Porto vs. Malaga: 3 Key Players to Watch on Either Side
Málaga travel to the Estadio do Dragao this week striving to uphold a record that has seen them go unbeaten in their current Champions League campaign.
However, standing in their way is a defiant Porto outfit who have, at times, been just as impressive as their Spanish counterparts, making for a very enticing last-16 fixture.
While neither side might boast the squad-wide pedigree of other clubs left in this year’s edition of the European tournament, one can rest assured that the pair both have their share of superstar talent.
To emerge victorious in the Portuguese leg of their encounter, Porto and Málaga will each expect to see certain personnel turn up in a big way on Tuesday evening, some of whom we’ll discuss here.
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Likely to line up as part of an anchored pair alongside Ignacio Camacho, it’s Jeremy Toulalan who might be expected to bring an experienced mind to an otherwise youthful midfield.
With the 22-year-old Camacho expected to take on a slightly more liberal role, it’s the Frenchman who must restrain the creative efforts of Porto’s playmakers—namely Lucho Gonzalez and Joao Moutinho.
Although it’s the Dragons’ strike force that undoubtedly boasts the biggest threat to Málaga’s chances of progression, limiting their chances from midfield will be an equally important task, restricting the amount of ball that finds its way up front.
Toulalan has been somewhat restricted by injury in recent months, making just three Champions League appearances for the Anchovies in their maiden voyage against the rest of Europe.
That said, with the 29-year-old now fit, Manuel Pellegrini will be placing a lot of faith in the former Lyon star to do his bit in containing Porto’s supply, which can account for a decent proportion of their devastating attack, currently the best in Portugal.
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With Joaquín looking likely to line up opposite him, it’s a near certainty that Danilo will have a tough 90 minutes on his hands this week.
The Brazilian has had an inconsistent campaign thus far, perhaps providing not as much flair in attack that Porto have grown accustomed to seeing from the full-backs in recent years.
As much as the extra help going forward would be appreciated, defence in the wide areas will assuredly be a priority against Málaga, who see a great deal of their attacking pressure come from the wings.
The 31-year-old Joaquín already has two goals and an assist to his name in four Champions League starts this season, and it will be the duty of Danilo to ensure that tally doesn’t increase this week.
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A wunderkind on the minds of many a European club at the moment, one particular revelation in Málaga’s impressive 2012-13 term has been the quality displayed by 20-year-old Isco.
The attacking playmaker come wide midfielder has amassed a respectable two goals and two assists in the Anchovies’ first Champions League campaign and has been a massive spark between a lot of the club’s recent success.
As Porto don’t actually have much in terms of a defensive midfield, the side’s usual central combination of Joao Moutinho, Lucho Gonzalez and Fernando will be working to see that Isco doesn’t have the impact on the game that Pellegrini might seek.
However, having already put in big shifts against the likes of Zenit St. Petersburg and AC Milan this campaign, it’s clear that Isco is ready to mix it with the big boys of Europe despite his meagre years.
Likely to be positioned behind either Julio Baptista or Javier Saviola, Isco will also be jostling against Porto’s central defenders in a bid to exert his usual influence in the European clash.
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Porto’s main man in attack and the Liga Primeira’s leading hitman, eyes will be on Jackson Martinez to continue his fine scoring form come Tuesday.
The latest in a recent line of talent to come out of Colombia, the 26-year-old already has 23 goals to his name in 25 games this season.
Functioning as a part of Porto’s potent forward three, Martinez will be looked upon as the focal point of the side’s attack and is set to test Málaga’s unbeaten streak to its limits.
With eight goals in his last five league appearances, the striker is clearly enjoying an impressive vein of form and will likely be going up against Martin Demichelis and Weligton as he looks to increase his remarkable statistics.
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Playing away from home and against one of Europe’s most consistently strong offensive lines, a great deal of responsibility will be on Málaga’s defence as they hope to keep a clean sheet at the Estadio do Dragao.
Martin Demichelis, who could likely line up against former River Plate teammate Lucho Gonzalez, may not have the speed he may have boasted of in his younger years, but the centre-back’s positioning and mental strength still make him a leading member of the Anchovies’ back line.
The Argentine could line up alongside fellow veteran Weligton and, given the pace of some of Porto’s premier attackers, will be set for a hefty challenge if things come to a foot race this week.
Regardless, it will be Demichelis that Málaga’s back four look to for leadership, and the 32-year-old will have to respond in kind if his side are to take a positive scoreline back to Andalusia.
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Just coming back from a torn muscle injury, it was feared that James Rodriguez may not feature in the first leg of this encounter, a calamity that may yet befall Porto this week.
However, even at half strength the Colombian starlet is a force to be reckoned with and has proven his extreme worth to his club in the absence of Hulk this season.
The 21-year-old will most probably feature on the left wing for Porto and will hope to deliver his usual amount of ammunition to Jackson Martinez in order for his side to take full advantage of their home territory.
In just 10 league starts this season, Rodriguez has managed to rack up seven goals and six assists, evidence of his supreme potential for influencing the success of their attack.
Vitorino Antunes was brought into the Málaga squad as a temporary replacement for the departed Nacho Monreal and has been impressive in his new club’s colours so far.
With that in mind, the 25-year-old will have a completely new challenge on his hands in the shape of James Rodriguez, and Porto’s emerging star will seek to exploit Antunes’ relative inexperience in his Spanish climate.
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