Porto vs. Liverpool Tactical Preview: Will the Reds Invite the Visitors to Run at Them?
- Liverpool are big favorites over Porto in the first leg of their Champions League Quarterfinal fixture.
- Will Jurgen Klopp set up his team to attack Porto? Or will the Reds be more reserved and look for the opportunities?
Liverpool vs. Porto Betting Odds
- Porto ML: +900
- Liverpool ML: -350
- Draw ML: +420
- Over/Under 3
- Time: Tuesday, 3 p.m. ET
- TV: UniMas
A little over a year ago Porto faced Liverpool in the first leg of a Champions League knock-out match. In that game Liverpool’s front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah combined to score five goals between and made the second leg a formality.
With manager Jurgen Klopp’s maniacal, relentless high press in its highest gear, Liverpool turned Porto over dozens of times, fed the ball directly to their high-flying forwards and reaped ample rewards.
It’s tempting to say that Liverpool will likely run out the same gameplan that worked for them last year. But Klopp has eased on the press at times this season: Liverpool are picking and choosing when to run with numbers and when to stay home.
When out of possession, Liverpool’s ball-side forward will frequently drop into the midfield line, turning the Reds’ 4-3-3 into a 4-4-2 to preserve defensive rigidity.
This tweak has meant a number of different things for Liverpool. It’s kept their star forwards fit over a grueling Premier League campaign and has given Liverpool’s fullbacks — Andy Robertson especially — the opportunity to become more involved in the attack. The Scotland international’s overlapping runs and fizzed-in crosses have been key to unlocking Sadio Mane.
With Robertson providing Liverpool’s width from the left, Mane has been free to roam, to the tune of 17 Premier League goals, his highest return to date.
But Robertson is suspended for the first leg for yellow card accumulation. All that means is Liverpool will plug in James Milner, human Swiss Army knife and owner two assists in the 5-0 win last year.
Milner is emblematic of what Klopp wants from his midfielders: work hard to win the ball back, then give it to someone faster and better than you. Liverpool spent more than £100 million on cultured midfielders Fabinho and Naby Keita to the squad, only for both to get benched by Boring James Milner.
Klopp’s Liverpool will frequently play with more than one of these holding midfield types — don’t be surprised to see Milner at leftback, with Jordan Henderson next to him in the midfield.
They’ll be shielding a back four led by Dutch center-back Virgil Van Dijk, who might be having the best season any center-back has ever had.
It’s easy to give the forwards license to roam when they have that giant chart behind them.
On the other side, Porto are actually far better equipped to try and stop them this year. Club hero Pepe arrived from Real Madrid over the winter to partner with Eder Militao in the center of defense and Moussa Marega has scored in six straight Champions League games, including the winner against Roma in the Round of 16.
And Oliver Torres, no longer bound by the shackles of Diego Simeone’s defense-first-and-also-second regime, has rediscovered his ability to dribble through everyone on the field at will.
Porto usually line up in a lopsided 4-4-2, with the wingers trading shifts slightly further up the field. They’ll aim to counter attack through the wings and get Marega in isolation situations in the penalty area.
It’s the kind of strategy Liverpool have struggled with in the past — when their fullbacks join the attack, they invite counter attacks that end in crosses to the back post. Teams like Burnley have used that playbook against Klopp’s Liverpool before.
For Liverpool to be able to kill this two-legged affair off in the first round like they did last year, they’ll need to cut off the supply to Marega; against a team like Porto, that might be reverting to what they do best and turning the game into a track meet.
Who Klopp chooses to play in his midfield three will say a lot about his intentions: if Naby Keita or Xherdan Shaqiri start, expect to see Liverpool playing a more expansive game and daring Porto to run with them. If that’s the case, it could be a question of how many for them and at that point, taking the Reds -1.5 goals becomes an enticing option.