Porto are one of only three unbeaten sides left in the Uefa Champions League but will have to take a cue from Liverpool’s demise at the expense of FC Basel when they visit St. Jakob-Park in a last 16 first leg tie on Wednesday.
Basel have won two of their ten fixtures against Portuguese sides; scoring just three goals in those matches and FCB’s Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa understand how difficult it is playing against the 2004 champions having finished just twice on the winning side in 12 meetings against Porto as a player.
The Swiss Super League champions would however find inspiration in both of their group stage encounter against Liverpool- notably their unbelievable draw at Anfield in December, when they stunned tens of thousands of home supporters against all odds to secure their passage into the knockout phase.
“It is special to compete at this level, in the best club competition in the world- it is where we want to be and where we can and will grow,” Sousa said in his pre-match media briefing ahead of Wednesday’s game.
“The crucial moments that brought us here were the magical nights against Liverpool. At Anfield we spent most of the first period inside the half- and that is not easy to do. I love to test myself: it enables me and my players to grow.”
Basel are fresh from last weekend’s 1-1 draw at home to FC Sion, one of just two matches they have played since returning from the winter break. Julen Lopetegui’s side are on a four-match winning streak following Friday’s 1-0 win against Vitoria Guimaeres, courtesy of a Yacine Brahimi goal.
The Algerian midfielder, who became the first Porto player to score a Champions League hat-trick (in the 6-0 rout of BATE Borisov) in September, scored 5 times in the group stages and will provide support for Jackson Martinez and Ricardo Quaresma upfront.
Colombian striker, Martinez, has scored 12 goals in his last 13 matches and will be a thorn in Basel’s defence.
Basel will nonetheless be looking to unleash homeboys Marco Streller and Fabian Frei- scorer of that first half goal at Liverpool- on Porto.
Porto have been beaten once only in six games with Swiss clubs, and despite the odds favouring the Dragons to progress, Sousa says attack will be the best form of defence against the Primeira Liga side.
“We have analysed Porto like we do all our opponents. Obviously you have to make minor adjustments depending on who you are up against, but we stick to our main principles. Looking at the statistics, together with Chelsea and Real Madrid, Porto are the only team that did not lose in the group phase. They also scored 19 goals,” the 44-year-old said.
“There will be difficult spells for us, but I’m sure we will cause Porto a lot of problems too. To create difficulties we have to take risks and show personality, to alleviate the pressure.”
Bulgarian defender Ivan Ivanov is unavailable for selection and Fabian Schar is suspended having picked up successive yellow cards in the home defeat by Real and the draw at Merseyside. Albanian forward Shkelzen Gashi is a doubt due to fatigue.
Porto have no injury concern.