Analysing Porto: How Chelsea can exploit their weaknesses

Chelsea have turned their focus to a first Champions League quarter-final since the 2013-14 season after the shocking 5-2 home loss against West Brom – the first defeat under head coach Thomas Tuchel.

West London Sport takes a look at all the essentials you need to know about the Blues’ opponents Porto in the first leg the last-eight tie – their key personnel, tactical strengths and how Chelsea can exploit their weaknesses.

The Journey

Porto began with a 3-1 loss to Manchester City, but the scoreline flattered Pep Guardiola’s side, who struggled to find rhythm or ideas for the better part of an hour. Porto kept clean sheets in all five of their next group-stage games, winning four and holding City to an impressive goalless draw at home.

Their best performance, however, came in the round-of-16 tie against Juventus, where despite playing with 10 men for 70 minutes, they kept out Cristiano Ronaldo (over both legs), stole an away goal and held on for an aggregate win.

On the domestic front though, Porto are struggling; they lag seven points behind league leaders Sporting Lisbon having played a game more, with only nine games remaining.

Style of Play

Sérgio Conceição’s strengths are his ability to organise his side into a disciplined, compact unit, and a quick, vertical approach to attacking that has complemented their shape and structure.

Porto prefer a narrow 4-4-2, with a medium-to-high defensive line that bodes well for their balanced approach. They have also experimented with a 5-4-1 and 5-3-2 (against City) and 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 (against Olympiacos).

With two important players, Sergio Oliveira and Mehdi Taremi, suspended for the first leg, Conceição could play a different formation but the 4-4-2 remains the likeliest.

In defensive phases, Porto are well organised and compress their three defensive blocks together, leaving very little space to play between the lines.

When under pressure, the wide midfielders, Jesus Corona and Otávio, drop back to help their full-backs, making a back six similar to the system Chelsea faced in the first leg against Atlético Madrid.

Despite the presence of technical players who are comfortable on the ball, Porto have only managed between 33% and 44% of possession in their eight Champions League games so far against Marseille, Olympiacos, Manchester City and Juventus. This is a deliberate tactic to invite pressure, which allows them to quickly go long to Moussa Marega (sometimes Mehdi Taremi), bypassing opposition lines and pressure.

When these long balls are played, the central midfielders – Mateus Uribe and Sérgio Oliveira – come narrow to win second balls and exploit defenders out of position.

Porto also possess a coordinated and intense press. Marega, Taremi, Uribe, Oliveira and Otávio drive that, forcing opposition defenders into mistakes in possession. With N’Golo Kanté set to be on the bench, expect Porto to snap at Jorginho, Mendy and the centre-backs.

Key threats to Chelsea

Porto’s most potent threat is Sérgio Oliveira, a player capable of being an all-round nuisance. The 28-year-old Portuguese international is Porto’s penalty taker, a dead-ball specialist and can create and finish chances.

In the league, he has 12 goals and five assists in just 24 games, and five goals in seven Champions League games. Oliveira, however, will be suspended for the first leg, having picked up three yellow cards.

A rare breed of mobile target men, Malian forward Marega Marega is the fulcrum of Porto’s attack, linking up intelligently with his strike partner (usually Taremi, who is also suspended) or playing short passes to runners attacking spaces opening up in transitions.

Key to negating him will be whoever starts in the middle of the back three. Although Kurt Zouma’s skillsets are best suited to this responsibility, deciding between him, an in-form Andreas Christensen and the vastly experienced Thiago Silva could be a headache for Tuchel.

Dark horses

The 33-year-old Argentine goalkeeper Agustín Marchesín has had an excellent campaign so far.

With 24 saves in the Champions League, he is only behind Manuel Neuer and Keylor Navas (31) and has made some wonderful saves, including from a point-blank header from former Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata.

Zaidu Sanusi has also caught the eye with his tireless work ethic and powerful running down the left flank. The 23-year-old Nigerian left-back will be up against one or more of Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech or Kai Havertz on Chelsea’s right flank, and his showing could determine the fate of the tie.


Porto’s weakness in the air is a major cause for concern for them.

They’ve won an average of just 42% of aerial duels in the Champions League this season. Against the stronger sides, Porto’s numbers are abysmal – they recorded 37.5% and 27.3% (away/home v City) and 36.6% and 40.6% (away/home v Juventus).

Juventus were aware of this weakness and Juan Cuadrado delivered 33 crosses in the second leg alone and 15 were successful (a very good rate.) Had Morata and Ronaldo finished better, Juve would have progressed.

Considering Tuchel’s tendency to tailor his sides to the opposition, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Giroud and/or Zouma start. Ziyech and James, should they start, will also be crucial, not just for their crossing prowess, but to stretch Porto’s narrow 4-4-2 and create more spaces to work with.

Chelsea’s backline is adept as passing under pressure, which will be crucial if Porto decide to press aggressively. To press with four or five men, Porto have to leave their structured 4-4-2, which allows a brief but vital window to launch counters.

The press also forces Porto’s backline to push high, which offers the chance of a ball over the top for Werner against a 38-year-old Pepe.