Champions League Betting Preview: Liverpool – Porto, Spurs – City
April 9, 2019
What a week of football we’ve got ahead of us. The Champions League is back, featuring four English teams who will all be hoping to progress. We know at least one won’t be making it to the next round, as the first round of fixtures sees Tottenham Hotspur face Manchester City in a what will be a hotly contested, all-English tie.
Liverpool also take on Porto at Anfield, a prospect Jurgen Klopp will be eagerly anticipating. We’re going to take a look at some of the biggest talking points for each match, as well as their likely line-ups and predicted score. There’s a lot to get through, so let’s jump straight in.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City
New Home and New Hopes?
City have just played a FA Cup semi-final, but it won’t be another Wembley trip to Tottenham for travelling City fans this time around. Spurs have finally found themselves a new home. What a wonderful stadium it is as well, perhaps even worth the repeated delays and wait the fans have had to endure! In all seriousness though, Spurs now have one of the finest arenas in world football. The only question is whether or not they can live up other glorious new surroundings.
To some, this change of scenery might not seem like much. After all, it’s not like the team or fans have changed in any way, they simply now get to sit in better seats. However, the symbolic value of the shift cannot be overstated. In recent years, Spurs have always seemed just a few parts short of being the finished article. They’ve firmly established themselves as a top-four side and have begun the first steps of crafting a unique footballing identity on the pitch. However, they always seem to lack something in the most pivotal moments. This has led to many criticisms of the club’s mentality and whether they seriously consider themselves to be one of the elite sides.
At times, Spurs haven’t helped dissuade these accusations. Last summer they became the first Premier League side to not make a single transfer for the duration of the window. Now you could point to their current position and spin It into a positive; look how well they’ve done despite that. This isn’t the thinking of the most successful sides though. They should be asking where they would be if they had strengthened. The new ground is almost an equaliser to this though, as it clearly shows ambitions above their current station.
It won’t take long to see the benefits of this either. One of these might be its effect on Mauricio Pochettino, who has spent much of the season being linked to pastures new. Now though, he’s at the helm of a young, exciting squad in one of the best stadiums in the world. In short, where Spurs once looked like an almost side, they now look team with a future. The new stadium isn’t just a statement of intent from Daniel Levey, it’s a stabiliser for Spurs’ long-term prospects.
For a few years now, the chance of a quadruple has become seemingly synonymous with Manchester City. Whenever the Sky Blues are still involved in all competitions past Christmas, the media discourse immediately shifts from their chances in the individual events to whether they can pull off the collective victory. No other team in England are linked with this achievement as often as City are, even when they replicate the same feats. In the past, I’ve seen this as a way to devalue the club’s achievements. Last year in their record-breaking 100-point season, City were criticized in some corners for ‘only’ winning a double, a fact that continues to dismay me. Now though, the conversation feels a little different and that might be because City aren’t too far off actually doing it.
We’re entering the last month or so of the season and they still have a hand on every trophy. They’ve already won the Caraboa Cup and have a place in the FA Cup final booked. Add to that the fact they’re still very much involved in the title race and there does seem to be the faintest chance they could do the impossible. However, all this matters very little when you consider the reality of the situation; City are not going to win the quadruple, and their success shouldn’t be judged on whether they do or not. There is simply too much quality in both the Premier League and Champions League to suggest that they’ll win all their ties in both. It seems strange that no other club in world football has these expectations placed on them, especially so when you consider no team in history has ever accomplished the feat.
Forget about whether they can, it’s incredible that Pep and Co are in this position at this stage of the year. Guardiola has said himself that they have already had a successful season, as long as you don’t judge success solely by how many trophies you win. The fact that the quadruple is now used as a barometer of success for some is an indicator of the monumental strides City have taken since Sheik Mansour took over. They are a better team than Spurs, but this by no means guarantees them a place in the next round. If they don’t progress, it’ll be a disappointment not a season destroyer. City will still have the FA Cup and the Premier League to aim for, not exactly paltry prizes, are they?
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the number of games they’ve played, Manchester City are experiencing something of an injury crisis. In particular, the fullback positions are a real point of concern for Guardiola and it will be interesting to see how his team shapes up. The young Ukrainian Oleksandr Zinchenko has had a great season, excelling in his role as a makeshift left-back, but will miss out on this one with a thigh injury. This leaves the door open for Benjamin Mendy, who made his return from a long lay-off in City’s 1-0 victory against Brighton in the FA Cup over the weekend. In that match, the Frenchmen was a threat going forward but struggled defensively and looked a little short of match fitness. However, necessity will probably mean Mendy starts, though it might be an area Spurs could potentially exploit.
