Champions League Tactical Preview: Porto vs Malaga

We are in the second week of the Champions League which always brings us interesting tactical fights. We now analyze Malaga's visit to the Estadio de Dragao to take on Porto...

By Kaustav Bera

While both Porto and Malaga can be considered as rank outsiders for the eventual Champions League crown, both teams would be contented in their own way, at drawing each other in the Round of 16. They will know that playing their natural game, will allow them to ease past the opposition and progress to the next stages. It will also be an interesting tactical battle between new and old, between Vitor Pereira and the massively experienced Manuel Pellegrini.


How Porto Attack
How Malaga Defend
Porto, as demonstrated in their recent draw against Benfica, are at their best when they play high tempo attacking football. If they decide to sit back and build up slowly, especially against a devastating counter-attacking team like Malaga, they are only calling for trouble.

Usually playing in their 4-3-3 shape, Fernando - their deepest lying midfielder joins in the midfield three with Joao Moutinho being the playmaker in the side, who can find those difficult passes, with apparent ease. Lucho Gonzalez meanwhile is adept at playing the box -to- box role, in his second spell at the Portuguese champions.

The front three of James Rodriguez who is back to full fitness, Varela and Jackson Martinez are a handful for any team, let alone Malaga. While Jackson Martinez is not a Falcao or a Hulk, the 6 ft 1 in centre forward has already scored 20 goals in 19 matches for Porto. Besides his obvious goal scoring prowess he loves dropping deep to build up play. Both the Porto wingers are creative players and will likely cut in, allowing the two full backs lots of space to get into crossing positions on either flanks.
The Spanish side, who have been one of the revelations of this season's Champions League and who are still unbeaten in the group stages, are  a free flowing attacking side, under veteran tactician, Manuel Pellegrini. While they will not be expected to go for it at the Dragao, and will most likely play on the counter.

While defending, playing the 4-2-3-1 system and playing the double pivot with Jeremy Toulalan and Ignacio Camacho serving as defensive screens will certainly be employed to double up on the Porto wingers who love cutting in to devastating effect, as well checking the runs of the Porto midfielders. This will allow the full backs to track the overlapping runs of Porto's two attack minded Brazilian full backs.

Meanwhile Joaquin and Baptista will drop deep to make two defensive walls of four while Isco or Saviola can apply pressure on the Porto central defenders, when they do not have the ball. Martin Demichelis, who has revived his career in Spain will be tasked with keepting Porto's hulking forward, Jackson Martinez quiet.

How Porto Defend
How Malaga Attack
Defensively, the Porto side look compact and difficult to breach. Here the key role is played by Fernando, the deepest of the three central midfielders in the side. When Porto lose the ball, Fernando will drop back and make it three Centre-backs in the middle and thus effectively outnumber the Malaga attackers in the box, providing himself as an extra man to check the runs of the full backs or midfielders.

While James Rodriguez will come to help out his defense, on the other flank Varela will stay up front to counter. Joao Moutinho who is equally good while attacking as well defending will team up with Lucho Gonzalez to harass the opposition when they have the ball and will press from the front through Jackson Martinez who loves dropping deep to help out his team.

Relentless pressing coupled with quick ball movement will allow Porto to absorb pressure and counter devastatingly.
While Malaga will come to the Dragao to look solid at the back and not be exposed to too much ambition in attacking, they will look to definitely nick a goal on the break especially with their fearsome attacking players, with plenty of pace to burn.

Isco, as usual will play the key role and deployed in the hole, just behind the striker he plays the role of a 'central winger' as he loves to drift into space on the flanks, taking his marker with him and freeing up space for a midfield runner or a winger to cut in.

Saviola too will use all his experience and guile as he would look to drop deep and draw out the Porto central defenders to create space for either Baptista or Isco to exploit. On the right wing, however Joaquin loves to stay out wide and will be a steady stream of crosses or drilled in balls into the box for the team to attack. Little attacking impetus is expected from the two central midfielders who would look to hold their position and break up play. Toulalan though can play the key role of transitioning from defense to attack, as he would look to release any of the forward runners.



