Two sides at the opposite ends of the Champions League spectrum clash in the last 16 on Tuesday, when Portuguese champions Porto host Malaga of Spain at Estádio Do Dragão in the first leg of an intriguing tie.
The Iberian sides may be relatively close geographically, but when it comes to knowledge of Europe’s top club competition, the clubs are poles apart.
Porto are perennial Champions League campaigners who regularly reach the knock-out stages: who can forget their Jose Mourinho-inspired win in 2004?
By contrast, Malaga are competing at this exalted level for the very first time after a fourth-placed finish in La Liga last season – which came as a result of huge investment that now seems to have mysteriously dried up – gave Manuel Pellegrini’s side the opportunity to rub shoulders with Europe’s elite.
Yet their lack of experience at this level has not truly been exposed to date. Proving Roberto Mancini’s assertion that Manchester City’s galaxy of stars need time to adjust to Champions League level is a load of piffle, Pellegrini’s side are unbeaten in this year’s campaign in eight matches, which includes two qualifiers.
Escaping from a group that included AC Milan and Zenit was no mean feat, and currently sitting in fourth domestically, Malaga are having a fine season.
I do, however, think that the trip to Estádio Do Dragão could be the time when their Champions League know-how is put to the test like never before.
A two-legged knock-out tie offers a range of different challenges and with Porto incredibly strong at home both domestically and abroad for years now, I think they can edge the first leg.
But 18/25 is a bit on the skinny side for a home win (Malaga are 15/4 and the draw is 13/5) given that the Spaniards are unbeaten so far, so I’ll be looking for a bit more value and I’ll be on the 13/10 Porto win a match that sees under 3.5 goals – a bet that has landed in nine of Porto’s 14 home games this season.
Porto’s home record is incredible: Vitor Pereira’s side have lost just one of their last 35 on their own patch and just four of their last 31 home Champions League matches stretching back to 2003.
All but one of their ten home league matches have been won (the other was drawn), conceding just two goals in the process, and having won all of their Champions League matches at Estádio Do Dragão this season, they can make it four from four with a narrow win against their Iberian opponents.