We’re now in mid-April and the end of the season is just a calendar month away. The Champions League quarter-finals are all tightly poised, and we preview Wednesday’s two matches — Porto vs Liverpool and Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur — here.
Porto vs Liverpool
(0-2 on aggregate)
Liverpool are perhaps the only team in the final eight of the Champions League this season to go into the quarter-final second leg feeling relatively comfortable. They take a 2-0 lead to Lisbon and followed it up with a good 2-0 victory over Chelsea at the weekend.
Fatigue could be a factor given that the Chelsea game was a competitive one — many other quarter-finalists had the chance to rest and rotate this weekend.
Apart from Joel Matip for Dejan Lovren and Andrew Robertson for James Milner, the starting XI against Chelsea was the same as the one that faced Porto last Tuesday. It seems likely that the team will be virtually the same on Wednesday as well.
Porto also played a close-to-full-strength line-up, with seven starters the same as the team who played Liverpool, picking up a 3-0 away win at Portimonense.
Both of Liverpool’s matches in the past week could have been a lot closer if their opponent’s principal forward had finished their chances better. Eden Hazard missed two great chances on Sunday, and in the first leg Moussa Marega missed all three of his shots on target (which were Porto’s only shots on target in the match).
Marega was back on form in Porto’s match on Saturday, getting a goal and an assist in the win. Liverpool will feel good with their two-goal cushion, but if Marega gets a goal early on in the tie then things could get interesting.
Given that Liverpool played such a similar team against Chelsea as who is likely to play in midweek, it’s interesting that Porto will have had an extra day’s rest. Although 24 hours might not sound like much, there are some who think it can give a side an edge — and, if Liverpool lose, it’s sure to be brought up.
All eyes will be on Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian has only scored three goals in his 13 appearances since the start of February, but scored a world-class goal against Chelsea. The former form could make Wednesday a slog for Liverpool, but the latter could lead to a convincing second leg win.
Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur
(0-1 on aggregate)
As with the Porto-Liverpool tie, an extra day of rest for one team could give an edge in this match. Not only did Tottenham play on Saturday while City faced Crystal Palace on Sunday, but Spurs were able to rotate much more coming up against Huddersfield.
A number of first-team players were rested in their 4-0 win, although the fitness of Dele Alli and Harry Winks is uncertain, and Harry Kane will definitely be out for the second leg. City played most of their first-team players against Palace, but won 3-1 away from home fairly comfortably.
The 1-0 win in the first leg means that their meetings this season have both ended with that scoreline, so there hasn’t been a lot to separate them. With Kane’s injury, though, Spurs will be without their star striker — both he and Aguero have scored five goals in the Champions League this season.
Aguero has averaged one every 84 minutes, the second-best rate of anyone who’s scored five or more, behind only Lionel Messi. Spurs will be hoping this doesn’t mean he’s due one if he plays the full match on Wednesday.
How Pep Guardiola decides to line his team up will be anyone’s guess. He changed the system in the first leg, bringing in Riyad Mahrez on the right and pairing Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho in a conventional 4-2-3-1.
It didn’t seem to work — although had Aguero scored his penalty we might have a different view on that — and it took a long time, too long, for him to change it.
Will Guardiola have learnt from the first leg to get the tactics right from the outset? Or will he overthink himself into changes that he then shies away from reverting? That could be the deciding factor in the tie.
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