For their Round of 16 matchup in the UEFA Europa League, Lazio were fortunate to draw one of the easier transfers from the UEFA Champions League: the famous FC Porto. While the Portuguese club is in control of their domestic league, and although they upset Milan in the Group Stage, overall, they present a favourable matchup for the Biancocelesti.
Porto’s Structured Tactics
Under manager Sergio Conceicao, Porto runs what is best defined as a classic 4-4-2. Especially in European play, this formation is rigidly structured and consists of three distinct lines.
Porto‘s two forwards provide link-up play when attacking, with one of the pair operating as a second striker. A typical attack will start in the central midfield, flow out to the wings and finish with combination play in the attacking third. Often, the second striker looks to drop between the lines and provide an option via backpass in the box that can elude defenders.
The formation’s well-defined nature leads to a significant lack of versatility, which is rare in the present-day Serie A. Porto’s full-backs do not venture high up the pitch, their wingers remain wide, and their forwards stay central.
On defense, Porto’s structure aids its ability to cut out counter-attacks. After losing possession, the club employs an effective mid-block, looking to win back the ball in the midfield. While Porto does not have a true defensive midfielder, it compensates by squeezing its defensive and midfield lines together. The Dragoes restrict play between the lines and force opponents to play long-balls over the top. This tactic was the downfall of Milan, who were unable to break through with creativity and pace.
A Talented Yet Ailing Roster
As previously noted by The Laziali, Porto’s transfer window stands to greatly benefit Lazio. The club lost top scorer Luis Diaz, Mexican international Jesus Corona and talented box-to-box presence Sergio Oliveira.
In the aftermath of these departures, Porto’s average margin of victory has fallen, though the club’s winning form continues. The Portuguese league leaders retain a talented roster despite losing their three best players to top European sides.
The defense is headlined by the infamous Pepe, of Real Madrid fame, and Chancel Mbemba, a DRC international. These two centre-backs bring physical play and outstanding defensive ability to their club, which has allowed just 16 goals in 22 domestic matches.
In the midfield, Vitinha provides link-up play as a classic centre-mid, while either Mateus Uribe or Marko Grujic take over the box-to-box role from Oliveira. After the departure of Diaz, Otavio, the club’s right-winger, is the greatest threat, providing quality service from crosses and set pieces.
Mehdi Taremi and Evanilson take the forward positions. Taremi is a prototypical number nine, while the Brazilian generally plays a more creative second striker role. Both are extremely prolific, combining for 26 goals and 16 assists this season.
Matchup with Lazio
Lazio’s offense appears to match up well with Porto’s structured defense. The speed of Ciro Immobile and the frequent rotation by wingers Mattia Zaccagni, Felipe Anderson and Pedro give the Bianocelesti an advantage that Milan sorely missed. Breaking out of the midfield will be essential for Lazio, as Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic must identify the oncoming press and create effective counter-attacks.
On defense, Lucas Leiva‘s presence is critical. With Porto likely to attack Lazio between the lines, deploying Danilo Cataldi or Toma Basic could be disastrous. Maurizio Sarri must overrule his proclivity for deep-lying playmakers and start the club’s only reliable defensive midfielder.
Though oddsmakers have the visitors as a significant underdog, Sarri’s side have the tactics and the talent to win. This match will be intense, but Lazio should be able to upset their Portuguese foes in the first leg.
Prediction: Porto 1-2 Lazio