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A game that has nothing riding on it for us as we’ve already fulfilled our first goal by qualifying for the knockout stage with 2 games to spare. We have been a class apart from the rest of the group, and on the face of it this game gives Jurgen an opportunity to give some players a rest and others an opportunity. I say ‘on the face of it’ because a number of those who could do with games are currently sidelined so it’s hard to say what the manager will do. Anyway: Firepower. Urgency. Composure. Know-how. Organisation. Ferocity. Flexibility. Moxie. Order. Utter control. Maximum concentration. Outstanding performances. Utter belief. I don’t ask for much. We have dismantled the Portuguese side in recent years, attacking them from all angles and punishing their lethargy as they simply did not know whether to press or drop back. They’ve ended up doing neither, leaving gaps everywhere and getting picked off. We play to a greater intensity than most teams in the world and, even if sides handle it during a game against us, they appear to feel it for weeks afterwards. Playing in the Portuguese league and being one of 3 dominant teams, that level of intensity is not something the likes of Porto will be used to. The games used to be much tighter. During our 2001 UEFA Cup run, we met them in the quarter finals. The first leg in Porto had been a very cagey affair where we merely kept it tight, sat back and looked to hit them on the counter. It was a typical European away performance, and most of our European games that season followed that pattern. We were much more expansive in the second leg at Anfield in mid-March 2001.Murphy and Owen scored 2 fairly scruffy goals against a team that looked shell-shocked by the atmosphere under the Anfield lights. This was the pre-Mourinho era but they still had Deco and Alenichev in the team – two players who scored in their Champions League final win just 3 years later. We were too good for them and the win set up a semi final against a Barcelona team that no longer contained Figo but still had the likes of Rivaldo, Xavi and Kluivert. And Pepe Reina of course. The number one film at the box office in March 2001 was Steven Seagal actioner Exit Wounds. I’ve seen it but I cannot remember it at all. Seagal movies are like that. You’ve probably seen more than you realise because they’re all so samey. He kicks some arse,says very little, speaks in a slightly raspy voice and dons his singular cardboard cut-out facial expression. Jason Statham raised the bar years later by adding ‘incredulous’ and ‘tired of this shit’ facial expressions to all the arse-kicking and even raspier-voiced direlogue. It’s hard to know what we’ll do for this one. There’s a chance to fuck up Diego Simeone’s chances of progress with Atletico but I’m pretty certain the boss is only focussed on his team. Injury avoidance is probably the big thing he’ll want to take away from this one. I’m certain he will want to avoid defeat, and I’m with him on both counts. It’s the last game away in Milan that really doesn’t matter. For now, let’s build some momentum while several players slowly return to the squad after injury. After all, momentum is everything. Whoever is selected, just go in there and get the job done. Oh, and avoid any exit wounds.
A familiar foe in Europe marks our first away game in this season's Champions League. We've played them twice in recent seasons, and met them in Europe twice in the first decade of the new millennium. Like Milan, they aren't the same force they were 15 to 20 years ago, but like Milan they can pose a threat that cannot be taken lightly. What do we need then? Power. Accuracy. Urgency. Luck. Organisation. Flair. Unwavering faith. Tactical nous. Resilience. Elegance. I don't ask for much. We played them in the quarter finals during our CL winning run of 2018/19, but it's the Round of 16 tie from a year earlier in February 2018 that I want to recollect. Porto were predicted to be a very tough task for anybody, especially in their own stadium where they had a very very good record. It was a big ask for us to take something away from the Dragao and then finish the job at Anfield. Apart from a sticky few minutes early on, the game turned into a rout that nobody saw coming. We went full Red (Orange) Arrows, with a Sadio hat-trick added to with a goal apiece for Bobby and Mo to complete a 5-0 shelling and kill the tie off completely. Mo's effort was just an immense bit of ball control on his head in a tight space. He was a complete goal machine in 2017/18 and it's funny because for the first half of the season, his conversion rate from all the excellent chances he found himself with seemed to be about 50%. He'd come away from games having scored a brace when he could easily have had 4. We dismantled Porto so comprehensively that the second leg was a mere formality. We'd go on to face City in the quarters. The box office in mid-February 2018 was headed by the MCU's latest cinematic superhero movie. It's one that came in a little bit under the radar even though Marvel Studios had introduced the character a couple of years earlier in Captain America: Civil War, but it and he became a cultural phenomenon, not least in sub-Saharan Africa. The fictional nation of Wakanda, the young leader T'Challa ascending the throne to lead his people, and a cohesive, impressive and entertaining film that made Black Panther one of the best of the genre. A career-making turn for the late, great Chadwick Boseman who overcame monumental personal health issues to take on the role. It's sad he's not around anymore, but he has left one hell of a legacy. As I said above, you cannot underestimate just how much the character has resonated throughout much of Africa. They have a hero of their own, someone who they can relate to, someone who can inspire, and something to aspire to. Our team has its very own African superheroes, and they are more than capable of doing exactly what they did to Porto 3 years ago. They might be older now, and one of them has been very erratic recently, but they are still a danger the Portuguese side will undoubtedly be wary of. They'll also be wary of the goal threat posed by one of their countrymen. I wouldn't expect us to hand out a similar thrashing, nor would I underestimate Porto, but I would say that if we do all the right things and play to the standards we are capable of, we can get outof Portugal with a 100% record in the group going into the double-header with our European bête noire Atlético Madrid. Just get it done.