Two historic clubs go head to head in the hope of a victory to keep their maverick players together.
No Strangers To European Cup Romance
Valentine’s night sees two of the most romantic winners in Champions League history dancing cheek to cheek in Portugal in the first leg of the last 16.
During the pre-Galáctico power vacuum at the top of elite European competition, Jose Mourinho’s Porto surprised everyone but Benni McCarthy by stepping up to win the damn thing in 2004.
A year later Liverpool took the crown; Djimi Traore, Steve Finnan and the rest making it look easy against an almost laughably star-studded Milan team on that magical night in Istanbul.
International Purveyors Of Really Signable Lads
We’ve come a long way since Jose and Rafa Benítez represented the future of the game, with both of these teams too caught up in a constant cycle of regeneration to be considered consistent title contenders.
It is sadly obvious that some romance-averse players and agents don’t consider either team to be genuine heavyweights on the European stage. Money talks and despite being huge clubs with great histories, both sides are forced to sell their top brass the second the true elite come knocking.
A combined ‘Transfers Out’ XI could feature an eye-watering array of talent, with the likes of James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao, Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe and Hulk alongside Mascherano, Torres, Xabi Alonso, Luis Suárez, Raheem Sterling and Coutinho.
Attacking Free For All?
Jurgen Klopp’s current Liverpool side guarantees serious entertainment, with free-scoring speedy strikers and brain-farting drowsy defenders making games for the neutral this season more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
Against Burnley and Man City recently they looked determined to hurl comfortable leads into the bin which is exactly what they managed against Sevilla in November and in the recent bonkers 2-2 draw with Spurs.
You can’t say the Scousers aren’t ruthless enough. In their Champions League group, they scored 23 goals, spanking seven past Spartak Moscow and Maribor, with Marauding Mo Salah and Ransacking Robbie Firmino already sharing nearly 50 goals between them this season.
Either they’re focusing on entertaining to the detriment of their defensive duties, or they don’t have the fitness for 90 minutes. Or they’re just like the liver bird on their club crest: sharp at one end, crap at the other.
Klopp’s penchant for a rollercoaster 90 minutes has been tempered recently by the decision to sell his best attacker and buy a great big new defender with the readies.
Liverpool will be hoping Virgil Van Dijk continues to keep the vibe extra chill in defence, after a 2-0 victory over Southampton this weekend which was strangely devoid of Liverpool’s trademark adrenaline rushes.
If Liverpool's defence aren't at the races then there's chance of a real bloodbath – I'm sticking my house on a 12-13 scorelineover the two legs. Whilst you might grumble about the standard of opposition, Porto's own form in front of goal is remarkable, humping home on average 2.5 goals per season in all competitions this term.
What do you need to know about Porto boss Sérgio Conceição? Yet another bright young managerial thing to emerge from the Iberian Peninsula, he’s served his coaching apprenticeship in Greece, Belgium, France and Portugal.
A fine 6-month rescue job at Ligue 1 outfit Nantes was enough to persuade former club, Porto, to take him on in the summer, and it’s been going just swimmingly – his swashbuckling side are currently on course for their first league title since 2012/13.
In other news, he looked like the most 90’s Portuguese winger of all time and knobbed in a strangely crap major tournament hat-trick against Germany, sending them home in disgrace from Euro 2000.
Have we ever seen so much African attacking talent on the same pitch in the Champions League?
In FC Porto, Liverpool come up against another team whose first names on the teamsheet are the front three. Pace and firepower from Cameroonian Vincent Aboubakar, who has 26 goals in 32 games this term, and Malian Moussa Marega, are backed up by the skill and vision of Algerian winger Yacine Brahimi.
Whilst for the Reds, Senegalese livewire Sadio Mané should start for Liverpool up front with Egyptian magician and Jermaine Pennant’s silhouette twin, Salah.
The teams have met just twice in the Champions League previously, during the 2007 group stage. They shared a draw in Porto whilst Liverpool romped home comfortably at Anfield.
Check out this glorious vintage footage, swoon at fully firing Fernando Torres and roll around in tears at the phrase "Good Old Rickety-Sticks Peter Crouch".
Despite Liverpool’s historical advantage, Porto ought to be full of confidence in a season in which they are unbeaten domestically and have bested Monaco 3-0 and 5-2, with Aboubacar bagging a brace in each.
They’ll also be keen to exploit their set-piece expertise (no one averages more successful aerial duels per game in Premeira Liga this year) with the visitors still trying to solve this long-term Achilles heel at the back.
A Case For Scooby-Doo?
Iker Casillas is the only man in either squad with a winners’ medal, having hoovered up three of Platini's best bits of bling at Real Madrid. San Iker, a man who’s been playing Champions League football for a exactly a month longer than Liverpool’s Ben Woodburn has been alive, is no longer first choice.
The 37-year-old is currently being kept out of the team by a man calling himself José Sá, who denies all allegations that he is, in fact, the manager from Bend It Like Beckham in a bad stick-on Viking beard.
Cover image - PA. Stats via WhoScored.
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