In a country renowned for producing some of the world’s most prominent conductors, it was fitting Mousa Dembele swelled his reputation as one of football’s finest midfield maestros.
Indeed, amid the Tottenham chaos of falling two goals behind after two bouts of disastrous defending in their last-16 first leg Champions League clash, the big Belgian amplified composure in the Juventus cauldron of cacophony.
Like the forceful flick of a conductor’s baton, every Dembele stride into the Juve half communicated calm to an ensemble of Spurs players in desperate need of direction.
No player from either starting XI attempted more passes (100) with higher accuracy (95 per cent).
And the absurdity of those statistics in a game of such magnitude are not in isolation this season. In fact, it’s not even restricted the last two weeks.
Dembele dictated against Juve, but the sheet music was the same against Arsenal last weekend (96.6 per cent accuracy – highest overall – from 59 passes, fifth most in the game), Liverpool the week before (68 passes – second highest overall – for 88.2 per cent accuracy which was highest in that fixture) and Manchester United prior to that (77 passes with an accuracy of 94.8 per cent – the best figures from both XIs).
Mousa Dembele is unstoppable right now 💪 pic.twitter.com/Zi2mdXrqJA— B/R Football (@brfootball) February 14, 2018
His renaissance this season has been borne out of the 30-year-old’s ability to rid himself of chronic niggling injuries rather than a sudden maturity of talent.
Respected corners of the football world talked of Dembele’s decline but the reality is that this iteration of the Belgian has always existed.
It’s his ability to reach a level of fitness where he’s able to play multiple games in row which is directly attributed to the high-quality performances we’re seeing now.
In every season bar the 2013/14 campaign, Dembele has suffered an injury since signing from Fulham in 2012.
Eight games were missed in the 2012/13 season, five in 2015/16, five the season after that and seven at the start of this term.
It’s an issue which Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is acutely aware of.
“I think the problem is about his fitness, no? Because, that is about his quality, there is no doubt that like I have told you many times, for me he is a genius, and unbelievably player,” said the Argentine in the aftermath of the win over Arsenal.
“But we must be careful about his fitness, it is good and he can train and, he can make this type of performance because he is a great talented player.”
Whether Dembele is just in the right moment or circumstances have changed away from the pitch – Harry Kane talked recently about the changes to his diet and the immense help that’s helped his own career – is unknown.
But what’s obvious is that injuries have slowed him down, curtailing his consistency.
Now, after dominating four incredibly intense fixtures in the space of two weeks, the hope will be that despite his age, Dembele can remain injury free, especially in a World Cup year.
After all, it’s a frightening prospect to consider Belgium possess Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Dembele in their ranks.
And Dembele deserves mention alongside that pair because without the nagging doubt of injury, he is arguably the best in England when it comes to orchestrating from midfield.
Indeed, he is a unique player, a pirouetting bull with the physicality to break down attacks then set Spurs off in the opposite direction with supreme balance, vision and dribbling skills.
A beauty and the beast talent, you could say Dembele is hitting all the right notes at the moment.
Carvalhal’s analogy was that he slowed down Liverpool’s Formula One car in traffic in their 1-0 win at the Liberty Stadium last month.
However, while Conceicao appreciated his fellow Portuguese’s efforts, he is not sure the same tactic can be applied to Europe’s top club competition.
“I take this opportunity to congratulate Carlos Carvalhal for what he is doing in the Premier League, and also to (Wolves head coach) Nuno Espirito Santo for what he is doing in the second tier. They are prestige to Portuguese soccer,” Conceicao said.
“All the Portuguese coaches working in ?England are doing a great job but it’s a different context and game – this is the Champions League.”
Porto have not beaten Liverpool in four previous meetings although their overall home record against English clubs is won eight, drawn six and lost three with already-qualified Leicester defeated 5-0 in last season’s group stage.
However, their record against Premier League sides in two-legged ties is poor with just three wins in 10 encounters, losing the last four, and they have not beaten English opposition in the knockout stage since Jose Mourinho’s team eliminated Manchester United en route to winning the competition in 2003/04.
They have prolific forwards in Vincent Aboubakar and Moussa Marega, who have 43 goals between them this season.
That, combined with an impressive home record which has seen them not lose in normal time for 30 domestic matches and just once in 19 at the Estadio de Dragao in all competitions, could present a problem for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Porto also have a mean defence with just one goal conceded in the last six games in league and cup.
“As I said, often the key is the defensive consistency of the team. Not conceding goals, we are always closer to winning the game, no doubt,” Conceicao added.
“We will face a very strong team, with a budget of over 200 million euros, but two historical clubs face each other and the players give me the confidence to think that we can pass this tie.”
Porto had a doubt over key defender Ivan Marcano, who has not featured since January 26, but he undertook light training this week and declared himself fit to play
“We don’t pay attention to statistics from previous games, our motivation is to progress in this competition,” he said.
“We want to go as far as we can go in this competition.”
However, his regular partner Felipe is suspended.