Porto 2-1 Shakhtar: ill discipline costs Shakhtar
Red cards for both centre-backs didn’t help the away side, but Porto were in charge for most of the game anyway.
Vitor Pereira is using the 4-3-3 system favoured by most of his predecessors. Kleber is Falcao’s replacement and James Rodriguez started on the left. Steven Defour played the right-sided midfield role.
Mircea Lucescu’s XI was very similar from the side which impressed last season in the Champions League. Eduardo da Silva was used as an inverted winger on the right, with Douglas Costa on the bench and Jadson as the central playmaker.
A narrow scoreline, but Pereira won the tactical battle. Porto were in charge for most of the game – in addition to the goals, they missed a penalty – whilst Shakhtar’s goal came from a horrendous error from Helton, rather than good play from the away side. Porto were always likely to have the territorial advantage with Shakhtar playing on the counter, but here’s a figure that sums it up – Porto entered the attacking third 80 times, Shakhtar just 14.
There were obvious individual battles across, the pitch, with the 4-3-3 v 4-2-3-1 battle meaning the midfield triangles were closely-aligned in the centre of midfield. With the potential for a midfield standoff, it was Porto who did more to create a fluid game. Fernando generally stayed in position, but the other two midfielders rotated, moved across the pitch and tried to find space to play passes. The fluidity of the Porto front three was impressive, a flexibility that was more evident later in Andre Villas Boas’ successful 2010/11 campaign.
Shakhtar were more structured, and used Jadson well without the ball – he often prevented passes being played back to Porto’s pivot in midfield, Fernando. It was a little like how Milan were using a trequartista on Seydou Keita 1000km east at the Camp Nou at the same time. When Shakhtar did get the ball, their wingers cut inside – most obviously for Willian’s shot that resulted in Luiz Adriano’s tap-in, but also for passes slid between Porto’s full-backs and centre-backs, often with Jadson bursting forward to get on the end of them.
There were essentially two key factors in this game – one that helped Porto get control of the match, and another that resulted in their second half dominance and the winning goal.
First, Joao Moutinho was very clever with his positioning. Shakhtar were playing a 4-2-3-1 that matched Porto’s 4-1-2-3 in the centre of midfield, and so, in theory, Fernandinho should have been closing Moutinho down. Moutinho took it upon himself to drop deeper and deeper in the game, however, and you could see Fernandinho’s reluctance to move up the pitch and shift Shakhtar into a 4-1-4-1 – Lucescu is a big fan of shape and structure. As a result, Moutinho often went free and dictated the game. He completed 77 passes, more than any other player.
The second factor was Shakhtar’s discipline. They conceded far too many fouls, and they were often crucial – one resulted in a penalty, another allowed Hulk to blast home a free-kick, and then Yaroslav Rakitskiy lunged in to pick up a straight red card for a poor tackle on Moutinho, Shakhtar’s tormentor. That occurred in the 40th minute, and Lusecu immediately brought off Eduardo to introduce another centre-back, Olexandr Kucher.
After half time, the sides adjusted to take account of the 11 v 10 situation. Pereira pushed Porto’s backline higher up, pushing Shakhtar further back into their own half. Furthermore, he told the full-backs to play very wide, stretching the play and increasing the active playing zone.
This combined with a Lucescu error to help Porto score the winning goal. Rather than telling Jadson to play as a right-winger after Eduardo’s departure, he was fielded as part-right-winger, part-central playmaker, in order to try and link the midfield with Luiz Adriano. It made sense in theory, but it meant that Alvaro Pereira got too much time down the flank, and was always in space. Porto’s most played pass was Moutinho to Pereira (18 times), and a forward run from Pereira created the goal – he motored forward unchecked, brought first Razvan Rat and then the centre-backs out of position, and James Rodriguez and Kleber found space for the crucial third goal.
Porto won the tactical battle. They initially got control of the game because of the flexibility in the middle allowing Moutinho to find space, and then they exploited Shakhtar being weak down the right by eventually playing the ball out to the left-back, Pereira.