Having lost 2-1 in Porto, we go into tonight’s second leg in a dangerous position – score first and we’re ahead in the tie, but concede first and we face a real uphill battle.
History is either with or against us depending where you look. On one hand, we haven’t overturned a first leg deficit in thirty years, while Porto have won the last 24 ties where they’ve taken a lead from the home leg. But in six trips to London, they’ve gone away with nothing, and were hammered 4-0 on their last visit.
With Cesc absent, the role of central playmaker will go to Nasri, with Song making a welcome return to shield a back four that is still missing Gallas, who is ‘back to square one’ with his injury and will remain absent for some time.
Campbell was immense against Stoke, but their style suited him, whereas Porto are quicker and more skilful, traits any 35 year old will struggle with. Vermaelen and Song must protect him well, while Sagna is a certain starter at right back to provide a little more stability.
Looking further forward, and Diaby may get an attacking role behind a front three of Arshavin, Bendtner and Walcott. When you look at where the goals could come from, Cesc’s injury should not be a critical factor – there are plenty of others who have the ability to step up.
One such candidate is Bendtner, who will be looking to bounce back from Saturday’s display of comical finishing to prove that he can be our main man for the run-in. After Campbell’s returning heroics in the first leg (which was my bet of the day at that occasion), I’m tipping the Dane to open the scoring at 9/2 with Sportingbet. The bet of the day pick has been on form recently, hopefully that will continue tonight.
The worry is what happens if and when Porto score. Having one away goal is so dangerous – you can be 2-0 up and cruising, but a single response levels the tie, and means a second goal would almost certainly knock you out. It is a night for ensuring we stay alert to the inevitable counter attacking possibilities, as Porto will look to contain and hit us with pace.
That said, I’m reasonably confident. Fabianski’s nightmare overshadowed the fact that Porto really weren’t that impressive in the first leg, and if we play anyway near the level we can, they won’t be able to live with us.
With no midweek games scheduled between now and the end of the season, we have plenty of space for the Champions League. Let’s fill it.
Enjoy the game.