Looking for a victory to revive their hopes of advancing from Group G in the Champions League, FC Porto face a must-win situation Tuesday at Jan Breydelstadion against a Club Brugge side still trying to come to grips with elite European competition.
The Dragoes (0-1-1) are in third place through the first two matches, trailing group leaders Leicester City and FC Copenhagen. Given how Brugge (0-0-2) have been outclassed thus far by Leicester and Copenhagen by a combined seven goals with no reply, Porto manager Nuno Espirito Santo knows his team must continue the momentum gained in Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Gafanha in the Portuguese Cup.
“From the first moment, they knew this was a trap match, with little to win and plenty to lose; they didn’t want to take that chance, and did their job,” Nuno told Porto’s official website after the workmanlike triumph. “Now is the time to think of Club Brugge. We know how important the match is and we will take the team we feel to be best again, with every option available.”
Most of those options will be finding Andre Silva to keep his scintillating form of late. He scored the final goal of his team’s 4-0 win at Nacional on Oct. 1, a harbinger of what was to come during the international break. Part of Portugal’s next “Golden Generation,” the 20-year-old scored in both of their World Cup qualifying victories. Silva had a hat trick in a 6-0 romp past the Faroe Islands last Monday, doing so while earning just his fourth cap. He bagged his three goals in a span of 25 minutes, making it the quickest hat trick in national team history.
“I’m lost for words,” Silva told FIFA’s official website after the match. “I wanted to score a goal, but I was not even thinking about a hat trick, but I’m even happier that we’ve taken all three points home.”
Nineteen-year-old Diogo Jota may be in line for his first Champions League start after supplying his own hat trick in the win over Nacional in his first start of the season. Jota came off the bench in Porto’s previous two Champions League contests and had an effective 27-minute stint in the 1-0 loss at Leicester City on Sept. 27.
Another good sign for Nuno was that Jesus Corona was able to come off the bench and contributed a goal Saturday. The Mexico international had been slowed by a thigh injury and has not started since Porto’s draw against Copenhagen on Sept. 14.
Porto have not had the best track record on the road against Belgium opponents, dropping six of seven all-time matches. But that victory came in the Dragoes’ last visit, a 3-0 win over Genk in a 2010 Europa League playoff.
Brugge’s return from the international break did not go as well as Porto’s, suffering a 1-0 defeat at Charleroi on Friday. Chris Bendia’s free-kick goal on 90 minutes snapped Brugge’s three-match winning streak in league play and dropped them to sixth in the Juliper Pro League, five points behind leaders Anderlecht.
Needing to replace starters Anthony Limbombe, Felipe Gedoz and Ruud Vormer due to the flu, manager Michel Preud’homme – no stranger to Portuguese opposition because of his playing days at Benfica — looked for silver linings after the loss, saying, “Our organization was good because we did not concede any chances until the last minute. … It’s a pity we still lost but I am still satisfied with the performance of my team.”
The biggest problem in this brave new world of Champions League for Preud’homme’s team has been its defence. Of the 24 shots they have allowed in the two defeats, 17 were on target. And Brugge did little to help themselves in the last match, as an own goal by defender Stefano Denswill eight minutes after intermission opened the floodgates for Copenhagen.
Brugge are expected to be without injured starting defender Laurens De Bock and Jose Izquierdo, who are both sidelined with groin injuries. Izquierdo had been Brugge’s most aggressive player in Champions League with team highs of seven shots and two on target. Bjorn Engels is expected to miss all of the remaining group stage matches from a shoulder injury suffered versus Leicester City.
Both Timmy Simons and Vormer will be suspended for Brugge’s next match should they pick up a yellow card.
The Belgian side has proven competent against Portuguese teams on home soil, going unbeaten in four matches (3-1-0). The last such occasion was in the 2012 group stage of Europa League, posting a 2-0 victory over CS Martimo.
Porto got the better of Brugge in the only head-to-head matchup between the teams, advancing 5-3 on aggregate in the second round of the 1972 UEFA Cup. Porto won the first leg 3-0 at home before falling 3-2 in the second in Belgium.
Referee Paolo Tagliavento will head an all-Italian crew for this match. It will be his second group stage match in charge, having called the Sept. 14 contest between Real Madrid and Sporting CP.
Probable Lineups: Club Brugge (4-4-2): Butelle, Cools, Denswil, Poulain, Rhijn, Vanaken, Simons, Claudemir, Vormer, Wesley, Vossen. FC Porto (4-3-3): Casillas, Telles, Marcano, Felipe, Layun, Torres, Pereira, Andre, Silva, Jota, Ottavio.
Prediction: Porto 2-0