Strengths –

Porto: The return of James Rodriguez on the right wing will allow Vitor Pereira a sigh of relief as the right winger is the main creative inspiration for the Portuguese champions. Moreover, Joao Moutinho's dynamic play in midfield will be a cause for concern for the opposition in midfield as he is equally adept at building up play, as he is at breaking it down. The burly figure of Jackson Martinez who is having an emphatic goal scoring season in Portugal will also trouble any central defender. Lucho Gonzalez's lung bursting runs from midfield and Varela's intricate wing play and a fierce shot too will be potent weapons for the Dragons.

Malaga: Fast tempo and counter attacking suit Manuel Pelegrini's side really well and that is what they will come to accomplish at the Estadio de Dragao. The double pivot in their 4-2-3-1 formation gives real solidity and shape to the team. Moreover, with their full backs mostly staying behind they can be compact yet devastating on the counter as they possess a remarkably skillful attacking quartet. While Joaquin is a traditional winger able to take on any fullback with his bag of pace and trickery, Julio Baptista who will likely play in the place of Eliseu will like to drift inside, exchanging positions with Isco who will start off centrally but can drift anywhere, where he finds space. The experience of the diminutive Argentinian, Javier Saviola will come in handy too as he will often drop deep to shake off his marker and will make those mazy runs off the shoulder of the last defender.

Weaknesses –

Porto: The two Brazillian full backs are defensively quite suspect and might give the opposition too much space to exploit. Young Alex Sandro will be expected to have a pretty tough time, up against the wily Joaquin. Porto's wingers who love getting in centrally may be starved off space by the two central defensive midfielders employed by the opposition, thus nullifying their attacking prowess, with Jackson Martinez practically sandwiched by the two central defenders.

Malaga: While the central back pairing of Martin Demichelis and Weligton look composed and confident this term, injuries in key areas might haunt the Spanish team. Eliseu, who has been a revelation in the Champions League this season, both attacking and defensively will be a big miss down the left. The sale of Nacho Monreal to Arsenal has also weakened the Right hand side of the defense. While Diego Lugano has been brought on loan to add experience to the side, his lack of pace can be troubling. Camacho and Toulalan, though solid defensively, really add very little in attack and most of the attack will be on the young shoulders of Isco.

Porto Key Player: James Rodriguez
Malaga Key Player: Isco
All eyes will be on Colombian wonder kid, James Rodriguez who has been on the radar of the top European clubs for quite some time now, with Manchester United looking to offer a sizeable sum for the 'creative right winger'.

Possessing oodles of skill and panache, Rodriguez can be dangerous on his day. A powerful presence, he is equally adept at bullying past a defender as well as beating him with skill. Moreover he is also armed with a powerful shot that can test any keeper worth his salt. As it was seen against PSG in the Champions League group stage, he carried the team entirely on his shoulders as PSG recorded a comfortable 1-0 home win.

"Posed PSG problems with his intelligent movement and was ready to shoot on sight. Denied by a terrific Sirigu save with nearly half an hour played and flashed a fine volley just wide early in the second period. Got his reward late on with a world-class finish."
The new sensation from Spain, Isco has everything going for him. Ideally a central attacking midfielder there are different dimensions to his game. Never content to stay centrally he is what you can call a 'central winger' as he loves opening up space to unlock the defense and can often take out two or three defenders out of the game.

He has been brilliant for Malaga this season, not only in scoring goals, but assisting as well. With 2 goals and 2 assists in 4 appearances in the Champions League this season, Isco has set the stage on fire. Brilliant in counter-attacking and linking up play, if Malaga wish to bring back something from Portugal, it will be entirely upto him to do the unthinkable.

Who do you think will win this tie? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @hopelessk.

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