Andy Brassell on European Football: Combative Porto out to make it tough for Chelsea

Porto coach Sérgio Conceição
Sérgio Conceição's side showed their tough demeanour against Juventus

Porto have absentees but determination as they face Chelsea, while Bayern Munich and Granada hope to make light of their injury problems against PSG and Manchester United, writes Andy Brassell...

"Their squad is depleted for Wednesday’s first leg, with Mehdi Taremi and the hero against Juventus, Sérgio Oliveira, both banned."

Porto depleted but unbowed ahead of Blues test

Porto v Chelsea
Wednesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 2

It's almost impossible to talk of Sérgio Conceição's Porto side without using the adjective 'combative', but they've earned their reputation. This is a team that never gives up, as they proved again with Toni Martínez's 95th minute-winner against Santa Clara on Saturday which cut runaway leaders Sporting's advantage at the top to seven points.

Neither are Porto complaining about their hectic schedule, or about both legs of their Champions League quarter-final with Chelsea being moved to Sevilla's Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuan. "It's all part of it," shrugged Conceição last week. "We're looking to all these games, in the league and the Champions League, with relish." The coach is a pugnacious presence on the touchline and his team is full of his spirit, with their physicality something that Juventus were a little taken aback by in the last round.

Their squad is depleted for Wednesday's first leg, with Mehdi Taremi and the hero against Juventus, Sérgio Oliveira, both banned. Porto still have their share of leaders - notably Pepe at the back but also Moussa Marega, Otávio (the midfielder's recent signing of a new deal speaks volumes for the positive atmosphere under Conceição) and the turbocharged Jesus 'Tecatito' Corona. After Chelsea's shock reverse to West Bromwich Albion at the weekend, these Dragons could smell blood.

Pressure on Neymar to fill Lewandowski's headline slot

Bayern Munich v PSG
Wednesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 3

From the moment he went down on international duty with Poland, it seemed like the state of Robert Lewandowski's knee may dictate the feeling around Bayern Munich's tie with Paris Saint-Germain. Bayern's 1-0 weekend win at closest challengers Leipzig, without Lewandowski, was a timely reminder that they remain a formidable opponent even without the world's most feared number nine.

The focus, then, shifts to PSG, who fell way short in their own top-of-the-table domestic battle against Lille. Kylian Mbappé and Neymar failed to bring their individual and collective influence to bear in a damaging defeat, with Neymar's late and needless red card capping a miserable day for Mauricio Pochettino's side. PSG have generally been poor in their most taxing domestic fixtures this season, taking just one point from four games against Lille and Monaco, the other two current occupants of the top three in Ligue 1.

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Neymar, who was starting his first match in two months, is always under pressure to step up in a Champions League context, and this has been accentuated by his disappointing display on Saturday. He needs to keep his head - and his creativity is more important than ever with Marco Verratti, pushed into a more advanced role by Pochettino, missing due to his positive COVID test. The Brazilian was brought to the French capital for moments like this and now more than ever, he needs to deliver.

Granada with mountain to climb

Granada v Manchester United
Thursday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 2

One of the underrated views in European football is from the top of the main stand at Granada's Estádio de Los Cármenes. From there, you can see the Sierra Nevada mountain range looming over the modest arena which has witnessed some extraordinary sights over the last decade. Its presence is perhaps even more telling than usual this week, with Granada facing a steep task to topple competition favourites Manchester United from the Europa League.

To get this far, Diego Martínez's side have done an incredible job. Their season has been a long and arduous one so far, starting out in the Europa League's second qualifying round in August to reach the last eight in their first-ever European campaign. Accordingly, Granada have played more minutes than any other Spanish top flight side with a good but still modest squad, assembled on a budget which at a generous estimate is one-eighth of the Premier League's lowest.

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Martínez, a former assistant to Unai Emery, deserves enormous credit. Yet three straight defeats (with six in the last in all competitions) make one wonder if they're (understandably) running out of steam. Injuries look set to rob them of key midfielders Luis Milla and Luis Suarez so Martínez will again lean on veteran strikers Roberto Soldado and Jorge Molina (combined age=73) to add their knowhow. If they can keep this tie alive for the second leg at Old Trafford, they'll have done themselves proud again.

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