When the Champions League round of 16 draw took place back in November, many suggested that Porto were among the weakest opponents of the lot alongside Club Brugge and Eintracht Frankfurt, adding that Inter were lucky to have picked the Portuguese reigning champions.
While it may be fair to deem the Nerazzurri as the favourites over two legs, what coach Sergio Conceicao has been capable of since joining Porto in 2017 shouldn’t be overlooked at all, as it can help understand how tricky his outfit could prove.
In addition to having steered the Dragoes to three Liga Portugal titles in five seasons, Conceicao also boasts an excellent record against the several Italian teams he has faced in recent seasons. After kicking Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma out of the Champions League round of 16 in 2019, Porto went on to eliminate Juventus at the same stage in 2021. Last season, they remained unbeaten over two games against AC Milan in the group stage, before getting rid of Maurizio Sarri‘s Lazio in the Europa League play-off.
Far from being a lucky coincidence, these results give a detailed picture of the versatile, stubborn, and modern side the Portuguese tactician has been able to shape over the last few seasons.
Sergio Conceicao’s coaching principles at Porto
Sergio Conceicao‘s coaching traits have undoubtedly been influenced by his past Serie A experiences, which during his playing career. His playing days saw him spend almost five seasons in Italy with Lazio, Parma and Inter.
Looking at his side’s current playing style, it is evident that such an apprenticeship has contributed to defining his approach as a coach, which includes extreme attention to defensive solidity and specific strategies to boost the potential of his wingers, a key piece in his preferred 4-4-2 tactical setup.
However, the Portuguese coach added a modern touch to his playing style, as Porto also look at ease with the ball in their feet, using possession as a tool to attract their opponents and create gaps to exploit by quickly making their way up the pitch, and they know how and when to put pressure on their rivals to jeopardise their build-up from the back.
Conceicao deserves major credit for shaping a clear identity that his side was able to retain even after losing some of their biggest names in the transfer market, proving that his ideas are deeply rooted at the club.
Porto’s potential gameplan against Inter
Porto’s title defence is proving harder than expected this season with a strong Benfica leading the rankings, but this shouldn’t take anything away from a side that are once again showing impressive consistency, having lost their last match in all competitions in late October.
The Estadio do Dragao outfit are coming off 10 consecutive wins, with just two goals conceded in the process, suggesting that, before anything else, Inter will probably need extreme patience to find a breakthrough, something they have been struggling with recently.
At the same time, the Nerazzurri will need to be aware of their rivals’ ability to hurt through quick transitions that could find Simone Inzaghi‘s men unbalanced while in search of a goal. Both Conceicao and his staff are renowned for their attention to detail and obsessive study of their opponents, and Inter should expect to face a side that will have a clear idea of the weaknesses they could take advantage of.
Depending on the spells of the game, Porto could opt to either pile intense collective pressure on Inter’s initial build-up, in an attempt to force mistakes, or calmly move the ball around to lure their opponents’ pressure, generating spaces and wearing them out.
While the Portuguese champions will have to do without the likes of Matheus Uribe, Otavio and Evanilson, who are ruled out due to injury limiting Conceicao‘s array of choices, midfielders Pepe and Stephen Eustaquio, alongside the attacking duo composed by Mehdi Taremi and Toni Martinez, are the major threats that Inter should watch out for.
Aware of the weight of their absences and the electric atmosphere they’ll find at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Porto may approach the game cautiously, knowing that sooner or later they could be presented with the chance to hurt the hosts. Constant pressure, aggressiveness on second balls and offensive efficiency are the main tools Inter could rely on in order to jeopardise Porto’s plan, which should be mainly aimed at keeping the contest in balance with a view to the reverse leg to be played at their home.
Previous meetings between Inter and Porto
The only previous Champions League meetings between Inter and Porto date back to 2005, when the two sides met four times in the space of nine months.
Coached by Roberto Mancini, the Nerazzurri first came out on top of the Portuguese outfit in the Champions League round of 16, as a 1-1 away draw was followed by a 3-1 win at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza propelled by Adriano‘s hat-trick.
Fast forward to October, and Inter picked up their only defeat of the 2005-2006 Champions League group stage, before taking revenge in the second game with a 2-1 victory that saw Julio Cruz score twice to help the Nerazzurri come back from behind.