With the anticipation of Barcelona vs. AC Milan and Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal, it seems as if the week’s other two UEFA Champions League round of 16 matches are being overlooked. Big mistake.
FC Porto will host Malaga on Tuesday at Estadio do Dragao in what could prove to be the most competitive match of the week. Two high scoring teams with speed and creativity, Porto and Malaga are sure to put on a show and there could be many goals in the match.
In the group stages, Porto finished 2nd in Group A behind PSG, but showed well overall as they were able to beat out two tough Eastern European teams in Dynamo Kyiv and Dinamo Zagreb. Throughout the group stages, the team proved that they could play against different styles and still be successful. With arguably one of the most explosive strikers left in the competition in Jackson Martinez, they always have an outlet up top to alleviate pressure. With their explosive playmakers, Porto also mixes experience and poise with players such as Lucho Gonzales and Joao Moutinho in the midfield. Having won the Europa League in 2011, they have created a culture of winning at Porto and the Portuguese side could surprise many folks with their ability.
Another surprise through the group stages was Spanish side Malaga CF, which went unbeaten in Group C against the likes of AC Milan, Zenit St. Petersburg, and RSC Anderlecht in their way. An amazing feat in any group, Malaga showed with their unbeaten run that they truly are a threat to progress far into the knockout stages. Malaga, like Porto, has a dynamic mix of youth and experience with older players such as Martin Demichelis and Jeremy Toulalan pairing with youngsters like Isco and Ignacio Camacho. The Spanish side has had a surprisingly good season as they currently sit fourth in La Liga behind Real Madrid, and have a chance to make some noise in the Champions League.
Tuesday’s matchup is sure to be one of excitement and urgency for two teams looking to announce themselves on the world stage. Let’s take a look at some of the key battles for this week’s Iberian clash:
Jackson Martinez vs. Martin Demichelis
Jackson Martinez has been by far FC Porto’s best player this season. With 23 goals in 22 matches in all competitions, Martinez has been on a tear, which has many comparing him to former Porto goal scorer, Radamel Falcao. Martinez is a 26-year-old Colombian who has starred for the Portuguese club this season and has 15 more goals than the second leading scorer on the team. His pace, awareness, and skill put him amongst the best in the world and his presence always strikes fear into defenders.
The defender most responsible for Martinez come Tuesday is sure to be Argentinean defender Martin Demichelis. Demichelis has been a leader and a rock for the Malaga defense this season. His consistent play has been a big part of his team’s success, and while he may not be the fastest player on the pitch, his mind works faster than most, which allows him to be in the right spots at the right time. He, as most do, should have trouble defending Martinez one on one, but his leadership will be key if Malaga wants to contain the goal scoring machine that is Jackson Martinez.
Isco vs. Nicolas Otamendi
For Malaga, the goal scoring has been a bit more spread out this season, but the leader with 10, is the young Spanish phenom, Isco. With typical Spanish skill and intelligence, Isco combines speed and killer instinct to give defenders serious trouble guessing what’s coming next. He was instrumental in the group stages for Malaga and will look to be even more of a threat on Tuesday.
Just as Malaga has a strong Argentinean defender to lead their defense, Porto brings their own Argentinean stalwart in Nicolas Otamendi. Otamendi, who hasn’t played as much as he would have liked this season, has been crucial in Champions League play thus far. His size and strength could be troubling for a player like Isco, and he will need his mind to be sharp to keep up with the young Spanish speedster.
Jeremy Toulalan vs. Lucho Gonzalez
The minds of the midfield collide when it comes to Jeremy Toulalan and Lucho Gonzalez. For Malaga, Toulalan has been a great calming influence among such youngsters as Camacho and Isco, and provides deft skill and passing to link defense to attack. Don’t let his gray hair fool you as Toulalan has plenty to offer a top club.
On the other side, Lucho Gonzalez is one of the most underrated players around. His 5 goals this season are impressive, but his tenacity and ability have been much more influential to Porto’s run to the knockout round. At 32 years old, Gonzalez has been successful for a long time and will be looking to help his team take the next step towards Champions League glory on Tuesday. Look for the matchup between these two midfielders to play a big role in the outcome of the match.
Malaga CF 2-2 FC Porto