Our writer previews the UEFA Champions League encounter between Porto and Leicester City.
Leicester City’s remarkable run in the Champions League has echoed the achievements of Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, defying expectation at every turn and capturing the hearts of millions. It has come at a price, however, as domestic form has plummeted, and a relegation battle doesn’t look outside of the realms of possibility.
Porto know that a win may be mandatory as Copenhagen lurk menacingly in their rearview. Nuno Espírito Santo's side have also struggled to maintain consistency this season but seem to have found a semblance of it recently.
UEFA Champions League | Wednesday 7 December | Estadio do Dragao | 21:45
To Win (90 Mins)
FC Porto 3/10 | Draw 39/10 | Leicester 17/2
Santo knows that his side may just need a win to assure qualification for the next stage. Copenhagen host Brugge and are expected to win comfortably.
Porto also possess an inferior head-to-head record with Copenhagen, meaning that they essentially have to win. They picked up an attritional win over Braga in the league at the weekend and will be hoping that Leicester use this as an opportunity to rest some of their assets. Miguel Layun and Reuben Neves look likely to miss out this week for the Portuguese side.
This Porto side will likely dominate possession, and they have a host of technically accomplished players in their ranks. Andre Silva has been revelatory for Portugal and Porto, showing that he is going to be a major part of their success going forward. Yacine Brahimi and Adrian Lopez have combined well going forward, and I suspect that their technical proficiency and speed of ball retention could leave Leicester’s heads spinning.
Historically, Porto have shown an improving trend against English opposition. Overall, their record doesn’t make for great reading. They have lost 18 out of 33 games. But in their previous 16 encounters they have only lost 3. So much for the supremacy of the English Premier League then.
The Jekyll and Hyde act of European football return to the glorious solace of Europe as their domestic campaign stutters and stammers to find any momentum. Claudio Ranieri may just use this as an opportunity to rest key players and prioritise the league.
But knowing the Italian, he’s just as likely to respect the competition’s integrity and play his strongest side. In any event, they may have to play their strongest side to prevent demolition by a talented Porto side.
Islam Slimani has some home ground advantage having played for huge Portuguese title-rivals Sporting Lisbon. His physicality has left a big impression in Europe, but I suspect that he may start on the bench as Ranieri hopes Jamie Vardy’s pace will pay off on the counterattack.
Shinji Okazaki has been impressive recently and at least seems to be eager to run the channels. Vardy looks downcast and uninterested. Danny Drinkwater and Daniel Amartey are going to have a difficult night containing the elaborations of the Porto midfield.
Verdict: Porto Win (3/10)
Necessity being the mother of invention and all of that stuff. Comforting homilies aside, this Porto side is just better than a Leicester side that has been exposed badly in the English Premier League this year. And let’s be honest, they couldn’t have wished to draw a better group than this one.
Porto have taken some time to get going, slightly overawed by their visit to the King Power Stadium - much like various visiting English sides last year. Nonetheless, the Portuguese should come out on top this time around.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets