The return leg of the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 sees competition regulars FC Porto host Borussia Dortmund at the Estadio do Dragao on Thursday.
The German side put in a great attacking display in the first leg in Dortmund last week, and lead 2-0 on aggregate.
Both sides have great incentives to go on and win the Europa League trophy. Porto would complete a hat-trick of Europa Leagues, while Dortmund would become only the fourth side to win all three major UEFA trophies.
The two teams rested their key players over the weekend, keeping the midweek Europa League decider in mind. Dortmund’s 1-0 away win over Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday, courtesy of a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal, was a good result for Thomas Tuchel’s men, who remain behind Bayern Munich in the 2nd position in the Bundesliga.
Meanwhile, Porto defeated Moreirense 3-2 after falling two goals behind at home to cement their third place in the league. Miguel Layun, Hyun-Jun Suk and Evandro were the goalscorers.
Jose Peseiro, Porto’s new coach who replaced Julen Lopetegui last month, was Carlos Quieroz’s assistant coach at Real Madrid back in 2003-04. The 55-year-old has won 5 of his 7 matches in charge and has impressed fans with his possession-based approach.
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Averaging over 55% possession usually, Porto managed just 37% at Signal Iduna Park last week owing to the German’s superior midfield play. Peseiro’s traditional 4-2-3-1 relies heavily on midfield motor Hector Herrera and wingers Yacine Brahimi and Jesus Corona.
Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Tuchel has filled in the void left by Jürgen Klopp surprisingly well. The former Mainz man has fixed the problems from last season and has made the team better equipped to deal with different oppositions.
A revitalized Marcel Schmelzer and Ilkay Gündogan look to be back to their best and the introduction of young Julian Weigl to the team has worked wonders. Further, Tuchel’s constant positional rotation of his attacking midfield — Reus, Kagawa and Mkhitaryan — has made Dortmund a more potent force in the final third.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Injuries wore down Porto in the first leg as they were forced to make major revamps to their squad. Winger Varela was deployed in the defence and while wing-back Layun was shifted to the center-back position. While this did improve their defence, it restricted the Portuguese side heavily while moving forward.
Midfielders Danilo and Herrera should see more of the ball in the return leg and potent wing-play from Corona and Brahimi could be important. Goalkeeping legend Iker Casillas has been in fine form lately and is one of Porto’s biggest strengths. A big weakness for the hosts, however, is their inability to influence the game without the ball. Strikers Vincent Aboubakar and Hyun-Jun Suk did not seem to press the opposition enough to support their midfield.
Dortmund’s strength lies in the attacking trio of Mkhitaryan, Reus and Aubameyang, who already have 38 league goals between them this season. The support squad of Julian Weigl and Ilkay Gündogan have performed brilliantly as well and the team as a whole looks very cohesive. Nuri Sahin, who returned to football after almost a year, looked like he was never injured and bossed the game in his preferred deep playmaker role last week.
However, BVB often seem incapable of stopping their opponents from creating chances due to a poor defensive organisation.
With Sokratis Papastathoppoulos missing the game, Sven Bender or Neven Subotic may be called upon to partner Mats Hummels in the defence. Bender has been used as a defender almost exclusively under Tuchel, and with his efficient passing and no-nonsense tackling, it would seem likely that Tuchel would prefer him to the Serbian international.
Bruno Martins Indi vs Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang
African player of the year and Dortmund’s top scorer, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored 4 times in the Europa League this season and is one of Tuchel’s key men. His goal threat and his ability to lead counter-attacks make him a nightmare for every defender. However, if there’s any man up to the task, it is the Dutch international Bruno Martins-Indi.
A player capable of matching the Gabon striker for speed, as seen in the first leg, Martins-Indi will also be aided by the returning Ivan Marcano. It will be interesting to see whether the duo can contain the Dortmund star, or whether they will be beaten by his trademark pace and skill.
Miguel Layun vs Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lukasz Piszczek
Used as a center-back last week, Mexican wing-back Miguel Layun will start Thursday’s game on his prefered left side from where he has assited 15 times in the league already. His opponents Henrikh Mkhitaryan and first-leg goalscorer Lukasz Piszczek will need to stay sharp defensively. Conversely, Layun will also need to keep tabs on Piszczek’s overlapping runs on the right wing. Either way, this promises to be an entertaining duel.
FC Porto 1-1 Borussia Dortmund
With Porto needing at least two goals to progress, and with Dortmund yet to win a European fixture in Portugal, the game looks to be evenly matched. Key Porto players Danilo Pereira and Ivan Marcano are back from injury, as is Dortmund’s Ilkay Gündogan.
Expect a close game with Dortmund trying to wear down Porto with possession as the Portuguese commit men to attack right from the start.