Two of the more enjoyable teams to watch this season come together in the knockout stage, one more surprising than the other. Most expected Porto, the Portuguese champions, to make it at least this far in the competitions, but few thought cash-strapped Malaga would do this well on all fronts this season, including the Champions League.
For Malaga, this is simply uncharted territory. The club finished an all-time best fourth last season in the La Liga, and despite the departure of some of their best players over the summer in an attempt to cut down on expenses, they seem to have kept the right ones, namely Isco, Joaquian and others, helping them hold the fourth spot in the La Liga at the moment.
Isco has emerged as one of the biggest young stars in Europe, and Malaga were one of the few teams to go undefeated through the group stage, and it’s been over a month since they’ve lost to a team not called Barcelona. He has scored twice in the Champions League this season, going along with his 8 in the La Liga.
One problem for Malaga heading into the match is at full back. After the sale of Nacho Monreal, depth was already a problem. Both Eliseu and and Jesus Gamez won’t be available for the first leg, which means Pellegrini is going to have to improvise when it comes to his defenders.
Porto don’t have any injury problems heading into the match, with both James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez healthy to continue the deadly Colombian connection (in a footballing way) which will probably lead them to a richer European club very soon. Martinez has scored 20 goals so far in Portugal this season and three more in the Champions League.
Porto are involved in one of the tightest title races in recent years, both them and Benfica not missing a step the other one is making, tied at the top with 49 points, while Porto have the advantage thanks to goal difference. They have a perfect record at home this season, winning every single match, including in the Champions League.
Prediction – Malaga are some sort of magical side, doing wonders despite the short squad and lack of depth. Still, magical runs end somewhere, and winning at the Dragao, especially for Spanish sides, is somewhat of an obstacle in recent years. Porto are unbeaten in their last seven Champions League games against Spanish opposition, and they will probably be slightly too good for the visiting side on the day.
Projected Lineups: Porto – Helton, Sandro, Mangala, Otamendi, Danilo; Gonzalez, Moutinho, Defour; Varela, Martinez, Rodriguez. Malaga – Caballero, Sanchez, Weligton, Demichelis, Antunes; Camacho, Toulalan, Portillo, Isco, Joaquin; Saviola.