The right side hasn’t been free from injury either. Kyle Walker was taken off against Brighton at half time with what looked like a hamstring injury, though he didn’t have the best match anyway and was nearly sent off for a needless foul. With that poor showing combined with his lack of fitness, I think we may see Danilo start. The Brazilian is very much Walker’s understudy, but he’s a solid player and can offer an offensive threat. City’s centre-backs are all fit, so there will be no such problems for Guardiola here. John Stones and Aymeric Laporte have been a formidable duo this season and I imagine they will both start this one. In goal, who else than the indomitable Ederson.
In the midfield, Pep has an entirely different dilemma to contend with. Instead of limited options, the Catalan has a wealth of talent to pick from. Fernandinho, who has been central to so much of City’s success over the past few years, was rested in favour of Ilkay Gundogan on Saturday. Considering the importance of this game, he should be included in the starting line-up tonight. Ahead of him will sit two creative midfielders and it’s here that City’s quality shines the brightest. They’ve got David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden all to choose from. Of these, I think Bernardo and De Bruyne are the likeliest to start. De Bruyne had a fantastic game against Brighton and is looking near his best form after missing much of the season through injury. Bernardo, on the other hand, has been a constant joy to watch and I almost feel like his contributions have been overlooked this season.
That just leaves the attack and there is potentially one huge absence here for City. Argentinian ace Sergio Aguero has missed the past few games with a muscle injury, leaving Gabriel Jesus to step-in in his place. The young Brazilian has had a hit and miss season, literally in some cases. However, he scored the only goal against Brighton and always works hard even if his form isn’t the best. If Aguero is fit, you’d bank on him to start, but Jesus is a capable replacement if he isn’t. If there is a guaranteed starter to be found in this City set-up, it’s Raheem Sterling. He’s grown immensely in stature over the past few years, both on and off the pitch, and City will want him out there on an occasion like this. Alongside him, German international Leroy Sane will likely be called upon to cause some problems down the wings.
Spurs have a few injuries of their own to contend with at the back, with Serge Aurier and Eric Dier both missing. While they would’ve preferred to have them fit and ready, this probably won’t affect the starting line-up too much. With Aurier out, the task to stop the marauding runs of Benjamin Mendy and Leroy Sane will fall to Kieran Trippier. The Englishman had an incredible World Cup last year and looked to set himself up for the season, but it hasn’t gone as expected. He’s been unsure defensively at times and has had a fair few mistakes. He’ll be hoping to put that to bed ahead of this match.
Joining him will be Belgium defensive duo Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who’ll be hoping to shut out City’s attack. On the left, Danny Rose will most likely be deployed and it will be interesting to see if he can add an attacking element to the backline. Barring any last-minute injuries, the man at the last line of defence will almost certainly be Hugo Lloris. In midfield, Sissoko will probably be drafted in to cover the injured Dier. There aren’t many playmakers in the world, let alone Spurs, better than Christian Eriksen so he should definitely make the line-up. Dele Ali hasn’t hit the heights many thought he would, but he’s still a very strong option for Pochettino and the likeliest choice to partner Eriksen.
There’s only one man for Spurs up front; the prolific Harry Kane. Heung-Min Son has been a real asset to Spurs this season, offering both pace and clinical ability in front of goal. As such, there’s little competition for him on the left which leaves the right wing open for the tricky Lucas Moura.
The only thing I can say with any certainty is that if City were playing Spurs at Wembley, I think it would only end in triumph for the Blues. Instead, they head to a new setting, where a team filled with talent awaits, backed by a crowd that will be well up for it. Factors like this shouldn’t have any bearing on the action on the pitch, but they often do. That said, Spurs will have to have the performance of their season if they want to beat City and will probably need a couple of goals to progress. If they go out all guns blazing, which I expect they shall, there will be plenty of space for Pep’s men to exploit. I think we’ll see a fair few goals and the honours shared at the final whistle.
Liverpool vs Porto
Unfinished Business for Liverpool
Liverpool have a complicated history in the Champions League. In 2005, they experienced the highest ecstasy you can get in football, overturning a nearly insurmountable lead and snatching the trophy from the jaws of defeat. Last season though, they faced the other end of the spectrum. Their crushing loss to Real Madrid went entirely against the build-up before the match. There was a feeling of inevitability that Liverpool would win it and it was shocking when they didn’t.
One of Klopp’s biggest strengths is the mentality he fosters within the team and club as a whole. He inspires passion from the pitch to the stands and that has drawn the media focus. This year, the Champions League hasn’t featured as heavily in conversations around the Merseyside club, with their Premier League exploits taking centre stage. This, in my opinion, can only help them. They don’t have to hinge all their bets on the Champions League this year and there’s a lack of the pressure from last year as a result.
Prior to this season, Liverpool have sometimes looked like this attention has got to them. Now though they are consistently playing well, but are crucially getting results even when they aren’t. Against Madrid in the final, they crumbled the minute things started going against them and they lost as a result. While it’s something no fan wants to suffer, I think the experience has made them a better, more mature side. Instead of being haunted by the events of that night, they’ve learned from its lessons. The job now is to build on that and see if they can translate their hard work into silverware.
