Borussia Dortmund will go head to head against FC Porto in the Westfalenstadion on Thursday – but what are the strengths and weaknesses of the Dragons? Tom Kundert from Portugoal.net provided us with all ins and outs on FC Porto ahead of the Europa League clash.
Porto’s season – the story so far
To the surprise of many, Julen Lopetegui was kept on as FC Porto coach in the summer despite a trophy-less 2014/15 season with undoubtedly the strongest squad in Portugal. Failure to negotiate the group stage of this season’s Champions League, coupled with a series of indifferent domestic results, saw the Dragons finally lose patience and show the Spaniard the door in January.
Results did not improve under interim coach Rui Barros, or the new man at the helm, José Peseiro, but the 2-1 triumph at bitter rivals Benfica on Friday has brought a ray of hope to what has generally been the continuation of a traumatic spell in the club’s recent history for its fans.
Used to emphatically ruling the roost at home and being competitive in Europe, Porto have been unrecognisable in recent years. Despite the victory in Lisbon on Friday, Porto remain third in the standings, 6 points behind leaders Sporting. Barring a storming end-of-season run, the Dragons are likely to go a third successive campaign without winning the Portuguese title.
A sign of how far Porto have fallen is that they go into the Europa League tie against Borussia Dortmund as firm underdogs in most people’s eyes in Portugal, whereas in previous seasons the consensus would have been that the Blue and Whites have at the very least a 50/50 chance. The fact Porto’s most consistent performer, Danilo, misses the first leg due to suspension only accentuates Dortmund’s favouritism.
Porto have a handful of high-quality players, especially in midfield. Anchorman Danilo Pereira has been excellent since moving from Marítimo in the summer and looks a lock in Portugal’s Euro 2016 team. Physically imposing with excellent anticipation, Danilo provides a formidable barrier for opposition teams at the base of Porto’s midfield. As such, Dortmund should look to take advantage of the fact he is suspended from the first leg, especially given the defensive problems facing Porto (see below).
Ahead of him André André has also done better than expected since arriving in the summer. Son of a former Porto great, his quick, creative and accurate passing, not to mention his goal threat, are factors that have combined to make him a firm fans’ favourite.
Algerian winger Brahimi, who can also play infield in a No10 role, is the team’s most talented player. An outstanding dribbler, he is very difficult to stop when on his game, but has consistency and attitude issues. Nevertheless, Dortmund should be warned he tends to step up his game in the big matches.
Porto’s defence – far from watertight at the best of times – is decimated by injury and suspension for Thursday’s game. Centre-back and captain Maicon has been shipped out to São Paulo in disgrace after a goal-costing mistake and subsequently walking of the pitch, apparently injured, in a shock 2-1 home defeat to Arouca two weeks ago. Spanish central defender Marcano is doubtful with injury and right-back Maxi Pereira is suspended.
Even 19-year-old Nigerian novice Chidozie, who did a decent job after being drafted in against Benfica, is unavailable because he is not registered in the UEFA Europa League squad. B-team centre-back Diogo Verdasca faces a baptism of fire alongside Dutchman Martins Indi.
Although Peseiro has shown an inclination to shift to a 4-4-2, given the short time he has had to imprint his ideas on the squad he has been forced to stick to Lopetegui’s 4-3-3 system for the most part since his appointment last month. Given Porto’s fragile frame of mind and seemingly brittle back line (only a superb performance from Casillas prevented Benfica from scoring numerous goals on Friday), Peseiro will surely have to subdue his naturally attacking instincts and opt for a cautious approach, which could translate into something akin to a 4-2-3-1. Cameroonian striker Aboubakar can expect to plough a lonely furrow in Dortmund.
Whatever they may say publicly, Porto no doubt go into the game with a degree of trepidation. However, it is sometimes when the team is at its lowest ebb that the pride and passion that has been behind so much success over the last three decades comes out, as indeed was seen on Friday. If Porto can bring the tie to the second leg at the Estádio do Dragão still alive, they will consider it a job well done.