Liverpool have a breather from the pulsating title race developing in the Premier League, as they get the chance to seek European glory instead. The next obstacle in their route in the Champions League is Porto, whom the Reds met last year and beat 5-0 on aggregate. Nevertheless, it would be remiss of the Reds not to take their opponents seriously, so here are the potential key battles for Tuesday’s first leg.
Sadio Mané vs Maxi Pereira
Sadio Mané scored a hat-trick against Porto last year, tormenting Ricardo Pereira that day. He also was the key man from that flank against Bayern Munich. Sadio has been a big game player in his Liverpool career, especially in the Champions League and against potentially 34-year-old Maxi Pereira, he could be destructive. Pereira has been the first choice in that position, although he’s not been the only option used there, and it remains to be seen exactly who Porto will give the unenviable task of stopping Liverpool’s most in-form attacker.
Mo Salah vs Alex Telles
Speaking of attackers in form, Mo Salah returned to goalscoring form with his first goal in nearly two months against Saints. He lines up against Porto’s Alex Telles, who is the first name on the Porto team-sheet and one of their key players. How Salah lines up against an attacking full-back is always interesting, does he track back more, or stay forwards and give the full-back another thing to think about?
As far as Porto are concerned, Telles could be an absolutely vital outlet, assuming Salah doesn’t track him, and his eight assists in the league and Europe indicate that he’s a major creative force for Porto. On the other hand, Salah gave Telles all manner of problems last year, and he won’t have forgotten that.
James Milner vs Jesus Manuel Corona
It might be Alberto Moreno filling in for Andy Robertson at left-back following Robbo’s suspension. I think it’ll be James Milner but either way, if there’s going to be a weak link in Liverpool’s team it will be at left-back, and Corona will probably line up off the right wing for Porto, where he has had a strong season. He’s Porto’s most creative player alongside Telles with 10 assists, so he’ll be an outlet that Porto will look to utilise. It’s important for Liverpool that they provide cover for Milner, as if there’s a chance for Porto, it’ll be exposing that side of the pitch.
Virgil Van Dijk vs Moussa Marega
Marega has six goals in the Champions League and 23 goal contributions in all competitions. He’s thriving in this Porto system, especially in Europe, and although his fellow forward Tiquinho Soares has more goals than his team-mate, Marega is the one that will be dealing with Van Dijk and he looks very dangerous.
All of that said, Van Dijk is in the form of his career, and looks nailed on to make the Team of the Year, as well as being a huge candidate for Player of the Year. Porto will have their work cut out to score against him.