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Champions League

Porto vs Leicester City: Match preview and predicted line-ups

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For all their domestic strife this season, defending Premier League champions Leicester City have looked right at home amongst Europe’s elite in their debut season of the UEFA Champions League. Claudio Ranieri’s men have all but secured qualification from Group G and are guaranteed to top the group, but will nonetheless look to end their first ever Champions League group stage campaign unbeaten as they travel to second-placed Porto on Wednesday.

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The Portuguese side are in a strong position to reach the Round of 16 but aren’t home and dry yet. They lie two points ahead of FC Copenhagen in third place going into Match-Day Six against Leicester, but have an inferior head-to-head record against the Danes. A win for Porto would be enough to progress under any circumstances, but if the Portuguese do slip up against the Foxes, they must hope that Copenhagen do not win their game away at Club Brugge, a side that the Danish champions have already dispatched 4-0 at Parken this season.

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Recent form

Leicester’s Champions League campaign has been something of an anomaly this season, and the only competition in which they’ve truly replicated last season’s title-winning form. They have four wins and one draw from their five Group G matches (W2 against Club Brugge, W1 and D1 against Copenhagen and W1 against Wednesday’s opponents Porto) having only conceded one goal, and are guaranteed to progress as group winners.

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Their domestic form however has been less encouraging. The Foxes are winless in their last five in the league (D2, L3) and have only taken 13 points from their opening 14 league games, the worst start to a season made by a defending champion in Premier League history. They can take heart from their excellent form in Europe however, and with the Champions League already looking to be Ranieri and Leicester’s priority, they are likely to give a better account of themselves here as they look to carry some momentum into the Round of 16.

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Porto’s Champions League form has been somewhat more rocky. They have already succumbed to defeat against tournament debutantes Leicester at the King Power, and have only picked up wins in Group G against minnows Club Brugge. Two draws against third-placed Copenhagen hasn’t helped their cause, but their one defeat so far leaves them two ahead of the Danes on eight points going into their game against the Foxes. All in all, not a bad run of form.

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Domestically, they aren’t in bad shape but have found wins a little hard to come by of late. They currently sit third in the Primeira Liga Nos, and Saturday’s 1-0 victory over local rivals SC Braga was their first win in four, following draws against Vitoria Setúbal, title rivals Benfica, and Belenenses.

Predicted line-ups

Miguel Layún has proved his fitness since returning from injury having featured in Saturday’s win over Braga for the hosts, and he is expected to continue at left-back in place of Alex Telles. Rui Pedro, the 18-year-old who scored a debut winner against the same opponents is expected to start on the bench, whilst Felipe and André Silva are both expected to feature despite being a booking away from suspension. Porto need victory to guarantee qualification and are expected to go all out for it. 20-year-old Diogo Jota is expected to partner Silva in attack, with danger men Óliver Torres, Jesús Corona and Otávio in behind them.

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Iker Casillas and Maxi Pereira will be the seasoned veterans and familiar faces in the Porto side, having graced top-level European and international football for many years.

With Leicester already through as group winners, it is likely that Claudio Ranieri will tinker with the side that will face the Portuguese on Wednesday. Robert Huth and Islam Slimani are both one booking away from suspension, and it is likely that they will be rested to avoid any risk of them missing the first-leg of the Round of 16. Luis Hernandez is therefore expected to step into central defence, with Danny Simpson keeping his place at right-back.

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Despite serving a three-match Premier League ban, Danny Drinkwater is available for selection in Europe and should return to the Leicester team for the trip to the Estadio do Dragao. Nampalys Mendy is now fit, having been an unused substitute in the Foxes’ defeat by Sunderland on Saturday, and may be the defensive midfield player to partner Drinkwater in what would be his first appearance since August.

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Kasper Schmeichel is nearing a return but this game should be a little too soon for the Dane, so Ron-Robert Zieler should continue in goal. Riyad Mahrez is expected to feature out wide with Ahmed Musa on the opposite flank, with Jamie Vardy and in-form Shinji Okazaki the preferred partnership up front.

                                          FC Porto predicted starting XI                Leicester City predicted starting XI

Injuries/suspensions

Porto boss Nuno Espirito Santo has no fresh injury concerns ahead of Leicester’s visit to Estadio do Dragao, with centre-midfielder Rúben Neves the only doubt.

Kasper Schmeichel is expected to sit this one out as he finalises his recovery from a broken hand, whereas defender Ben Chilwell is a confirmed absentee.

Our prediction

Hosts Porto must beat the Foxes to be certain of qualification for the knockout stages. Even a draw will not be enough, as they will risk being leapfrogged by Group G rivals FC Copenhagen, who have a superior head-to-head record and face a trip to bottom club, Club Brugge. The ‘Dragons’ are struggling for goals at the moment however, Rui Pedro’s stoppage-time winner against Braga over the weekend was only their third goal in six outings in all competitions, and their only win in their previous four domestic matches.

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Leicester’s safe passage into the last 16 as group winners will mean little interest in the outcome of the match, and with their league form a priority after a disastrous start to their Premier League title defence, their focus for now must be turning around their domestic form to avoid being pulled into the relegation mire. Changes therefore are expected to be made by Ranieri which may transpire in favour of Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.

