Reds return to European action on Wednesday with a potentially testing last-16 first leg tie in Portugal…
The consensus, when Liverpool were pitted against FC Porto in the draw for the Champions League last-16 back in December, was an overwhelmingly favourable one.
Such positivity was understandable given the Merseysiders, who have made it past the group stage of the competition for the first time since 2009, could have faced Real Madrid, Juventus or Bayern Munich.
The tie remains one the Reds will fancy their chances of winning but it is unlikely to be easy against a team who currently sit top of the Primeira Liga, unbeaten, and two points clear of second-placed Benfica with a game in hand.
The first leg could be especially key with Porto winning all but one of their league games at the Estadio do Dragão this term, whilst also overcoming RB Leipzig and Monaco there during a group stage in which they finished runners-up to Besiktas in Group G with 10 points.
Interestingly, Sergio Conceicao’s side, who also hold the upper hand over rivals Sporting Lisbon after the first leg of the semi-final of the Portuguese equivalent of the FA Cup, possess a comparable playing style and set of strengths and weaknesses to their upcoming opponents.
Dangerous going forward but often suspect defensively, Porto regularly deploy a front three and look to hit teams at pace on the counter.
Key to their attacking play is Vincent Aboubakar, a powerful 25-year-old striker regularly linked with a move to the Premier League.
During the group stages the Cameroonian international netted five times in five appearances, only bettered within Liverpool’s ranks by Roberto Firmino (six in six), and boasts 26 goals in 32 appearances for the Dragons overall this term.
Unfortunately for the hosts, Aboubakar is a big doubt for the first leg due to a muscular issue. Also uncertain to feature are midfielder André André (ankle) and defender Ivan Marcano (wound), while Felipe Monteiro is suspended.
Should the Portuguese side be successful on Wednesday it will represent their first ever win over Liverpool with the previous four meetings ending in two draws and two defeats.
The most recent encounter came at Anfield in 2007 when a Fernando Torres double helped the Reds to a 4-1 Champions League group stage victory. The two teams had drawn 1-1 in the reverse fixture at the Dragão two months prior.
Porto, European champions under José Mourinho in 2004, warmed up for the latest meeting with a comfortable 4-0 away win at Chaves on Sunday.
Liverpool, who beat Southampton 2-0 over the weekend, are without the banned Emre Can, so captain Jordan Henderson, who was rested against the Saints, is set to return. Joe Gomez is doubtful with a knee problem.
There is a big difference between the quality of opponent Porto face domestically and this current Liverpool outfit. The hosts have some notable injury concerns but even with a clean bill of health it is difficult to see how they can contain Jürgen Klopp‘s side defensively over two legs. The Reds might not win on Wednesday but we fully expect them to at least notch an away goal or two. It wouldn’t be Liverpool if there weren’t a few nervy moments along the way but it would be a big shock if the Reds don’t reach the quarter-finals.
The match will be broadcast live in the UK on BT Sport 2. Kick-off is at 7.45pm GMT.
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