Of all paths to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, FC Porto's has surely been the easiest. They qualified by defeating the eighth best team in France, were drawn into the group of life, and received arguably the best possible opponent in the Round of 16. Nonetheless, one should not scoff at the fact they are among the eight teams remaining in the world's best club competitions.
In a top division with not many worthy adversaries, Porto have a lot of experience handling European competition. They are not far removed from winning the Europa League, and have reached the knockout stages of either the Champions League or the Europa League each of the last nine seasons. Their teams from year to year are not constant, often selling their best talent to the highest bidder each summer, but they still are able to field a strong team.
Both storied clubs, Bayern Munich and Porto have met before of course, but it was so long ago the young football fans who observed the two go at it have gray hairs now. The Rekordmeister is facing a very different team than 30 years ago, and their squad depth is just one of the many things Pep Guardiola will have to plan for. Here is a peak at the Porto Bayern will be facing this time around.
Porto's approach to a match is not difficult to ascertain, for they are emulating the romantic style of play the Portuguese are used to seeing. They put an onus on keeping the ball, playing it from the back to ensure the other team does not have it. What is impressive is the width they play with, Danilo, Alex Sandro, and Christian Tello often standing a meter or two away from the touchline on both sides. That allows them to play a very open game, and provides opportunities for more free movement in midfield. Even with the constant rotating squad through the past few summers, they appear as a consolidated unit, which makes their goals much more attainable.
In terms of solely defensive skill, Porto are certainly not the best. Most of their defenders are undisciplined in their tackling, making the defense as a whole below average in closing down the ball. They have masked their deficiencies with strong possession play in the Champions League, and having Casemiro as a safety net certainly does not hurt. Their decision making in their half is not always on point though, for nearly half of the goals they conceded came from a turnover in their defensive third. Lopetegui will probably take more of a conservative approach in the later rounds, but the wound will be hard to close once it opens.
Their midfield is by far their best attribute. It is an area where they have a decent amount of depth, and their buildup play is one of the best of the teams remaining in the Champions League. Their spatial awareness in their buildup play is clinical, to the point where they rarely have to force a pass. They use all 90 meters of the field width, not afraid to switch the play if they have a better look on the other side. The free-flowing midfield could be cut off at the source though if they have to increase their defensive responsibilities.
Their attack is rather potent, but not in the way one would expect. Sure, Jackson Martínez is a quality finisher that can link up the play, but he, nor Vincent Aboubakar, are the ones taking the chances. They are another team which creates chances from the flanks, but it is in a very different way than their group mates Shakhtar Donetsk. With several skillful players on the field, Porto's service is troublesome for their opponents. With a strong buildup to support, they have more of the chances in matches a majority of the time, which makes it much simpler to put multiple goals on the scoreboard.
Yacine Brahimi – He is arguably the best player people, outside of Premeira Liga or Algeria fans, do not get to see. His raw balls skills are phenomenal, and he uses those skills to take on defenders and singlehandedly create chances. He is often the one driving Porto in attack, even if he has to beat all 11 players to do it. Any victory in the Champions League the rest of the way starts with him.
Casemiro – Unable to break into Real Madrid's team, Casemiro has far exceeded Porto's needs in midfield. He is the perfect blanket for the defense, and he is crucial to the way Lopetegui's start-from-the-back system works. He has quietly become one of the best young holding midfielders in the world. Ironic, the struggles Real Madrid are having in defensive midfield when their solution is killing it on loan in the country next door.
Maicon – No, he is not a bad player. No, one cannot ignore his free kick ability or his passing prowess. He is a center back though, and he is not a very good one. His positioning is acceptable, but he does not recover well when opponents beat him. He is not a good tackler either, and Casemiro is usually the one who has to come and help. Players do not have to be afraid when they run at him.
Vincent Aboubakar – A Jackson Martínez calf injury allowed Aboubakar to get his chance leading the Porto line. He has not replicated the same finishing touch Martínez has, but it is hard to recreate a skill a highly-regarded striker has. What he does do is all the dirty work, holding up the ball and linking the play for Porto's skillful wingers to get into the right space. With Martínez expected still on the fence for the quarterfinal, Aboubakar's level of play could be directly proportional to the number of chances Porto has.
How Porto Beat Bayern
In order to beat Bayern, Porto is going to have to play in a way it is not used to playing: without the ball. Even though Bayern has absorbed a lot of pressure since the international break, but that is something Porto can count on in their game plan. Their width will be the key to create channels for players like Brahimi and Hector Herrera to run into. If they get behind even a handful of times, they will find a way to finish.
How Bayern Beat Porto
Against a team who plays the ball out of the back, winning the ball in high positions is what Bayern need to do. That means Thomas Müller and Mario Götze will have to be on their horse, and Philipp Lahm will need to play higher up the field. Robert Lewandowski has to continue to work on his own as well, which will be difficult with all the attention he will demand. Controlling the ball in the final third is important, but preventing Porto from switching from defense to attack is even more so.