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Porto also hold a strong home record against English opposition, having lost just three in 16 at the Estadio do Dragao against Premier League clubs. Espirito Santo will hope that run can continue here for the hosts to guarantee a knockout berth. With all that in mind, Porto should just edge it. Our call is FC Porto 2- 1 Leicester City.

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Alex Hannam.

Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

Barcelona

Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Chelsea held La Liga leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Lionel Messi finally broke his goalscoring duck against Chelsea to give Barcelona the edge after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Messi had failed to score in eight previous attempts against the Blues, but he was not to be denied on this occasion as he cancelled out Willian’s 62nd-minute opener.

A Chelsea clean sheet would have been a massive boost ahead of a daunting trip to the Camp Nou next month.

However, Messi’s equaliser 15 minutes from time means Antonio Conte’s men face an uphill battle to qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe’s showpiece competition.

Here are three talking points from Stamford Bridge…

Conte’s tactical approach so nearly pays dividends

But for the fatal error that led to Messi’s leveller, Chelsea would be heading to Catalonia in three weeks’ time with a one-goal lead to protect.

That they came so close to victory is testament to Conte’s tactical nous, which stifled Barcelona while also allowing the home side to flourish.

As expected, the visitors dominated the ball throughout the encounter. However, they created precious few opportunities as Chelsea’s back line held firm.

Conte had resisted the temptation to start with an out-and-out striker, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud both named on the bench.

The fluid movement of Pedro, Eden Hazard and Willian caused more problems than Barcelona have been used to this season and the Blues’ second-half goal was a deserved one.

Heading into the second leg, Conte will need to devise another masterplan if Chelsea are to proceed to the last eight.

Third time lucky for impressive Willian

The tricky Brazilian has by no means been a regular for Chelsea this season.

But he was given the nod against Barcelona in a three-man attack that featured Hazard as a false number nine.

It’s a system Conte has favoured recently, but although it failed to get the best out of Hazard, the same could not be said about Willian.

He was Chelsea’s chief threat and, on another night, could have walked off with the match ball.

Willian twice hit the post in the first-half, showing great skill on each occasion to create space and leave Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.

Despite his misfortune, Willian was unbowed and he broke the deadlock with a pinpoint finish that raised the roof at Stamford Bridge.

It was a fitting reward for a top-class performance that highlighted his natural ability.

Surely he can’t be far away from cementing a regular spot in Conte’s starting XI?

Messi ends Chelsea goal drought to have decisive say

It is not often that British football fans get to see the little magician at such close quarters, so each time he arrives on these shores it is to be cherished.

Chelsea had a game-plan to nullify his influence and in the first half this worked superbly.

Although there were the usual sublime touches that we have come to expect, Messi was largely shackled by a solid rearguard display from Chelsea’s three-man central defence.

However, it only takes a side to switch off for a moment for the Argentinian to flex his muscles.

A misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen was intercepted by Andres Iniesta, whose pull back enabled Messi to slide the ball past Thibaut Courtois.

Once the ball had arrived to him in the box, there was no doubting where it would nestle.

Messi’s exuberant celebrations underlined the importance of his equaliser in the context of the tie.

It could be the decisive moment.

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Champions League

Porto 0-5 Liverpool: Three talking points from Estádio do Dragão

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from Estádio do Dragão, as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool dismantled Champions League opponents Porto.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Sadio Mane plundered a hat-trick as Liverpool produced a five-star performance to thrash Porto and virtually seal their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Mane opened the scoring on 25 minutes before adding two more in the second half which, coupled with goals from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, made it a hideously one-sided affair at the Estádio do Dragão.

Porto offered precious little resistance during the 90 minutes and were completely outclassed by a Liverpool side bursting with confidence.

The return leg at Anfield in three weeks’ time will be nothing more than a formality to confirm the Reds’ place in the last eight.

Here are three talking points, as Jurgen Klopp’s men sounded a warning to the European elite…

Mane emerges from the shadows of Salah and Firmino

Liverpool’s ‘Fab Four’ has been a member short since Philippe Coutinho’s big-money switch to Barcelona in January.

But there has been no sign that the Reds’ form is suffering as a result. If anything, they look stronger by the game.

By his own high standards, Mane has had a relatively quiet campaign thus far and been overshadowed somewhat by the exploits of Salah and Firmino, both of whom were also on the scoresheet against Porto.

But the Senegalese forward returned to his dazzling best on the European stage to help Liverpool take total control of this last 16 tie.

Although he had a helping hand from the Porto keeper for his first goal, which really should have been stopped, Mane took his next two with great precision to round off a sensational evening for the visitors.

Klopp will be delighted that the former Southampton man proved to be so influential in arguably their most important game of the season.

Free-scoring Liverpool will take some stopping

It is not just Liverpool’s performances in the Champions League that have drawn widespread praise, but the amount of goals they have scored in the process.

No club have netted more than the Reds, with the five they bagged in their first knockout fixture since 2009 leapfrogging them above French giants Paris Saint-Germain.

