FC Porto-AC Milan Preview: Facing Our Dragons

When our Champions League group was drawn, everyone acknowledged that every team in this group was difficult, there were no "easy" matches. However, these matches with Porto seemed like the most realistic for us to hope for a result, particularly given that their wage bill is less than half of ours. But the Dragões eliminated Juventus from the competition last year, in one of the best games of football in recent memory as well as a perfect example of how heart can overcome any other deficit, and thus are not to be underestimated. They are not the only dragons Milan are facing, though. We have a preposterous amount of injuries, and Kessié will be suspended, too. Plus, we have been burned by refereeing, too. Going to the Estádio do Dragão (Dragon's Stadium) in Portugal on Tuesday will see us facing our dragons.

Injuries and referees are our biggest dragons this season

Porto currently sit second in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, unbeaten, just one point behind rivals Benfica. In the Champions League, however, they are third in Group B with one point, having managed a draw vs. Atlético Madrid. Their last match was not so lucky, though, as Liverpool destroyed them 5-1 ahead of the international break. They returned from the break with a vengeance, unleashing a 5-0 victory over third division Sintrense in the Portuguese Cup on Friday.

For that match, Porto manager Sérgio Conceição lined up Marchesin; Manafá, Fábio Cardoso, Marcano, Wendell; Sergio Oliveira, Bruno Costa, Otávio; F. Conceição, Evanilson, and Pepe. As of this writing, he seems to have a complete squad, with Otávio having returned from a hamstring injury after the break.

These dragons don't go down without a fight

In contrast, while Milan also sit in second in Serie A and are unbeaten, Pioli is in a world of hurt when it comes to injuries, literally and figuratively. As of this writing, he is missing:

Maignan (wrist surgery for fracture)
Plizzari (knee surgery for repetitive injury)
Florenzi (knee cartilage surgery)
Theo Hernandez (COVID positive)
Brahim Díaz (COVID positive)
Messias (muscle injury)
Bakayoko (muscle injury)
Ante Rebić (severe ankle sprain)
Kessié (suspension for red card)

There is a slight possibility that Bakayoko could be back on the bench, as he resumed training with the team on Sunday, but keeping in mind his first appearance, that could actually do Milan more harm than good. With new goalkeeper Mirante not having trained all summer, it is impossible to know whether or not Pioli will call him up for this one. We could hope for miraculous COVID negative tests, for Rebić's ankle to miraculously heal, and especially for Maignan to go back in time and have never even been injured, but in reality, we are far more likely to have another player injured while watching Pioli's press conference than we are to get any other players back.

Will our newest dragon-slayer be able to conquer in Portugal?

Speaking of players back, Giroud and Ibrahimović are both back, and even overlapped playing time on Saturday for about five minutes. In contrast, Tatarusanu did nothing to convince me on Saturday. However, he also did nothing in particular to dissuade me, either, so maybe we will be okay. Rumors are that Pioli is considering using Kalulu on the right and putting Calabria on the left while Theo Hernández is out. I would expect Kjaer and Tomori to be in the center of defense, with Tonali and Bennacer as the midfield pairing. Leão and Saelemaekers would make the most sense to me as wingers, but after Castillejo's emotional impact on Saturday, who knows? Daniel Maldini would be my pick to put behind either Ibrahimović or Giroud, but we also know that Pioli loves Krunić, even if he is just back from injury. All of these speculations are based on the hope that none of the players require surgery after some type of freak breakfast-eating accident or something.

I do not usually talk about referees, but after our last match, UEFA was certain to assign one of their very best for this match - German  referee Felix Brych. He has 17 years of experience refereeing and is a UEFA elite category referee. Most recently, he refereed the Euro semifinal this summer between Italy and Spain. Hopefully that gives some of you people some faith. More importantly, I hope our players have faith and show him a little more respect, regardless of his performance.

Remember this name

This fixture comes on the heels of an important emotional comeback on Saturday, and we have the consistency of being unbeaten in the league. But our dragons today have multiplied far greater the dragons I originally thought we would be facing. At the bottom of Group B with zero points, this match is a must win for us to have any hope of progressing. This one is also crucial for Porto, though, and one of their best chances of winning as well. The odds are stacked entirely against us with injuries alone, but we also know what this team was able to do the last time we played in Portugal. Let us hope our players have courage that is red like the fire, and black like your fear as they face our dragons on Tuesday.

This post inspired by the music of Imagine Dragons' "Demons"

Champions League Group Stage
FC Porto vs. AC Milan
Tuesday, October 19 • 21:00 CEST (3pm EDT)
This match can be streamed LIVE on Paramount+ in the U.S.

FC Porto-AC Milan Preview: Facing Our Dragons FC Porto-AC Milan Preview: Facing Our Dragons Reviewed by Elaine on 2:25 AM Rating: 5
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