Sunday, January 29, 2023

FC Porto 1-5 Liverpool: Three things as Reds run riot in Portugal

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Given what happened on the two previous occasions when these teams met at the Estadio Dragao in Porto, it’s not really surprising that Liverpool thrashed Porto again in the second round of the Champions League Group B. One would have, however, expected the home team to have prepared better for an encounter with a well-known opponent.

Be that as it may, Liverpool took the lead through Mohamed Salah in the 18th minute. Just before halftime, Sadio Mane doubled it. Salah struck again on the hour-mark, and 15th minutes later, Mehdi Taremi took advantage of one of the few moments when Porto looked dangerous to give the home supporters some hope. However, Roberto Firmino, who had come on to replace Salah, quickly struck twice to stifle any thought of a late drama and set the final score.

Porto helpless

It will have been a night to forget for the Portuguese side. There is obviously something about Liverpool’s chemistry that seriously affects their ability to link up and show the quality they undoubtedly have. There is real talent in their ranks – most notably, Otavio, Luis Diaz and Vitinha – but it simply wasn’t on show on Tuesday evening.

There didn’t seem to be any clear plan about the way they tried to attack. The way the visitors play – the relentless high pressing and tendency to win possession as high as possible – was certainly a factor that contributed greatly to the fall of Sergio Conceicao’s men, but the general feeling is that they could have expected such an approach from a team under the command of Jurgen Klopp and devised some form of a counterstrategy. They either didn’t, or they completely failed to put it into action.

Porto occasionally tried to bypass the problem with long passes towards the strikers. That went some way to explain Conceicao’s decision to play with two men upfront, something he rarely goes for. After all, Brentford were highly efficient at it against Liverpool’s high defensive line at the weekend.

But it didn’t work. Taremi and Antonio Martinez didn’t work as well as Brentford’s attacking duo on Saturday, and Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip, Liverpool’s two centre-backs, were more alert this time and won duels time and again. Only twice did Porto threaten seriously throughout the contest, with Alisson Becker stopping Diaz’s shot from a great position and Taremi beating Liverpool substitute Joe Gomez in the air to score Porto’s only goal.

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At the back, Porto repeatedly made mistakes, with glaring ones from left-back Zaidu Sanusi and otherwise very good goalkeeper Diogo Costa playing a big part for Salah’s opener and Firmino’s first goal. Sanusi was replaced by Wendell in the 56th minute, but the damage was already done.

Liverpool’s plan

To be fair to Porto, it’s always very difficult to defend against Liverpool when they play like this; better teams have been run over as well since Klopp took charge at Anfield. The Reds are really fierce when they attack down the flanks, with the fullbacks, in their own way, just as dangerous as the wide forwards, with whom they have an excellent level of understanding.

Liverpool’s attacking approach frequently managed to force the Porto players narrow, which obviously left a lot of space out wide, where they moved were allowed to move forward practically at will. James Milner started on the right in the place of the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold, and at the age of 35, he put in an excellent defensive performance against the talented Luis Diaz, occasionally linked with Liverpool himself. He was also able to contribute at the other end, most crucially in the 45th minute when he assisted Mane for the second goal. There’s really no need to talk overmuch about Andy Robertson on the left; the Scotland captain has been doing what he does in a brilliant manner since establishing himself as a regular starter in 2017, and Klopp will be hoping that the presence and form of Kostas Tsimikas from the start of this season will spur him on to greater heights and consistency.

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And yet, it always comes down to Liverpool’s incredible forwards. Some of the goals may have been results of mistakes from the opposition, but it still requires a great presence of mind, often displayed by the greatest attacking players in the world, to repeatedly make them count on the scoresheet. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski obviously spring to mind, but there’s no doubt that those playing for Liverpool right now belong in the same bracket.

Curtis Jones

Klopp was notably delighted, even if he wasn’t surprised, with excellent early-season performances from 18-year-old Harvey Elliott. Curtis Jones, 20, was forced to show patience as he waited in the shadows, hoping for a chance to stake his claim for a starting spot. The chance came eventually in a form nobody at Liverpool, Jones included, would have been happy about as Elliott suffered a serious ankle injury set to keep him out of action for several months. Nonetheless, Jones took it with both arms.

The youngster was voted Liverpool’s Player of the Match in Porto. He was everywhere, and the energy he showed as he completed four dribbles and made two assists, along with a lot of smart pressing and hard defensive work he put in, perfectly reflected a young player on the rise, fighting to nail down a regular starting spot. Elliott might be looking on and thinking it’ll be difficult to reclaim it when he returns from injury, but Klopp will be extremely pleased with the situation where he doesn’t need to look back with regret on the decision not to sign a ready-made replacement for Georginio Wijnaldum who left the club this summer. These two youngsters look more than capable of doing the job.

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All in all, Liverpool have done a fine job in the Champions League so far, topping the group with a maximum of six points from the opening two matches. They won’t be feeling too much pressure to win when they go to Madrid to face Atletico on October 19th, though they’ll certainly want to take some revenge on the team that knocked them out of the competition in 2019-20. Their attention now turns to the Premier League, where they face defending champions Manchester City on Sunday.

On the other hand, things are much more serious for Porto, who find themselves in the situation where they absolutely must win their clash with last-place AC Milan at the Dragao on the same evening.


Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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