Champions League: FC Porto-Bayer Leverkusen (Key Takeaways)

FC Porto 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Estádio do Dragão), 4 October 2022 – key takeaways below

Line-up (4x3x3): Diogo Costa, João Mário, Pepe, David Carmo, Wendell; Uribe, Eustáquio, Bruno Costa; Pepê, Evanilson, Taremi

Also played: Zaidu, Grujic, Otávio, Galeno and Toni Martinez.

We had two back to back ‘finals’ still quite early in the season and have managed to win both of them. After the big (albeit flattering) win against Braga on the weekend, Leverkusen came to town for matchday 3 of the Champions League. After two losses in the first two games, this was a ‘must win’. Porto played like their Champions League lives depended on it in the second-half and came away victorious. It was a difficult, but deserved win.

Porto have struggled in recent years against German teams; Leverkusen in particular, who had 3 wins and 1 draw in their last 4 games against us. However, they have started the season very poorly and their coach is very much on the hot seat. That overall level of nervousness did not come through though, because they played quite well in the first-half and it wouldn’t have been unfair if they had gone to the break 1-0 up. I don’t have time to write the usual positives/negatives and full match report, so I will focus on the key takeaways below.

I will be keeping track of the goal and assist tallies for all competitions.

Key Takeaways

  • Sérgio made just one change from the win against Braga (you can read about that here), replacing Rodrigo Conceição with João Mário. I was pleasantly surprised that Wendell kept his place in the starting line-up (he played quite well), but then annoyed by the insistence on Bruno Costa (subbed off at half-time). He’s not good enough to start for us in League games and that is even more painfully obvious in Champions League games.
  • The first-half wasn’t particularly impressive; a very nervy game, with a lot of bad passes and silly giveaways. No one really took control and tried to manage possession; we would either hoof it forward or try to attack at full speed, which would inevitably result in losing possession.
  • Leverkusen scored on the 16th minute on the counter-attack, after Pepê got dispossessed in midfield. They sliced through our defence far too easily. Luckily though, VAR told Anthony Taylor to check the monitor, for a foul on Pepê. I think we were fortunate there – it wasn’t clear and obvious to me that it was a foul.
  • No team really created any clear cut chances in the ensuing 25mins, but Leverkusen had the upper hand across the board and led in all key statistical categories (possession, passes completed and shots on target). On the 40th minute, Porto finally strung more than 5 passes together and Uribe forced Hradecky into a great save from distance.
  • Then came probably the craziest 90 seconds of football I can remember. João Mário gave the ball away cheaply and Leverkusen hit us on the break. David Carmo cut out the first cross to the 6-yard box and then Diogo Costa saved Patrick Schick’s rebound. On the counter-attack, a really well executed play resulted in a nice finish from Taremi to make it 1-0. However, Anthony Taylor was again called to the monitor by VAR, because Carmo’s clearance was actually a pretty obvious (and unnecessary) handball. Taremi’s goal was reverted and Leverkusen had a penalty. Diogo guessed it right and saved Schick’s penalty. A huge momentum swinger just before the break.
A great save from Diogo Costa from the penalty spot completely changed the course of this match.
  • Otávio came on at half-time and completely changed the game. Porto got more aggressive on and off the ball, and actually managed to have a nice stretch of football. This looked more like the team that steamrolled everyone last season. No more strange inventions (the ultra narrow diamond formation) or underachievers (Bruno Costa) in midfield, and suddenly we looked like a real football team again.
  • Although we were playing better, we were still missing some cutting edge up front. Sérgio went for it and replaced Wendell (due to injury) and João Mário (good on offense but poor on defence), with Zaidu and Galeno, moving Pepê to right-back.
  • These subs worked almost immediately; on the 69th minute, after a superbly constructed attacking play, Taremi hit a fantastic cross from the right to the far post, where Zaidu was there to head it home. Really good goal. And deserved too at that point. Toni Martinez replaced Evanilson straight after that.
  • Leverkusen made some changes to try and increase their attacking oomph, but they looked like a team lacking belief. Porto managed to control the game (including after Grujic came on for Uribe on the 83rd minute) and scored another goal on the 87th minute. A great counter-attack led by Taremi, who squared it to Galeno in the right moment and the Brazilian got yet another goal off the bench.
  • The second goal was game over. Leverkusen wouldn’t comeback from that. There was still time for Otávio to miss a huge chance on the 92nd minute, after another really well constructed play. He could have passed it to Toni Martinez as well, who was probably in a better position.
Galeno scored his 4th goal of the season and again after coming off the bench. Remarkable!
  • This was a really important win. It won’t mean much if we lose in Germany next week, but this at least affords us some breathing room. Bruges continue to shock the world and beat Atlético yesterday as well. They now lead the group with 9pts whilst everyone else has just 3pts. Porto could still win this group – it’s not over yet, but it looks tough.
  • A word to Mehdi Taremi. What a player. He makes our offence click. Without him being the link between attack and midfield, we can’t seem to generate any offence – especially against good teams. He got another two assists (now 6 for the season); and all of this despite everything that is going on around him. He takes my vote for man of the match.
  • I hope this is the end of the Bruno Costa experiment. Now that Otávio is fit, he should be starting every game. Unless Wendell doesn’t recover on time for Portimonense on Saturday, he should remain in the starting line-up after his last two performances.
  • A very solid game from both midfielders and Pepê played one of his best games this season – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his performance levels increased materially since he’s moved back to playing on the wing.
  • A low point continues to be David Carmo. The handball for the penalty is just inexplicable. He also missed two other important clearances throughout the game that almost resulted in a goal. His confidence is extremely low right now and you can see it. I don’t know if benching him will make it worse or give him time to rediscover his form. But this is very concerning. I would like to see Fábio Cardoso in Portimão on Saturday.
Another great game from Mehdi, who takes my vote for man of the match.

Match ratings (1-5):

Diogo Costa (4), J Mário (3), Pepe (3), D Carmo (2), Wendell (3), Uribe (4), Eustáquio (3), B Costa (2), Pepê (4), Taremi (4), Evanilson (3).
Zaidu (3), Otávio (4), Galeno (3), T Martinez (3), Grujic (n/a).

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