So far in Europe, it’s been a breeze for FC Porto. With 16 points from a possible 18 and only conceding 6 goals in the entire group stage, the Dragons have made themselves a force to be reckoned with in this year’s competition.
Sérgio Conceição has managed to keep the core of his squad in tact and has also put together a back 5 in which the majority of Europe will be envious of. With Éder Militão, Felipe, Pepe, Alex Telles protecting Iker Casillas goal, and with the always consistent Danilo Pereira in front of them, breaking up play and linking defence and attack, this is a rock-solid Porto team. Roma may have scored goals for fun against Barcelona and Chelsea last season, but they’ll struggle to break down this Porto defense.
Of course, Roma have enough firepower in attack to take Porto to the cleaners. Stephan El Shaarawy has found a solid level of form this season, coupled with the always dangerous Edin Džeko and the teenage prodigy Nicolò Zaniolo. This will undoubtedly be Porto’s toughest test in all competitions this season so far, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Dragons can adapt to take on the most talented team they’ve played so far this season.
Furthermore, it’s going to be a tough task to see how the team can adapt with the talisman Moussa Marega out sidelined with a muscle injury for both legs of this tie. Marega has been so reliable for Conceição’s side not just with his goal contributions but also his endless running, which has been a staple of this FC Porto side under Conceição’s stewardship.
Another deciding factor will be fatigue. The same group of players have been consistently used this season by Conceição due to budget constraints, trust from the manager and the overall quality of the squad being dominated by a core group of 15 players. Perhaps the biggest indicator of this is at left back, with Alex Telles having played an astounding 35 games in all competitions this season. Against Zaniolo, who has been a headache for left backs in Serie A this season, this is not exactly ideal.
In regards to the tie, I see it being won and lost in the midfield. Porto will need Hector Herrera and Danilo to rediscover top form, as recently they’ve dropped off the boil, which can be seen in some of the recent league performances. It’s also key to get the rejuvenated Óliver Torres on the ball as often as possible to create things and make things tick, as he’s done whenever he’s stepped onto the Dragão this season.
On the other hand, Zaniolo has been outstanding so far this season for Roma, so it’s integral to Porto’s chances to keep him at bay at all costs, stifling his involvement wherever possible to ensure he doesn’t produce a masterclass in which Roma fans will be used to seeing at this point.
All things considered, I really like the look of Porto’s chances here. It’s a huge loss to not have Marega for this game, as he’s been fantastic this season. However, Yacine Brahimi and Jesús Corona have it in them to step up and produce some magic when Porto need it most.
I’m backing Porto to go through , but this tie is potentially the hardest to call out of all the remaining fixtures in the round of 16. I do however see it being a low-scoring affair, with Porto going through on away goals or by a one-goal margin. Either way, I’m excited to see Yacine Brahimi’s (potentially) last Champions League tie in the famous blue and white.
By: Ellis Platten
Photo: CARLOS COSTA / AFP/Getty Images