, eliminating this Porto side will be much tougher for Liverpool than what many expects it to be.
Os Dragões are tactically and physically at a great level and they look far better than what they have have done in recent years. Liverpool are justified favourites, but don’t be surprised if Porto make a real fight out of this tie.