Ladies and gentlemen, it is Champions League time. I am very, very excited as Liverpool travel to Portugal to take aim at the leaders of the Premeira Liga, FC Porto. The Reds are back in the Champions League knockout stages for the first time since 2009, true competitive European football has been scarce on Merseyside in the last decade and Jurgen Klopp’s team need to be doing everything in their power to break through the glass ceiling that has been pressed against us since 2005. Here’s The Anfield Talk’s Anthony (@anthonymarkmcav) with the preview for the first leg.
DATE: FEBRUARY 3RD 2018
WHERE: ESTADIO DE DRAGAO
WHO: FC PORTO VS LIVERPOOL
TIME: 19:45 (GMT)
There’s some big news in regard to the Liverpool side this week, with 26-year-old right-back, Nathaniel Clyne returning to first team training for the first time this season. He had been out with a major back problem, requiring surgery and a lengthy time out of the team. I doubt Clyne will be ready to face Porto but to have him back is nice.Embed from Getty Images
Ragnar Klavan is also back in the squad after his recent injury problems. Joe Gomez requires a late fitness test prior to tomorrow’s game. Emre Can is also suspended for the game.
Felipe is suspended for the home side, whilst they have their own injury issues to deal with too. Vincent Aboubakar, Danilo Pereira and Andre Andre are all due a late fitness test ahead of the visit of Liverpool. Ivan Marcano is also a doubt but should be good to start at the back for Porto.
With Emre Can out, Jordan Henderson will return to his starting berth after sitting out against Southampton. Loris Karius will also retain his position over multiple competitions for the first time this season. Virgil van Dijk will make his Champions League bow for an English side and will probably be partnered by Joel Matip despite Jurgen Klopp teasing som re-wiring at the back.Embed from Getty Images
Andy Robertson could be replaced by Alberto Moreno for this one, despite the Scot’s head truly being in the clouds after an impressive run of form.
I’d like to see James Milner come into the midfield too, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s firery form dipping a little as of late, and I think the boring style of football on offer from the former Manchester City man would serve us well in the hostile atmosphere of Portugal.
The front three picks itself as per. This is what I want to be my side:
Liverpool: Loris Karius, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson; Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijndaldum, James Milner; Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino.
Porto: Iker Casillas, Alex Telles, Ivan Marcano, Diego Reyes, Ricardo Pereira; Yacine Brahimi, Sergio Oliveira, Hector Herrera, Jesus Corona; Moussa Marega, Tiquinho Soares.
Porto come into this game undefeated in the league, winning 17 and drawing four times in Premeria Liga this season. They finished second in their Champions League group, behind Besiktas. If you want to see more on how Porto are shaping up ahead of the game, read Adam’s talk with FC Porto fan, Brandon, here.
Embed from Getty Images
As for the Reds, they managed to get back to winning ways with a routine 2-0 win over Southampton on the weekend, with Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah really running the show once again. I’m so glad to see a partnership as thick as thieves in red yet again.
The Key Battle: Alex Telles vs Mohamed Salah
It’s a miracle that I haven’t written about Mohamed Salah in this section of the preview in so long but here, where we REALLY need him to be firing, he’s got it difficult. Alex Telles is hotly tipped as one of the better left-backs remaining in the Champions League and he could cause the Egyptian a few problems.Embed from Getty Images
The pace and football IQ of the Brazilian defender could leave Salah with some issues in terms of getting in behind like he loves to do, however, I don’t think anything could really stop him this season. I’ll cite the second goal that he scored against Spurs a couple of weeks ago because that is Messi level goalscoring.
What Klopp Said:
“Last summer we dreamt of it and now we are here.
“It feels good and everything is prepared. Last 16 means 16 really, really good football teams face each other.”
On whether the tie can be killed in the first leg: “Does that happen a lot in the Champions League? That one game decides it? I’ve not thought about it. But we believe in Anfield. We know it’s a place where the crowd can make a difference. But to use that in the second game we need to do the job in the first game.We are looking to get a result to give us a chance in the second game. But it will be hard, we know that.”
“The system will never win the game. It’s about the players and their decision making and doing the right thing in the right moment. Throwing your heart on the pitch giving everything you have. Systems are very important but only to bring players in their best positions. I respect Porto a lot. They are a mixture of football and fight, experience and youth, well organised and fluent. I like it.”
“to be honest, they’ve not played 20 times against a team like us. We are not too bad and we know that as well. We want to show it and use it, and we will see tomorrow night and in two weeks. I know it’s a close race, no problem with that.”
“I hate to talk about the round after the actual round. Only because I am a friendly person I answered a question. Usually in private if I get asked a question about the next round, I leave the room immediately. Only because we are live on television I haven’t done it.”
I think Porto come into the game as underdogs, but the tie could explode into life with an impressive outing from the Portuguese side. Whatever happens, they’ll put up a good fight. However, I am eternally optimistic and I see Liverpool coming away with a 3-1 away win, setting us up for a comfortable second leg. My stress level and my happiness could do with that.