Champions League Tips: Tough games for both Reds and Barca to come unstuck again

Champions League Tips: Tough games for both Reds and Barca to come unstuck again

Liverpool should not underestimate in-form Porto

Porto v Liverpool
Tuesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport

It is dangerous to draw conclusions from matchday one of the Champions League, and particularly in the case of this season’s edition, already so full of twists and turns. Yet Liverpool could not have done much more a fortnight ago to place themselves firmly among the favourites to lift the trophy come early summer 2022 in Saint Petersburg.

The impressive opening night performance against AC Milan will need to be replicated in northern Portugal on Tuesday night where Sérgio Conceição’s Porto await. Some supporters will be expecting a fairly straightforward task, which Liverpool’s record against the Portuguese giants would justify on paper at least – the two met most recently in the quarter-finals on The Reds’ way to victory against Tottenham in Madrid in 2019, and at a comfortable 6-1 aggregate margin.

That is one of two last eight appearances Conceição and company have made in the last three years, an impressive effort given the widening gap between Europe’s leading clubs and its traditional powers, not to mention Porto’s slow climb out of Financial Fair Play trouble in recent years. It is perhaps obvious to point out that they are by far the hardest of the pot 3 teams Liverpool could have drawn (much as was the case with Milan) in this toughest of groups, and that they have shown their resolve in an unbeaten start to the Portuguese Liga season.

What is perhaps more useful is to talk about Porto’s current credentials in a Champions League context. Perhaps blinded by Diego Simeone‘s enduring aura and Milan’s historical greatness, some would back Conceição’s team to even finish last in this group. Nobody who saw them on opening night would be labouring under that being anything more than an unlikely possibility.

Porto should have won at Atlético Madrid, quite simply, edging the game, showing every bit as much fight as their hosts and even being denied a late winner when Mehdi Taremi’s goalbound effort ever so slightly brushed his hand on the way, according to VAR after several replays. This carried on from the give-no-quarter side that Conceição has built to compete with Europe’s best in recent years, knocking out Juventus last season and pushing eventual champions Chelsea harder than either Atlético or Real Madrid were able to in the knockouts.

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It has been a difficult summer for the club, with some unsettling moments for key players like Jesus Corona and Sérgio Oliveira, who were both expected to leave but ended up staying, and have taken a while to be reintegrated into the squad. Set-piece specialist Oliveira made his case for being restored to the starting XI with a stunning free-kick winner in Friday night’s victory over Gil Vicente.

Jürgen Klopp‘s side were irresistible against Milan at Anfield. They steamrollered the Italian giants in the first period, which contributed to making it barely believable that they trailed at the interval. Any slips against Porto – and particularly against the prolific Mehdi Taremi, the scorer of a spectacular bicycle kick in vain against Chelsea and another jaw-dropper from near halfway on Friday night – will be punished. Liverpool go in as the favourites, but it is likely to be tight.

No let up for Ole in Emery rematch

Manchester United v Villarreal
Wednesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport

This rematch of the Europa League final could not come at a trickier time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on the back of Saturday’s poor performance in home defeat to Aston Villa and the shock reverse at Young Boys on matchday one.

United will need to breach one of Europe’s less forgiving defences, with Unai Emery‘s side as yet unbeaten in La Liga and arriving fresh from a creditable draw at Real Madrid – a game in which they had the opportunities to snatch all three points.

More woe for Koeman’s Barca

Benfica v Barcelona
Wednesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport

Despite the boost of Ansu Fati‘s goalscoring return in the win over Levante, Barcelona are a long way from being a contender and suffer from little depth.

Benfica, meanwhile, have won seven out of seven to begin their Portuguese Liga campaign and have an enviable armada of attacking options, led by Darwin Nuñez and new arrival Roman Yaremchuk, who have 4 Liga goals each.

A big impact in the Champions League is an itch Jorge Jesus badly wants to scratch and his team will be ready for this.