Football Features

FC Porto: Can Sergio Conceição’s low block sting Pirlo just like Guardiola?

By Chris Smith

Published: 11:01, 17 February 2021

FC Porto host Italian giants Juventus on Wednesday in what is sure to be an intriguing night of Champions League last-16 action.

The reigning Portuguese champions are losing their grip on the Primeira Liga title, already falling 10 points behind unbeaten rivals Sporting CP after 19 games.

However, they navigated a tough Champions League group containing Manchester City, Olympiacos and Marseille with relative ease, finishing second with 13 points, 10 clear of third. Now, they’ll look to reach the quarter-finals of this competition for what would be just the second time in six years.

But getting past Cristiano Ronaldo and co. won’t be a cinch and, as such, SkyBet has Porto priced at 11/4 outsiders to win this first leg, while visitors Juventus can be backed at 21/20. Furthermore Porto are priced at 150/1 to win the competition outright, with only RB Leipzig and Barcelona having higher odds following their first-leg defeats. (18+ only. Odds correct at time of publication. T&Cs apply. BeGambleAware.)

Can Porto’s low block frustrate Juventus, just like Man City?

Okay, so Porto haven’t exactly been air-tight domestically this season with Sergio Conceição’s men conceding 21 goals compared to 10 and 17 for Sporting and Benfica respectively. However, in the Champions League, they found a way to grind out results and proved incredibly tough to break down, conceding just three goals, all of which came during their 3-1 defeat to Manchester City in week one. Since then, Porto have gone five games without defeat, with five clean sheets.

While the Dragons dominate the ball and hunt it down quickly when they lose it domestically, Conceição adjusts his style in Europe, happy to surrender the ball and defend deep. In fact, only Lokomotiv Moscow and FK Krasnodar averaged less than their 38.92% possession throughout the group stages. Furthermore, only Lokomotiv Moscow made more than Porto’s 157 clearances.

Conceição gladly trades the style enjoyed in the Primeira Liga for a more robust, no-nonsense style of defending, with the likes of Chancel Mbemba, Pepe and Malang Sarr getting the basics right, while Porto’s narrow 4-4-2 restricts space for the opposition, forcing them to play through the eye of a needle.

Following Man City’s goalless draw with Porto at the end of the group stage, a frustrated Pep Guardiola said: “The shots, maybe not all on target, but we were there all the time. It’s difficult with eight or nine players defending in the box, defending crosses and everything.”

Can Juventus, with the attacking riches of Cristiano Ronaldo, Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala, break down this stubborn Porto side? The Old Lady don’t possess the craft and guile of Manchester City, but will certainly give present a huge test of Conceição’s defensive credentials.

Otavio to put himself in the shop window?

He may not steal the goalscoring headlines like Moussa Marega or Mehdi Taremi , and he may not be Porto’s creator in-chief like Jesus Corona, but Brazilian Otavio has been catching the eye in Portugal once again this season.

The 26-year-old already has three goals and four assists across Primeira Liga and Champions League play this season but, more importantly, he has been Conceição’s ultimate utility man, filling in right across the pitch wherever his manager needs him, whether that be on either flank or in the centre of midfield:

Otavio’s positions played by minutes, 2020/21 Primeira Liga & UCL

Otavio’s ability to contribute at a high level in multiple positions has now reportedly drawn the attention of Leicester City, both Milan giants, and even MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps in recent months. The one-cap international’s current deal with Porto expires at the end of this season and with no new contract with Porto in sight, it is now time to put himself firmly in the shop window. What better stage to do that on than a Champions League round-of-16 tie against Italian champions Juventus?