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3.10.2022Champions League

Our next opponents: The Dragons in a tight spot

Porto are under pressure ahead of the game against the Werkself on Tuesday night 4 October (kick-off: 21.00 CEST). The team coached by Sergio Conceicao have lost both their games in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League and are now looking to get a result at last. The Dragons were successful in the Portuguese league at the weekend ahead of the clash with Bayer 04 with a former Leverkusen player in the starting line-up. The lowdown on our next opponents.
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Position

Porto were on top form in the league on Friday night and appear to be in good shape for the match against the Werkself. The Dragons, third in the table, played second-placed Sporting Braga and, thanks to a 4-1 victory, they moved to within three points of league leaders Benfica who drew 0-0 with Vitoria Guimares. In front of 45,000 spectators at the Estadio do Dragao they were 2-0 up at half-time with two goals in quick succession from Stephen Eustáquio (32’ and 34’) with great work from Mehdi Taremi in the build-up play for both strikes. The two Brazilians Pepê (63’) and Galeno (90+6’) added two more goals in the second half the clearly dominant hosts. The consolation goal for Braga came from an own goal by Porto's 39-year-old captain Pepe.

The team led by coach Sergio Conceicao remain third in the Portuguese league but they are back in touch with the league leaders Benfica who had extended their lead to five points. Porto have six wins, one draw and one defeat after eight games.

While the champions and cup winners of last season are on track in the national competition, they have no points in the Champions League after two defeats in the first two group matches. An unlucky 2-1 defeat at Atlético Madrid, where they had to swallow the decisive goal 11 minutes into added time, was followed by a bitter 4-0 defeat at home to Club Brugge. The big club from the north-west of Portugal are currently bottom of Group B.

Personnel

As in recent seasons, Porto have had to let a number of key players join other clubs this year. Striker Luis Diaz joined Liverpool in January 2022. This summer saw playmaker Fabiola Vieira (22) join Arsenal in the Premier League. And midfield maestro Vitinha (22) is now earning his money in France at Paris Saint-Germain. At Porto they are used to players moving out. The club has long enjoyed an excellent reputation for its academy work. They again have a high quality squad, capable of competing at the highest European level, with certain key personalities standing out. In addition to coach Sergio Conceicao, who has been working in the city on the Douro since 2017, there is the experienced captain Pepe. The 39-year-old defender has won the Champions League three times with Real Madrid, he became a champion of Europe with Portugal in 2016 and he moved on to Porto in January 2019 where he had already played between 2004 2007. In addition to the central defender, goalkeeper Diogo Costa and new signing David Carmo (23) from Sporting Braga are regular starters. Wendell was back in the starting line-up at left-back in the 4-1 win against Carmo's old club. The Brazilian, who played for the Werkself for seven years from 2014 to 2021, is not always a name on the team sheet.

The experienced Colombian Mateus Uribe (31) is a crucial player in central midfield. The Canadian Steven Eustáquio (25) has also established himself as a key performer there too. In attacking midfield, the talented Otávio (27), who has missed several games due to a rib injury, and the Brazilian Pepê (25) are regular first choices.

Up top, the Iranian Mehdi Taremi (30), an international teammate of Sardar Azmoun, and the Brazilian Evanilson (22) played a decisive part in Porto winning the league title for the 30th time last term with their goals tally. Taremi with 20 goals was second top goalscorer in Portugal behind Benfica's Darwin Núñez (26). Evanilson scored 14 goals. The strike partnership has been reliable again this season with Taremi netting five goals and Evanilson four. A new signing in attack is the young Brazilian winger Gabriel Veron (20, from Palmeiras) who has come off the bench in every game this season.

Performers

Defensive solidity coupled with attacking penetration: With coach Sergio Conceicao at the helm, Porto have maintained that balance again and again despite players moving in and out of the club. When the Blue and Whites became Portuguese champions with ease they not only scored by far the most goals (86) but also conceded the fewest (22). The main star of the team, as many people say in Portugal, is the coach. "Sergio is the most important person in this team, he is a born leader, a man who lives intensely for the job and the club. That symbiosis has led us to the title," said the former Porto goalkeeper and now vice-president Vitor Baia about Conceicao who scored three goals against Germany with Portugal at Euro 2000. The now 47-year-old has won three league titles with Porto and he also won the domestic cup twice. Experienced defender Pepe praises his coach in the highest terms: "The club can count themselves lucky to have a coach like that. The important thing is he stays here."

Problems

The Porto defence was unusually porous in the 4-0 defeat at home to Club Brugge. With all four goals conceded, the hosts defence was not up to speed and were unable to deal with the fast passing game of the Belgian side. After two defeats in the first two group matches, the Blue and Whites are now under pressure and definitely have to get a result against Bayer 04 to at least maintain the chance of finishing second in the group. 

Prediction

The Dragons go into Tuesday night's match with plenty of confidence after the 4-1 victory in the big match against Sporting Braga. The expectations of their fans are high: In 2021, they only went out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals against eventual winners Chelsea. Last season Porto finished third in the group stage behind Liverpool and Atlético Madrid. And because they went out of the UEFA Europa League in the round of 32 two and a half years ago against the Werkself following two defeats (1-2, 1-3), that memory may well provide additional motivation for the Conceicao team.

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