It is now 28 goals in total for Klopp’s free-scoring charges, whose attacking weaponry proved too hot to handle for their Portuguese opponents.

As they showed against Sevilla in the group stage, Liverpool’s defensive frailties can sometimes undermine them.

And when, as expected, they line-up in the quarter-finals, they are likely to face a side with much more to offer in attack than Porto did.

However, new signing Virgil van Dijk, who made his Champions League debut for the Reds, should bring stability and leadership to the back line.

On this evidence, they look like viable contenders for the main prize.

Klopp’s reign is delivering the goods

When Klopp joined Liverpool in the autumn of 2015, many Liverpool supporters believed he would bring them immediate success.

The gregarious German is still yet to win silverware at Anfield, but there is no denying the club are taking significant strides forward under his management this season.

Some of the money they received from Barcelona for Coutinho has already been reinvested into the squad and more high-profile arrivals are likely to follow in future transfer windows.

Liverpool remain prone to suffering off-days against lesser opposition, perhaps more so than any of their main domestic rivals, but they possess the armoury to blow away teams of the highest quality.

Even Manchester City, the runaway Premier League leaders, recently succumbed to the Reds’ attacking might.

As always, the proof will come at the end of the season.

But under Klopp, Liverpool are playing an attractive brand of football that is illuminating Europe.

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Champions League

Juventus 2-2 Tottenham: Mousa Dembele back to his very best in Juventus draw

Jake Jackman

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Tottenham

Tottenham earned an excellent result in the Champions League as they fought back from 2-0 down to earn a credible draw against Juventus. The Serie A team have a lot more experience in this competition, but they found wanting for game management on Tuesday, as they let a dominant position slip after an impressive opening 10 minutes.

They quickly went up by two goals after a Gonzalo Higuain brace, but the Argentine will feel disappointed at the end of the game as he could have reinstated the lead before half-time. However, his second penalty smashed against the bar. After the break, Spurs were very good and were deserving of their equaliser. Here are three talking points from the Allianz Stadium:

Tottenham have fight to go with their quality

If the team spirit of this Tottenham team was ever in doubt, it isn’t any longer as they showed great belief to fight back from 2-0 down against one of the biggest clubs in Europe. They couldn’t have had a worse start as lazy defending allowed Gonzalo Higuain to score an excellent goal. There was a hint of offside, but the visitors were switched off and not aware of the danger.

Another goal quickly followed and at that stage, it looked like it could be a thrashing. However, the players rallied and started to get back in the game by doing the simple things well. In previous seasons, their North London rivals Arsenal have been embarrassed at this stage of the competition and it looked like a similar fate was waiting for Tottenham, but they didn’t fall into the same state of paralysis.

Mousa Dembele was key to the turnaround, as he was distributing the ball well from the centre of the park. His ability to carry it forward five or ten yards was crucial in putting Juventus on the back foot. Christian Eriksen was displaying the creativity that he shows regularly in the Premier League and Harry Kane recovered from a poor miss to get on the score-sheet. Outside of the opening ten minutes, Tottenham were the better team and they have a great chance of progressing to the next round after this result.

Gonzalo Higuain’s career was summed up in 45 minutes

The Argentine international has been on the verge of being a world class player for a number of years, but he regularly fails to make it count on the big stage. It was shaping up to be his night early on as he scored a brace in the opening ten minutes. He looked in the mood and showed a clinical edge in front of goal that threatened to put the tie to bed.

However, as always with Higuain, he missed a crucial chance at an important moment of the game. Seconds before half-time, Douglas Costa did very well to win a penalty for his team with a superb run into the Tottenham box. After scoring from the spot earlier in the match, the former Napoli striker stepped up and smashed an effort against the bar.

It was a confident effort from the forward, as he put his foot through the ball, but the accuracy wasn’t there. If he scored the penalty, it likely put the match beyond Tottenham as they would have went in to half-time with low spirits. As it worked out, they went in with momentum and they used that to great effect in the second half. Higuain has had a habit of letting his team down when it matters most and that was true again on Tuesday night.

Mousa Dembele is back to his best

The central midfielder earned rave reviews at the weekend as he dominated the middle of the park in the North London derby. It was an excellent performance and Tottenham needed a similar display if they were to gain a positive result in Italy. Juventus are renowned for being well-organised and difficult to break down. If the visitors were to get anything from the game, they needed to compete in the central areas and Dembele was key to that objective.

The 30-year-old is able to deliver in both halves of the pitch and he did on Tuesday. He made five ball recoveries and was regularly seen breaking up the play high up the pitch. The midfielder’s best attribute is his power when running with the ball and that was on display at the Allianz Stadium. He completed six dribbles and was near impossible to dispossess when he was advancing up the pitch.

In addition to his ball-carrying, Dembele was effective in distributing the ball, as evidenced by his pass success rate of 95%. He made two key passes and showed a creativity that was perhaps lacking at the weekend. The Belgian international isn’t the perfect midfielder, but he is a well-rounded one and is crucial for Tottenham when he is in this vein of form. They will need him to deliver a similar performance in three weeks’ time at Wembley.

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