The Unfancied Side
I usually agree with the saying ‘there are no easy games in football’, but it’s an undeniable truth that, before the draw, everyone wanted Porto. Liverpool were the team to get them, to the joy of fans all over Merseyside, but manager Jurgen Klopp was quick to play down any notion this would be a routine game for his side. When asked to consider the 5-0 thrashing they gave their Portuguese opponents last year, he argued that they played well initially in that match and that it was a different side to now. The reality is Liverpool are overwhelming favourites and they should beat Porto comfortably.
Is there any hope for the travelling side though? They will be buoyed by the fact that Liverpool aren’t playing their best football at the moment, despite the fact this hasn’t stopped them winning games. Their last match against Southampton got off to a rocky start and they conceded more than a few chances early on in the first half, with one of them eventually leading to the opening goal. Klopp’s men have also failed to keep a clean sheet in their last five games in all competitions and this defensive fragility could cost them.
One has to remember that Porto themselves are no pushovers. There are a few players in the team with real quality, the most important of which are Eder Militao and Moussa Marega. Militao has been at Porto for less than a season now, but he’s already on the move in July to Real Madrid for a reported £50 million. He’s young but knows how to marshal a backline and his own prowess in defence will help hinder the threat of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
Marega will hope to do the business at the other end of the pitch and has already played a massive part in getting Porto to this stage. He has six goals in the Champions League already this season and Liverpool will have to be wary he doesn’t add to his tally tonight. There’s no doubt this is one of the toughest tests manager Sergio Conceicao could have asked for, but there’s enough to suggest that it won’t be all doom and gloom for his team.
There are a few absences for Klopp ahead of the match, but the biggest concern will be Andy Robertson. The Scottish left-back is suspended for the match, which could have a massive impact on Liverpool’s game plan. They heavily rely on the full-backs ability to push forward and there are few in the world who do it better than Robertson. In his stead, versatile veteran James Milner will be called upon to slot into the defence.
Joe Gomez has been rumoured to be nearing match fitness, but I’d be amazed if he were to start here. Virgil Van Dijk has been far and away their best player this season, maybe the league’s best as well, so he’s certain to make the cut. Joel Matip will probably be the man to partner him, though this might not delight the Red’s support. Trent Alexander-Arnold has made the right-back spot his own and should also start the night. Alisson is another who has little competition for his place, so expect to see him in their too.
Klopp has a few options in the midfield, and the holding position might be the biggest dilemma for him. Fabinho has been really good for them this season, but Jordan Henderson has been his equal and is a real leader on the pitch. This might just give the Englishman the nod over his teammate. Ahead of him, Georginio Wijnaldum and Naby Keita will be asked to provide support for the attack. They are both multi-faceted individuals and give the midfield another dimension.
Up front, there’s very little debate as to who should start. The Egyptian king Mohammed Salah is a shoo-in to start on the right, with Sadio Mane operating on the left wing. Roberto Firmino will be the man at the focal point of the attack and his ability to create for the other two as well as score will be integral to the system Klopp deploys.
The last thing Porto needed was a depleted squad and, unfortunately for them, there are some key players missing for their trip to Anfield. Chief among them are centre backs Pepe and midfielder Hector Herrera, who both miss out with suspensions. Left-back Alex Telles, who has some elite suitors after his form this season, is also a fitness concern.
If he can start though, he will and Porto will be hoping he passes his last-minute fitness tests. Assuming Telles is fit, Maxi Pereira will be picked at right-back. In the heart of the defence, Eder Militao will take centre stage. In the absence of Pepe, Felipe will be the one to take his place. Iconic keeper and ex-Galactico Iker Casillas will be hoping to recapture his form of old if he wants to shut out what is a formidable Liverpool attack.
Daniel Pereira will be the first name in midfield and will operate in a defensive capacity. Oliver Torres will most likely be brought in for the missing Herrera and will add a little flair to the centre. On the wings, Jesus Corona has had a good Champions League campaign and will start on the left, which leaves Otavio on the right flank. Porto like to use a front two and I don’t think this will change. We’ve already covered the mercurial Marega and his goalscoring exploits, but Tiquinho Saores is also a threat and together they could cause some damage.
Although Liverpool beat Porto 5-0 last season, I don’t think we’ll see a thrashing tonight. The stakes are much higher and Porto have progressed further than any thought they would, so they won’t want leave at this stage without a fight. That said, there is so much quality in Klopp’s side and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where they don’t score at least a couple of goals. I expect Porto to make a good showing of themselves, but it won’t be enough to prevent the loss.
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Cyrus has been writing about sports and many other topics for major publications over the past five years. Now working in digital marketing, he spends his days arguing over football and dreaming of his beloved Manchester City winning the champions league.