Forward Roberto Firmino does not know if Champions League opponents Porto are afraid of Liverpool and their goalscoring threat but he hopes to make them suffer in the Estadio do Dragao.
Jurgen Klopp’s side qualified unbeaten top of their group after scoring 23 goals, a record for an English club and a competition total surpassed only by Paris St Germain (25), also this season.
Nineteen of those goals came from Firmino (six), Mo Salah (five), Coutinho (five) and Sadio Mane (three) and although one of that quartet is now with Barcelona it does not make them much less of a threat.
“I don’t know if Porto are going to be afraid but we are going to make their life difficult and make them suffer,” said Firmino, who has 20 goals for the season in all competitions.
The Brazil international’s tally for the Champions League this season is only bettered by Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who has nine, and is on a par with PSG pair Neymar and Edinson Cavani, Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Sevilla’s Wissam ben Yedder.
Asked whether he felt he belonged in such rarefied company Firmino added: “Of course I want to be at their level but I only focus on playing a good game.
“If I play a good game then the goals will appear. I am trying to give my maximum for the team and trying to be alongside these great players in Europe.”
Firmino has scored four times in his last six matches and his contribution has helped lessen the impact of compatriot Coutinho’s departure to the Nou Camp.
“Coutinho is a great player and of course when he left that put a greater responsibility on everyone else to perform without him,” he added.
“But it is our job to deal with greater responsibility and I think we have done that so far.”
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 13, 2018
The draw against Porto was a kindly one for Liverpool but even after their goalscoring exploits in the group stage no-one is tipping them to challenge the established Champions League order of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus.
It was put to Klopp than no-one fancied the Reds side which won in Istanbul in 2005 after scraping through the group stage with a last-gasp win over Olympiacos.
That provoked a blunt response from the German.
“I don’t think the 2005 side thought about winning the Champions League before the last 16,” he said.
“I’ll ask Rafa (Benitez) but that would surprise me because it makes no sense.
“If we are in the final then I’ll say we will try to win it but that is too far off.
“I don’t like talking about the round after the round you are playing, in fact I hate it.
“I only answer nicely now because I am friendly and we are in public but if someone asked me about the round after the round in private I would leave the room.”
Klopp has confirmed Loris Karius, who has taken over as first-choice goalkeeper, will start in Portugal but refused to expand on what that means for Simon Mignolet.
“No-one knows about the future. It is not for me to think about these things, I have to make a decision for tomorrow night,” he said.
Real Madrid will host Paris St Germain on Wednesday night in a Champions League clash dripping with superstars and intrigue.
Here, are five key talking points of the last-16 first leg battle.
Zidane downplays pressure over his future
Not even Zinedine Zidane can quieten the frustrations around Real trailing Barcelona by 17 points in LaLiga. But the former Real playmaker continues to insist his own situation is no distraction for his players. “I’m not thinking about my future, I’m just focused on tomorrow’s game,” Zidane declared in Tuesday’s press conference. “We don’t feel the pressure, we like playing games like this.” Whatever the outward projections, Zidane knows a victory over the in-form PSG would go a long way to securing at least a stay of execution in the Real hotseat.
Star billing has the neutrals excited
Former Barcelona forward Neymar will be back on enemy territory in different colours on Wednesday, attempting a smash-and-grab raid on his old rivals, but this time for PSG. The Brazil star has impressed steadily since his move to France, but will know the size of the challenge awaiting in Madrid. Any neutral football fan will relish Neymar pitting his wits against the likes of Real totem Cristiano Ronaldo, but Madrid boss Zidane has been at pains to remind his players the encounter will be about so much more. “Tomorrow is a case of Real Madrid against PSG not Neymar against Cristiano,” he said.
PSG seeking vindication in Madrid
The last time PSG pitched up at the Bernabeu, they dominated the tie but lost out 1-0, in Champions League group stage action back in 2015. Now Unai Emery’s men believe they are ready to rule the continent, thanks to acquisitions like Neymar and Angel Di Maria. The Parisians still have plenty to prove, but know full well there are precious few better places to flex some title-challenging muscle than in Real’s fortress home ground.
Madrid focused on performance not systems
Balancing all their attacking talents has long proved among Real’s toughest challenges. But under-fire boss Zidane insists his side’s system and formation should not matter. Instead he has challenged his players to perform to their best whatever shape they are asked to employ.
Cavani itching to dominate biggest stage
Uruguay hitman Edinson Cavani has been blasting goals for fun in France’s Ligue 1, and now has sights set on replicating those feats at European football’s club summit. With 27 goals in all club competitions so far this term, Cavani has been in prolific form, and would dearly love to make his mark at the Bernabeu
Former France midfielder Zidane helped Real retain the Champions League crown and lift the league title in Spain last term.
But despite Real’s struggles in the league, the 45-year-old insists both he and his top stars are in buoyant mood ahead of the Champions League last 16 first leg clash with PSG.
“I’m happy to be involved in such games, I don’t think there is any real pressure at the moment,” Zidane said in press conference on the club’s official website.
“We have prepared just as we always do and it’s true that pressure will always be there in the background. I’m going to enjoy this.
“I’m not thinking about my future, I’m just focused on tomorrow’s game.
“All of the training sessions, all of the games, they play a role for us and my future is not the key thing here.
“We don’t feel the pressure, we like playing games like this.”
Former Barcelona star Neymar will grace the Bernabeu in PSG colours this week, facing off against the hosts’ glut of fellow Galacticos.
Zidane believes Wednesday’s encounter will be far more than Cristiano Ronaldo versus Neymar however – and insisted there is no comparison between the two global superstars.
“We’ve been speaking about big players but tomorrow is a case of Real Madrid against PSG not Neymar against Cristiano,” Zidane said.
“Cristiano has done some extraordinary things and won five Ballon d’Or trophies. I’m not going to make any comparisons.
“We all know what Neymar can do on the pitch. He has real quality and often makes the difference. We’re not here for a showdown between those two, we’re here to watch Real Madrid take on PSG.”
👀 Neymar had a hand in 190 more goals than Ronaldo prior to turning 26. pic.twitter.com/8mAMGRCcn4— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 5, 2018
Midfielder Adrien Rabiot insists however that all that stands between PSG and Champions League glory this term is self-belief.
Rabiot believes PSG should have toppled Real in Spain when losing 1-0 in the Champions League group stages in November 2015 – and has challenged Unai Emery’s men to make amends this week.
“We lost 1-0 but we really played well; I loved playing in that stadium,” Rabiot told PSG’s official club website.
“We haven’t been back since so we can’t wait to get there and we know it’s going to be a big game.
“We didn’t deserve to lose. We played really well and gave Real Madrid the runaround on their own turf, and not everyone can do that.
“We showed that day that Paris could play an important role in European football.
“The Champions League is a very different competition to Ligue 1 or the domestic cups, and the same goes for both teams.
“We approach these games differently, the pressure is different too.
“You need to be mentally strong to get the result in these Champions League matches.
“I have no doubt that is what cost us the previous years. We need to be psychologically ready.”