13 February 2018

Liverpool at Porto 02.14.18

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 2

Group Stage results:
Liverpool: 7-0 Spartak (h); 3-3 Sevilla (a); 3-0 Maribor (h); 7-0 Maribor (a); 1-1 Spartak (a); 2-2 Sevilla (h)
Porto: 5-2 Monaco (h); 1-1 Besiktas (a); 3-1 RB Leipzig (h); 2-3 RB Leipzig (a); 3-0 Monaco (a); 1-3 Besiktas (h)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Southampton (a); 2-2 Tottenham (h); 3-0 Huddersfield (a)
Porto: 4-0 Chaves (a); 1-0 Sporting (h); 3-1 Braga (h)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Firmino 7; Salah 6; Coutinho 5; Can, Mané 3; Alexander-Arnold 2; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge 1
Porto: Aboubakar 5; Brahimi, Danilo, Felipe, Herrera, Layon, Marcano, M Pereira, Telles, Tiquinho 1

Referee: Daniele Orsato (ITA))

Orsato also had the home leg of the Champions League playoff against Hoffenheim.

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Wijnaldum Henderson Milner
Salah Firmino Mané

3,227 days.

That's how long it's been since Liverpool were in a Champions League knockout match.

4-4 at Chelsea, an utterly furious, bonkers encounter where Liverpool almost, somehow, but finally didn't overhaul a 1-3 first leg deficit.

That was almost nine years. Four managers ago. Unsurprisingly, there's not a single player left in that season's side, not since Lucas Leiva went to Lazio. Five of Liverpool's starting XI – including three of the four scorers – have since retired from football.

It has been way too long.

Karius should and hopefully will keep his place in goal, it'll be Matip or Lovren to partner van Dijk. Maybe Moreno comes in from Robertson, but I doubt an away European knockout round is when he makes his return to the XI, not with 10 days following this match until the next. And while Joe Gomez is included in the squad, he's seemingly in a similar position, a shorter injury layoff but also having just returned to training.

And, as usual, there are questions about the midfield composition. Emre Can's suspended, so we're down four midfielders for three places. Or, really, two from three, as Jordan Henderson's certain to start. Will he be joined by Milner, Wijnaldum, or Oxlade-Chamberlain? Probably the first two, with Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench if needed either in the front three or midfield, the most versatile sub of those midfielders. As happened against Tottenham. But I wouldn't be surprised by any of them starting.

At least we're sure what the front three will look like.

Meanwhile, Porto. Top of the Portuguese League. Unbeaten in the Portuguese League. They've won ten and drawn just one at the Estadio do Dragao, with six clean sheets.

There are a few names in the Porto squad that American soccer fans will recognize: Hector Herrera, Jesus Corona, and Diego Reyes. All three feature for the Mexican national team, at least two will start tomorrow. Porto made – and still make – use of value from the Brazilian market, and now they're doing it with Mexico.

As for the others. Danilo's definitely out injured, but more players are listed as questionable: Aboubakar up front, Andre Andre in midfield, Marcano in defense. Center-back is Porto's biggest concern; if Marcano's unable to start, with Felipe also suspended, it'll have to be Yordan Osorio partnering Reyes, a January signing yet to feature for the club.

But it's the Champions League and I've no real clue so let's guess everyone's available. That should lead to an XI of Jose Sa; Ricardo Pereira, Marcano, Reyes, Telles; Corona, Herrera, Sergio Oliveira, Brahimi; Marega, Aboubakar. That left flank is terrifying, with Brahimi behind only Aboubakar and Marega in goals, and with Telles and Brahimi Porto's top two assist creators. It'll be a massive test for either Alexander-Arnold or Gomez, and whomever plays on the right side of midfield, because Liverpool do not need Mo Salah having to track back all match.

If Aboubakar can't go, it'll be Triquinho, and if Andre Andre's available, maybe we'll see a diamond midfield rather than a more orthodox 4-4-2, as in the last group stage game against Monaco.

With the first leg away from home, against compact, resilient, difficult opposition, I'm tempted to think we'll see what Liverpool tried to do against Villarreal in the 2015-16 Europa League semifinal. A surprisingly defensive Liverpool, reliant on the counter and preserving the second leg home advantage. It didn't quite work, with Villarreal finally scoring late late late on, but it ultimately worked with a 3-0 second leg win.

I'm also tempted to think that'd be a mistake. For all of "Porto are tough to beat," Porto win games with their goals, and finished second in their group because of big wins over Monaco (twice) and Leipzig, scoring three, three, and five in those matches. And we know what Liverpool are capable of when sitting back and hoping for the counter. Sometimes we get Sunday's Southampton game. Sometimes we get the second half against Tottenham.

We saw similar to that Villarreal match in Liverpool Champions League qualifier at Hoffenheim. Liverpool won 2-1, Hoffenheim had all the possession, and it worked, but Liverpool needed a phenomenal free kick from Alexander-Arnold and an own goal, and for Hoffenheim to fail to convert three clear-cut chances – including a saved penalty – before they finally got a consolation late on. And, like against Villarreal, it was moot after the second leg with a riotous home performance.

But it's worrisome. And it's not where Liverpool are usually at its best.

It's been too long since Liverpool were in this position. So do what got you here. Do Liverpool.

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