Porto Edge out Lille in 1st Leg of Playoff

Photo: Lusa

Photo: Lusa

2014-15 UEFA Champions League Play-Off Leg 1

LOSC Lille 0-1 FC Porto

Chances at a Premium as Tello Makes the Difference

In a game that could potentially impact European coefficients, FC Porto met French side Lille at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in the first of two legs in qualifying for the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League group stage. Both sides came into the match in good form, taking home three points in the last round of domestic play with professional displays. Ambitious clubs with European pedigree, both camps were confident of a positive result in the North of France; with anything but qualification expected, but a Herrera strike in a scrappy, albeit professional display, from the Dragons put them in the driving seat ahead of the second leg at the Dragão.

LOSC Lille: Enyeama; Souaré, Baša, Kjaer, Béria; Mavuba, Balmont (Lopes 62), Gueye; Kalou (Roux 76), Corchia, Origi (Mendes 72)

FC Porto: Fabiano; Alex Sandro, Maicon, Martins Indi, Danilo; Neves (Evandro 74), Casemiro, Herrera; Oliver (Quaresma 88), Brahimi (Tello 60), Jackson Martinez

René Girard played a defensive-minded 4-3-3 with playmaker Marvin Martin out with a hamstring injury from the win against Caen. Mavuba played as the holding midfielder, with fullback turned winger Corchia operating on the right. Belgian World Cup star Origi operated on the left flank, with Salomon Kalou the playing through the middle.

Lopetegui lined up with an adaptable 4-3-3 formation, sometimes resembling a 4-2-3-1, with Casemiro’s inclusion raising some eye brows, coming in for sacrificed captain Quaresma, as the ‘number 6.’ This liberalised Ruben Neves in a more advanced position, becoming the youngest Portuguese player since Cristiano Ronaldo to play in the Champions League. Herrera set up shop further forward, with Brahimi and Oliver Torres on the flanks.

Lille tentative in scrappy half

FC Porto started the opening period the better of the two sides; occupying space well and demonstrating quality through the middle in accounting for 70% of possession in the opening thirty minutes.

In this regard, the Dragons lacked quality in the final third as they struggled to carve out opportunities against a stubborn Lille defence with a tentative approach. The first instant of danger came in the 12th minute from a Neves effort that was always going wide, saved by Nigerian keeper Enyeama.

Jackson tried his best to change this, involving himself as much as possible, running in behind the Lille back four and dropping back in support. Neves continued to impress in a largely uneventful encounter, playing in a beautiful free kick for Jackson, who just missed it with his head. The difference was a tug on the Colombian’s jersey with a decent penalty shout.

On the other side, Lille continued to struggle; mustering their first shot on goal on the 34th minute mark with a tame deflected effort from Corchia. But the best chance of the match by a mile fell to the French from an Origi cross on the cusp of half time. Having turned Maicon inside out, the Liverpool loanee, quiet up to that point, teed up the lively Corchia for a blocked shot only yards out from goal, wastefully skying the second effort over the bar.

Lopetegui makes his move

The complexion of the match in the second half remained unchanged from its predecessor, with opportunities at a premium, as Porto dominated possession with little to show for it and Lille happy to sit back.

Brahimi and Torres both looked lively going forward, with some fine touches and ball movement, as well as Ruben Neves, emitting an air of confidence from the deal ball, taking on shots from distance and the opposition.

Origi attempted to change the match’s rhythm, trying to stretch the Porto defence in drifting to the left with Kalou down the middle, unusual considering Origi’s pace in one-upping Maicon on a few occasions.

At the hour mark Lopetegui decided to play his first hand with the bright Brahimi coming off for Tello. The Barcelona loanee made an instant impact similar to that a few days prior against Maritimo, exchanging a neat one-two with his head as Neves played him into space, leaving Souaré in his wake. The Spaniard checked his run and delivered a sumptuous cross to Martinez, whose magnificently saved effort on goal from a leap was dispatched emphatically into the back of the ol’ onion bag from Herrera, much to the delight of the travelling Tripeiro faithful.

Lille up the tempo

Immediately afterward the goal, Girard made his first move, throwing on Manchester City loanee and Portuguese youngster Marcos Lopes, joining Neves with his European debut, for the largely ineffective Balmont.

Tello continued to run riot, nicking the ball of Mavuba and following it up with a lovely ball to Jackson who got too excited in being caught offside.

Origi, continued to show promise as the game wore on, taken off for boyhood Porto fan Mendes.

In open play, Lille still continued to struggle to muster opportunities, although a different story from the deal ball, with a drilled free kick from Corchia evading a Souaré header as Fabiano made a clutch save; Mendes close on the follow up.

The largely ineffective Kalou was brought off for Roux with Girard playing with two recognised strikers. Lopes sat behind, with Mendes and Corchia adding width in a largely attacking formation.

Lille continued to gain a strangle hold of proceedings, although still not troubling the Porto back four in the final third, as The Great Danes lacked fluidity in their passing game. Porto was fine to sit back and play on the counter; Herrera dropping back in midfield with Casemiro as Evandro, took up the number 10 role.

The last opportunity for the game came from Lille. Lopes raced past Casemiro with a burst of speed after a couple of step overs, playing a ball into the box, with Corchia leaving it for substitute Roux. The Frenchman’s expertly taken touch made space for a shot, only to be denied the shared spoils by Maicon.

At the half-way point of the tie it is Porto that holds all the cards. René Girard will regret not forcing the issue on home turf, with late flurries not hiding this fact. Lille will rue golden opportunities from Corchia and Roux after a tentative start, but based on the balance of play, the better side won. Lopetegui and his men will take a crucial away goal back to the Dragão in vying for their 19th appearance in the Champions’ League group stage as they meet in six night’s time.


Mitchell Rua

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