17 September 2007

Liverpool at FC Porto 09.18.07

2:45pm EST on espn2

Qualifying Round:
Liverpool: 4-0 Toulouse (h); 1-0 Toulouse (a)
Porto qualified for the group stage as champions of Portugal.

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Portsmouth (a); 6-0 Derby (h); 4-0 Toulouse (h)
Porto: 1-0 Maritimo (h); 3-0 Uniao Leiria (a); 1-0 Sporting Lisbon (h)

Referee: Lubos Michel (SVK)

Guess at a squad
Finnan Carragher Agger Arbeloa
Pennant Gerrard Mascherano Babel
Torres Kuyt

The first choice pairing of Torres and Kuyt seemingly has to start on Tuesday. Liverpool missed Torres’s class from the off against Portsmouth on Tuesday. Let’s hope he displays it against Porto and has a point to prove as well, as a big reason he left Atletico was to play in the Champions League.

Just as Torres was left on the bench against Portsmouth and should start here, barring any injury complications, Gerrard should as well. Hopefully resting him for the majority of this weekend’s match has helped; he clearly tired while playing for England, but I have to believe he’ll start in what will be one of Liverpool’s toughest group games.

And he’ll probably be paired with Mascherano, who played in both of Liverpool’s European qualifying games and wasn’t even in the squad against Portsmouth. Mascherano and Gerrard has been a formidable pairing for Liverpool. They’ve been the central midfield partnership (without Alonso or Sissoko) in 3 games for Liverpool since Masch joined. Those games were 4-0 Sheffield Utd, 1-0 Chelsea (CL) and 1-0 Toulouse (CL). Not a bad precedent.

Riise’s ruled out with a groin injury picked up while playing for Norway while Aurelio returns, but I’ll be very surprised if Fabio’s thrown directly into the squad. There had been injury concerns over Finnan, Arbeloa, and Alonso following the Portsmouth match, and if those three players are out, changes will have to be made to the backline, but it looks like Riise, Sissoko, and Kewell are the only players definitively ruled out.

Had Riise been fit I would expect him in the team, at either left back or in left midfield with Porto’s strength on the flanks. Similar to the conservatism in tough away games like Benitez used against Aston Villa. But with Riise injured and Aurelio unready, I have to believe that Babel will start on the left. I still think Babel’s better as a substitute at this stage, but Benayoun wasn’t nearly influential enough on the left on Saturday, and this is probably too tough a game for Leto to get a second start. Either Pennant or Benayoun seems likely to line up on the right, and while neither did themselves much justice in the last match, chances are it’ll be Pennant.

Despite their much-discussed personnel losses over the offseason (Pepe to Real Madrid and Anderson to Manchester United), Porto is an excellent team. Defending champions of the Portuguese Superliga, and back on top of the table, undefeated, after four games this season. Like Liverpool, they’ve been exceptionally stingy at the back. They haven’t shipped a goal in their last three, and have only let in one this season, in the first match against Braga.

Ricardo Quaresma, who’s been rumored to join basically every big club in Europe over the past couple of years, will get most of the press. Unfortunately, he’s frequently compared to his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo, and can play on either the left or right flank. The young winger leads Porto in both goals (2) and yellow cards (3). Argentinean playmaker Lucho Gonzalez is also going to attract a lot of attention in midfield, and Porto’s strength in the middle of the park is part of the reason I’m guessing Gerrard and Mascherano will play.

However, Porto has injury concerns as well, with their goalkeeper (Helton), one of the central defenders (Pedro Emanuel) and two strikers (Helger Postiga and Adriano) all probably out, while right back Boswinga, who was linked to Aston Villa over the summer, is questionable.

Benitez has already said that Liverpool could need 12 points to assure passage to the knockout rounds. If that’s to be attained, Liverpool needs to win all their home games, which is certainly achievable, and away at least once.

A win here, while getting that vital away victory, would also start Liverpool on the right foot in the competition. A weaker line-up was played against Portsmouth partly because of the international break, but also with an eye on this game. A win would definitely remove those last lingering tastes of Saturday’s draw.

Roll on Porto.

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