Avoid set-pieces, freshen the midfield & five things Liverpool must do to prevent Porto collapse

Jurgen Klopp's Reds take a 2-0 advantage into Wednesday’s second leg at Estadio do Dragao

The Estadio do Dragao holds fond memories for Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool team.

It was only 14 months ago that the Reds went to Porto and won 5-0, the worst defeat the Portuguese champions have suffered on home soil in their rich European history. The Valentine’s Day Massacre, they called it.

On Wednesday, Liverpool know a narrow defeat, never mind a comprehensive victory, will be enough to see them safely into the Champions League semi-finals. A mouth-watering tie against Barcelona awaits.

Last week’s 2-0 success at Anfield has put Klopp’s team firmly in the driving seat, though the Reds boss was quick to dismiss suggestions afterwards that the tie was already over. “The game is still open and we still have to fight,” was the German’s message.

Still, the bookmakers rarely get it wrong, and some have Liverpool as short as 1/50 to qualify. It would be a shock for the ages if the Premier League leaders were to come unstuck.

Here’s what they need to do to avoid it…

Learn from past failures

Milan Pavkov Red Star Belgrade Liverpool 2018

Liverpool lost all three of their away games in the Champions League group stages, producing abject performances in both Naples and Belgrade before a narrow loss in Paris.

They played well when seeing off Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in the last 16, but there has been a worrying theme emerging on the road in Europe this season – they rarely start well.

In Naples, in Belgrade and in Paris, they faced loud, hostile atmospheres. On each occasion, Liverpool offered encouragement to the crowd (and the home players) with sloppiness, lethargy and nerves. They were two down early against both Red Star and PSG, and could barely string three passes together at Napoli.

Even in Munich they began slowly, albeit hindered by an enforced change in personnel when Jordan Henderson limped off. They gained control of that game eventually, but they won’t want to be giving Porto the chance to start on the front foot. An early goal could change everything in this tie; Liverpool have to be the ones looking for it, not shipping it.

Freshen the midfield

Georginio Wijnaldum Liverpool 2018-19

There will, inevitably, be some debate as to the make-up of Klopp’s starting XI, with a big Premier League clash with Cardiff looming.

But we can surely expect all of his front three to start. All looked in good nick against Chelsea, and an hour of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino could easily be enough to get the job done.

Similarly, the defence pretty much picks itself with Dejan Lovren absent. Joel Matip will start, while Andy Robertson, suspended for the first leg, returns at left-back.

It is in midfield where the rotation could come, and could be needed. Liverpool have started Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita and Fabinho in the last two games, and the balance has looked good.

But both James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum are vying for starts, and it would no surprise to see one or both come back in. Both have the energy and industry to boss a game of this type, and would allow Klopp the chance to rest both Keita and Henderson, the latter of whom picked up a knock last weekend.

Beware the wounded animal

Mohamed Salah Sadio Mane Liverpool Porto

As stated, Liverpool inflicted a harrowing defeat on Porto here little more than a year ago.

What psychological effect will that have? The Portuguese side must have feared a repeat when two goals down after 26 minutes at Anfield, but recovered well to keep the tie alive thereafter.

In front of their own supporters, they will be desperate to show that last year’s thrashing was an anomaly. As Klopp himself said: “when we won 5-0, I thought we should probably not go back there for a long time.”

They’re back pretty soon, in fact, and they’ll need to beware a pumped-up Porto, who would love to get revenge for 2018.

“It’s clear, 2-0, what would we do?” Klopp said. “That’s the simplest question to ask: we would go for everything.

“If we were 2-0 down and going into the home leg, would we think we were out? No way. That’s exactly what Porto are thinking.”

Avoid set-pieces

Liverpool v Porto 2019

Klopp cut a satisfied figure after the first leg, and no wonder. The clean sheet, the two-goal advantage, it was manna from heaven in a Champions League knockout tie.

Still, not everything pleased him.

"We gave a few too many set pieces away,” Klopp said in his post-match press conference.

“I think Porto score about 40% of their goals from set pieces. They are really good at that and you don’t want to give too many of them away. That’s how it is. But we defended them well.”

He’ll hope his players are a little more judicious when making tackles in the second leg, and that his defence stands as firm as it did at Anfield. Porto, make no mistake, carry a big threat from dead balls.

Don't play for the draw

Virgil van Dijk Jurgen Klopp Liverpool 2018-19

It’s the ultimate dilemma for a manager. Your instinct is to play for the win, but you know that a draw, or even a narrow loss, will be enough.

Article continues below

Liverpool’s most famous such occasion came in 1989 when a 1-0 loss to Arsenal would have given them the league title. We all know what happened at Anfield that night.

This team, generally, is not one that settles for draws or takes backwards steps. It backs its ability to defend and keep clean sheets, but it functions best on the front foot, and it is important that the Reds are able to be themselves in Portugal.

“We go there to win the game, that’s the plan,” said Klopp. “It’s not easy, we know that, but we should not think about anything else because that’s always the aim.”